EW Nutrition recently appointed Jan Vanbrabant as its new CEO. Vanbrabant previously held leadership roles at DSM, Erber Group, Biomin and Kemin.
“I am very excited to be joining the EW Nutrition team,” Jan Vanbrabant said when the announcement was made official on 1 September. “EW Nutrition’s long-term focus has created an extremely competitive portfolio. EW Nutrition is uniquely positioned to support its customers in mastering the challenges of the changing animal health and nutrition environment.”
Following this change of leadership at EW Nutrition, Feedinfo sat down with Jan Vanbrabant to discuss his vision for the company.
[Feedinfo] Mr. Vanbrabant, as CEO of EW Nutrition, how will you be able to tap into your previous experiences while operating in a whole new context?
[Jan Vanbrabant] In joining EW Nutrition, I wanted to take up a different kind of business structure, joining again a privately owned company with a very different dynamic. EW Nutrition is part of EW Group, a large group of agribusinesses, but it’s primarily a solid family-owned company with a very strong commitment to agriculture - and this shows everywhere. There is real long-term thinking, and at the same time the lines are very short here and decision-making can be fast. Short communication paths between different teams, between customers and internal experts, short lines from idea to project, from project to end result. On top of that, it’s a great collection of people sitting on top of an excellent product portfolio, ideas, and capabilities and an innovation pipeline filled for the coming years. Given all this potential, I trust my experience in managing different profiles and organisations is going to be instrumental for even stronger growth.
[Feedinfo] What was your understanding of the EW Nutrition growth strategy before taking on the new role, and what is your vision for the business now that you have taken helm?
[Jan Vanbrabant] Before joining, I already had an impression of a company on a very assertive growth path, with several excellent products spearheading this growth. I now know this growth is both organic and by design. We’re not just growing geographically but also branching out and expanding our capabilities. Over the past decade we’ve acquired state-of-the-art facilities in biotech and R&D, we have constantly strengthened and expanded our production facilities, we’ve developed new solutions or expanded into new categories, with a very clear M&A strategy.
This, in fact, is a concerted growth strategy. We start with the customer, with hands-on industry challenges. Then we see how we can solve them. This was the strategy for Ventar D, where EW Nutrition literally started by assessing what customers needed in terms of benefits, features, and ROI, then came back with an easy-to-use solution. This was also the strategy for Axxess XY, where our microbiologists and enzymologists collected input from, for instance, colleagues in sister breeding companies from our Group on what they needed to achieve in production. This means it was developed specifically with the needs of animal nutrition as a target, and it shows in the performance. Many earlier generation xylanases, for instance, were primarily developed for other industries such as the food and paper industry, and afterwards adapted for use in animal feed application.
Overall, I’d say it’s a two-pronged strategy: where we have the resources, we develop market-leading solutions. Where we don’t have them yet, we go after them with M&As.
[Feedinfo] What do you think can be EW Nutrition’s quick wins in today’s market?
[Jan Vanbrabant] Ventar D is an incredible product that can easily be a category leader in gut health management. Axxess XY is, without discussion, the most advanced xylanase on the market. We have a world-class line of toxin risk management solutions, and not to forget our unique Globigen line of antibody-based products. But let’s be realistic: there are no quick wins in today’s world. There’s so much competition and so much noise. We don’t want to razzle-dazzle our customers. We’re building confidence in the market by showing reliable customer results because we are convinced that our customer’s success is our success.
[Feedinfo] How does EW Nutrition differentiate itself in the gut health segment?
[Jan Vanbrabant] This is a busy segment and you’re right, there is very little differentiation. We all claim performance improvements - and some of us are even actually delivering on this claim. But are we all delivering reliable results across all the wildly different production systems around the world? That’s where our integrated setup comes into play. We control processes and deliver reliability by having an in-house machinery, so to speak, that we finetune to deliver these consistent, predictable results. Take Ventar D, for instance. Being backward-integrated means we were able to control the process to yield the best results on all specifications, from withstanding the longest conditioning times on the market to particle size. We can even tell you how many particles you get per gram of product: 30,000. We know this because we own the entire chain. We developed and formulated it with the best development team, using our biosafety level 2 research facility. We performed our scale-up and live production testing and then conducted customer and scientific trials under real-world conditions. We also produce it ourselves, which means we know exactly what goes into our products. And we have the same six sets of stringent quality checks across all our production and warehousing sites.
[Feedinfo] Ventar D and Pretect D were launched two years ago, and before that Axxess in late 2019. How successful have these launches been? What are the main lessons learned?
[Jan Vanbrabant] I was saying earlier that Ventar D could easily be a market leader in gut health management. Same for Pretect D – we have seen excellent performance in supporting anticoccidial programs. Both products have gained critical mass in a very short time, so there’s no question that the launches were 100% successful. Our strategy has been to roll them out gradually by capturing the right segments and continuously testing against real-life conditions. The more we saw the products acting in the market, in a very busy and competitive segment, the more confident we became in recommending them for specific use cases. For Axxess XY, the lesson was a different one: we learned we were too modest. You can count on the fingers of one hand the companies that have developed their own enzymes, especially for the animal protein market. Most other enzymes producers have interests in enzyme application in multiple industries beyond animal production. EW Nutrition stands out with an in-house team of top-level enzyme engineers focusing only on use in animal production, plus a state-of-the-art scale-up and biotech production facility in Germany. We underplayed our in-house knowledge and capabilities. Now that Axxess XY is rolling out to more and more regions, we are very serious about changing this. With strategic choices and investments in R&D, we have a healthy pipeline of innovation in our enzyme portfolio, which we will be serving to our customers in the near future.
[Feedinfo] Will your R&D-go-to-market strategy evolve in any way?
[Jan Vanbrabant] We’re constantly monitoring the markets to understand what our customers are dealing with. Right now, we see a lot of pressure coming from three places. Feed costs are increasing because of fluctuations in feed ingredient prices and availability, and feed quality can be consequently impacted by variations in nutrient composition and digestibility. Second, emerging and re-emerging diseases are always a threat, compounded by lowered immunity because of resistances, mycotoxin challenges, etc. Finally, we see consumer preferences and regulations as a major point of pressure on producers. For instance, antibiotic resistance and food safety continue to be an issue, same as animal welfare and, not least, meat quality. We’re present across all these three dimensions, even now.
EW Nutrition has been investing in this future, so there is no need to shift our strategy. The question is where to press the pedal to the floor. For sure enzymes are going to be a big part of the future, to allow producers more flexibility in feed formulation and production. But we are also looking at more natural solutions to mitigate pathogenic and environmental pressure, feed quality, and performance. It’s an inflection point in the market and in EW Nutrition’s growth.
[Feedinfo] What is EW Nutrition’s longer-term growth strategy?
[Jan Vanbrabant] Sustainability is no longer a buzz word – it’s the law, or soon will be. EW Nutrition is convinced that natural solutions are key in making animal protein production more sustainable. Animal protein is a safe, affordable, and - if we do things right - a sustainable source of protein, which is essential to feed the growing world population. We’re putting a lot of focus on identifying where we are doing well and where we need to improve on this topic. Further down the road, we look at solid growth along our three main pillars: gut health, feed quality, digestibility.
But we do not want to grow beyond our measure. I mentioned before these short communication paths between all the stakeholders: this is critical to our DNA as a company. The bigger the company, the harder it is to move things and reach people. We don’t want to be all things to all people, we don’t want to grow into giants. We look to where our customers point us and try to get there ahead of the rest.
Published in association with EW Nutrition