Q & A with Merzad Jamshidi

by Arvin Donley
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KFF Mills Merzad Jamshidi managing director
Merzad Jamshidi speaks during Global Miller's Symposium, sponsored by Mühlenchemie, part of Stern-Wywiol Gruppe, in cooperation with the International Association of Cereal Science and Technology.
Photo courtesy of Mühlenchemie.
Merzad Jamshidi, chief executive officer and managing director of KFF Mills, a milling company based in Iran, sees a variety of ways of positioning a flour milling enterprise successfully even in a fiercely competitive environment. Jamshidi, who is also chairman of the International Association of Operative Millers Mideast and Africa District, presented his ideas on forward-looking management at the Global Miller’s Symposium in Hamburg, Germany, in April.

 

In an interview with World Grain, he explained why closeness to the customer and diversification are crucial factors, and what role enzyme technology plays in this context.

WG: You manage one of the biggest mills in Iran, and you are chairman of the IAOM for the Mideast and Africa region. How do you think the global milling industry can best prepare itself for the future?

Jamshidi: Milling is definitely not an easy industry. The margins are extremely narrow, and basically, all industrial mills have more or less the same machinery, the same wheat and the same customers. So every company has to think very hard about ways of standing out from its competitors and acquiring new customers. Gone are the days when you could just follow a routine.

WG: What is the solution to this problem?

Jamshidi: Get to know your customers — that’s what it comes to. In our company we explore the needs of each customer very carefully and draw up an individual profile. We ask what machines they work with, what qualifications their staff has, what the strengths and weaknesses of the company are. By doing that we create an atmosphere in which the customer feels understood and taken seriously, because ultimately, every transaction is based on a person-to-person relationship.

WG: And how does this information find its way into the flour product?

Jamshidi: We always have to ask ourselves, “Are we really producing exactly the flour our customer wants?” Because after all, bakeries must find it worth their while to buy from us. We must either help them reduce their costs, perhaps by adding less sugar, oil, salt or even baking improvers to their products. There are plenty of suitable additives for adjusting the properties of the flour in that way. Or our flours must offer them an additional benefit, for instance, by helping them improve the quality of their goods, occupy lucrative niches or avoid mistakes.

WG: How do you do that in individual cases?

Jamshidi: Sometimes the customers may not understand how the flour behaves once it becomes a dough, so we show them. For instance, one baker asked for a flour with a higher gluten content. Since we knew him and the way he worked, including his end products, we gave him a flour with a lower gluten content instead that resulted in optimum products for him, because the new flour was working so well. That’s the whole point: we sometimes understand what the downstream processors need better than they do. That takes trained personnel and intensive customer care — but it pays off. Our mill is a good example. We are working to capacity.

WG: You mean you have to implement solutions the customer has never considered?

Jamshidi: Absolutely. That is one aspect of our support. And as a company you sometimes have to find the courage to tread new, unconventional paths. For example, we don’t necessarily believe a baking laboratory can help customers manage their process. That would seem unthinkable to most people, because we’re a mill after all. But what use are results from a baking laboratory, where the work is done under standardized conditions, when our flour has to perform in a completely different environment? We are much more interested in the conditions on the spot, at the customer’s facility. What is the ambient temperature there? How high is the humidity? What is the temperature of the water added? What speed is used for the mixing machine? These are the relevant criteria for predicting how a dough will react.

WG: In Iran, there are restrictions on imports of wheat. How do you find suitable wheat qualities in spite of this difficult starting position?

Jamshidi: In Iran, a large proportion of the flour is used for flat bread. Home-grown wheat with its low gluten and protein content is quite suitable for that, but we don’t just offer one standard flour. We produce three different flours for flat bread, because there are bakeries that prepare the dough in the middle of the night and then leave it to ferment for hours. Other bakeries start at 5 in the morning and bake their loaves at 7. These are totally different conditions that require different flours — even if the end product is one and the same.

WG: Eating habits are changing worldwide. Baguettes, croissants, sandwich and toast loaves and the like are gaining ground and competing with traditional bakery products. How do you serve these needs?

Jamshidi: The demand for Western-style bakery products is growing all the time. Fast food is an important application in Iran, too. People want fluffy burger buns and thin, crisp pizza bases that don’t go mushy in spite of juicy toppings. These are requirements that can’t be met with local wheat. If possible, we resort to imported wheat for those. Of course, that’s a question of price. But our motto is: the cheapest wheat is definitely not always the best, because it can cause a lot of trouble. Instead, we buy wheat with good basic quality and adjust it to the particular application with tailor-made flour treatment.

WG: Which method do you choose with flour treatment?

Jamshidi: Enzymes are the key factor. By choosing the right enzymes we can adjust our customers’ flours precisely to the requested processing and baking properties such as higher water absorption, better fermentation tolerance or stronger oven rise. In this way we achieve creative diversification that sharpens our own profile and gives us a special position in the market.

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