A year of transition at Bühler

by Arvin Donley
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Johannes Wick (right) and Ralph Schuck (right) talk with World Grain about their new roles at the Uzwil, Switzerland-based company.
 
2016 has been a year of transition for Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler AG, a leading supplier of grain handling, flour milling and feed milling equipment. Not only is a new company CEO in place, with Stefan Scheiber having replaced Calvin Grieder in that role earlier this year, but Bühler also recently named Ralph Schuck as the new leader of its Grain Milling business. Schuck replaces Johannes Wick, who in April was promoted to CEO of Bühler’s Grains and Food division.

Schuck, who began in his new position at Bühler on May 1, is a seasoned manager with international industrial experience in the plant engineering and service business.

He was with the Bobst Group for the past 13 years in various international management functions, and was most recently president of Bobst Lyon in France, which offers in-line converting equipment and services for the packaging industry.

Prior to being promoted to CEO of the Grains and Food division, Wick spent two years as the company’s Grain Milling business leader. A mechanical engineer with an MBA, Wick came to Bühler in 2014 after spending two decades in the energy and infrastructure industries.

World Grain recently interviewed Schuck and Wick about their new duties with Bühler and their goals for leading their respective divisions.

WG: After being in this position for several months, what opportunities and challenges do you see for the global milling industry, and how is Bühler working to address these issues?

Schuck: The biggest opportunity for all of us is to develop sustainable and innovative food process solutions for the industry with the goal to make healthy food accessible for everyone on this planet, knowing that demographics are estimated to reach 9 billion people by 2050. Beside food security, health is becoming more important for the consumers and governmental bodies. About 850 million people suffer from malnutrition or nutrient deficiency, but obesity and lifestyle diseases are also growing significantly worldwide with a huge impact on health care costs, mainly due to a high consumption of empty calories and low physical activity. Another opportunity is the increased consumer awareness regarding safe food. We have seen many food recalls lately, which is changing the industry. Furthermore, today’s consumers want to know where their products come from. The key to this is an uninterrupted traceability from field to fork. The flour milling industry has become very global and intercontinental flour trading is thriving. This has led to a margin squeeze around the globe. Therefore, highest production efficiency, quality control and size and production volumes are of the utmost importance. Bühler has recognized all these trends and is committed to this industry. We continue to invest heavily in research and development to find answers to these challenges and shall help our customers to further differentiate through innovations and services.

WG: How did your work background prepare you for this position? What are the similarities and differences between the milling industry compared to the industries you’ve worked in?

Schuck: Experience in managing different businesses in different cultures with industrial projects gave me confidence to take the challenge to lead the Grain Milling activities of Bühler. It was a privilege having been exposed to markets and customers from day one of my professional path around the globe. I strongly believe in customer/market proximity to understand the differences and needs as these must be the basis of everything we do. Responding with leading, innovative and sustainable technologies and services in an efficient way will also be the key drivers in my new responsibility. It’s a great honor for me to lead this grain milling organization and brings me to the biggest asset Bühler has: our employees with their knowledge and their passion. That makes the real difference.

WG: Mr. Wick, what qualities does Mr. Schuck possess that made him the choice to succeed you as head of Bühler’s Grain Milling Business Area?

Wick: Ralph Schuck has a great track record of managing very different businesses in different cultures with industry projects. He is a great leader with a strong ability to listen and to motivate people. At the same time we also expect him to take our milling business to the next level. The focus there clearly will be to further enhance the production optimization and to reduce construction time and capital expenditures for the investors. Ralph Schuck’s experiences and competencies will play a key role in addressing these areas.

WG: Bühler is well known as a manufacturer of quality milling equipment and for designing milling facilities. What other important services does Bühler offer its milling customers and potential customers?

Schuck: Indeed, Bühler is well known for all you are just mentioning and we are committed that these attributes will also stand for Bühler in the future. However, it does not stop there. We see ourselves as partners for our customers anywhere on this planet over the lifetime of the installed Bühler equipment and beyond. With our global network comprising 90 service stations, we are close to our customers. In addition, we provide expertise in milling and food processing through our training and application centers worldwide. One example is the African Milling School. We support our customers with know-how and solutions along the value chain, from grain to final goods like bread, pasta, noodles or extruded products and even with application of tailor-made food ingredient solutions. Bühler is a global solution provider.

WG: In which regions of the world are you seeing the most growth and in what regions do you see the most potential for future growth in your grain milling business area?

Schuck: The grain milling business area is developing well. We see growth in most regions of the world — in traditional markets such as North America and Europe but also economies such as South America and Asia. There are, however, markets that still suffer from political constraints. We are convinced that Africa and Asia will play a key role in our future growth, and Bühler will continue to invest in these markets. Beside productivity increases with higher outputs, we see also a consolidation of the milling industry in certain markets. Therefore, we offer solutions to the millers in production of special flours and grains with expertise in industrial food applications thereof. Differentiation is becoming even more important.

WG: Food safety and energy efficiency are two important topics in the milling industry right now. What is Bühler doing to help customers address these issues?

Schuck: For all innovations and process solutions, Bühler will never compromise on food safety and energy efficiency. Sustainable solutions are one of Bühler’s top priorities. Food safety is one of the most important topics going forward. Consumer demands and regulations will further increase, and we are well prepared to continuously invest in these topics. Increased level of automation, energy-efficient layouts, and adapted design solutions to enable millers to eliminate impurities are just a few of the topics we are working on actively.

WG: What advances do you see in how flour is milled and grain is handled in the near future and over the next several decades?

Wick: An important driver for us is that globally still 30% of the raw material is lost or wasted from farm to fork. We want to provide solutions in the whole chain that help to improve the utilization so that eventually we can feed more people with the same crop. Having automated industrial grain handling facilities will be important in achieving this goal. A second very important requirement will be to clean and separate the grains much earlier in the value chain. Contamination like mycotoxin has to be removed as early as possible to eliminate cross-contamination. A different level of quality of grains will also enforce more traceability of the raw material in the whole value chain. For the mills, certainly we expect to find solutions to build the mills more compact and efficient to substantially reduce construction times. We are already offering solutions in these areas but certainly will focus our future innovations around these topics.

WG: There has been some recent criticism that modern roller milling compares unfavorably to the results of “ancient” stone grinding when it comes to keeping nutrients in the flour. Do you see any potential changes that would make wheat flour more nutritious, retaining more of the nutrients that are lost in steel roller milling?

Wick: There is no limit given by modern steel roller milling. Quite the opposite, optimization of the production technology has been driven over decades by the consumers demand for the whitest, low-ash flour. However, the nutrients largely sit within the bran, which typically is used for feed only. With today’s technology, we basically can produce any separation or mixing of the different elements of the grain including all its nutrients. As an example, we have built solutions to extract pure aleurone. Also, just recently, we completed a study about the vitamin content in the different fractions of flour. Similar to other nutrients, the vitamins largely sit in some parts of the bran. Knowing the detailed composition of each fraction in the mill certainly allows millers to produce mixtures of the different milling fractions with varying nutritious compositions. This already is possible today. However, I could imagine that in the future we would offer possibilities with sensors and closed-loop control to produce flours with specific target nutrient values while still optimizing the yield.

WG: We are seeing the installation of organic flour mills, Non-GMO Project verification for milling facilities and bakeries installing flour mills in their facilities. How is Bühler reacting to these trends?

Wick: Each trend for us is an opportunity, and we therefore take it seriously. Our ambition clearly is that we want the best technical solution for all new market requirements. Clearly, however, our role is not about arbitrating or judging on new ideas or opinions. It is important that we not only look at milling as such, but we want to provide solutions across the value chain. As an example we have gained with our superior technology market leadership in gluten-free pasta. We also have established in our U.S. facility an application for sprouted grains. Based on our advanced sorting technology, we also focus on pulses, which provide a healthy alternative to wheat.

WG: What global nutritional and dietary trends are affecting your business and how is the company responding to them?

Wick: There are multiple trends — global and local ones — that are important for us. Of course, the first element is to carefully track them in order to develop and provide solutions to all customer requirements. For example, we see the demand for alternative grains such as oats, sorghum or quinoa growing for different reasons. The market for oatflakes due to the content of beta-glucan has grown very fast, especially in Europe. Quinoa is growing due to its proteins. Sorghum, meanwhile, is grown more in the oil-exporting countries as they lack foreign exchange to import wheat due to the low price of oil. The growth in processed snacks and healthy cereal bars is also important. To complement our offering in this market, we recently acquired Hoskoawa Bepex. We are delighted also to see the market absorption of our Pesa milling technology. With the latter, we are able to provide efficient clean solutions for production of Indian Atta at industrial scales.

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