For more than a year, Peter Steiner has been responsible for the global development of Mühlenchemie’s business field, with special emphasis on digitalization and the expansion of regional customer services. World Grain interviewed the global head of business unit on the new Technology Center in East Africa, the use of big data tools in baking technology and the Digital Millers Conference planned this September.
WG: In which regions of the world do you foresee the most growth potential in terms of flour production, and what is driving that growth?
Steiner: Global wheat flour consumption will show constant growth in the coming years – with or without COVID-19. The fastest-growing demand is mostly from markets with a large and fairly young population such as China, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico or Indonesia. Today’s increasingly open-minded consumers are looking for high quality foods with a great variety of choice. That’s why we make a careful analysis of the needs and trends of each market and adjust our products and concepts to the local consumers.
WG: A great deal of consolidation is currently taking place in the milling industry. How can mills achieve a stable and sustainable market position under difficult overall conditions?
Steiner: One crucial instrument of competition in the struggle for market share is innovation. There is a need for forward-looking product solutions and concepts that enable the mills to meet the growing demands of users and consumers. We go about the necessary process of change in cooperation with our customers, in the role of problem solvers, sparring partners and initiators. As an independent company, we have the advantage of being able to concentrate solely on the needs and interests of our customers. We are not bound to a routine; instead, we draw up a master plan in response to each individual customer’s enquiry.
WG: What are the most urgent problems and challenges customers are facing at present?
Steiner: Most of our customers come from emerging markets. The main issues there are standardization, reducing costs or increasing the yield, or enhancing the quality of the flour. But the mills also have to respond to nutritional trends like “low carb” or “free from.” And, of course, prolonging the shelf life is one of the main topics throughout the bakery segment.
WG: Let’s take a closer look at the yield and costs issue. What kind of help does Mühlenchemie offer?
Steiner: Our drive toward developing innovative solutions is always inspired by two main factors: quality and cost effectiveness. One of the most recent examples is our new Pastazym Generation — it combines applications with cost effectiveness on an incomparable level. On the other hand, our customers are faced with a major increase in the cost of wheat. We help the milling industry to standardize its flour quality even with lower quality wheats — that’s one of our core competences, and the unique value proposition to which we have been committed for decades.
WG: Are there product fields in which Mühlenchemie sees particularly good development potential?
Steiner: Definitely in the fields of pasta and flat breads. Both foods are making an unprecedented advance around the globe and showing high and dynamic growth rates. On the other hand, the diversity of the product variants is immense. In order to create authentic products typical of the region, we are aiming to adapt our flour treatment more closely to the situation on the spot and adjust each flour precisely to local production and preparation methods and eating habits.
WG: How does Mühlenchemie intend to meet this challenge?
Steiner: By gearing our years of expertise in raw materials even more closely to process technology. We have created optimum overall conditions for drawing up practical, well-functioning concepts. For product development in the pasta sector, we have a multifunctional pasta laboratory of our own, where we can test a multitude of different raw materials, enzymes and process parameters. For flat bread as a final application, we conduct our trials on the production line of an industrial flat bread bakery, with which we have concluded a suitable cooperation agreement.
WG: What do you think are some of the possible niche markets that may become available to your customers?
Steiner: In many regions we are experiencing an increased demand for the use of non-wheat materials like cassava, rice or maize in combination with wheat flour. For a long time we have been developing suitable products for composite flour applications, and now the markets are ready for these innovative solutions.
WG: What plans for expansion does Mühlenchemie have as a global player?
Steiner: We feel strongly responsible for supplying our products and services to almost all customers around the globe. We are therefore systematically reinforcing our worldwide presence. In the summer of 2020, we already opened a new affiliate in South China. We are about to open a Technology Centre (TC) in Nairobi, Kenya, under the umbrella of SIEA (Stern Ingredients East Africa). This will provide 500 square meters of laboratory space and state-of-the-art rheology and baking equipment.
It will be managed by David Nolte, an acknowledged milling expert who was in charge of the milling laboratory in Ahrensburg, Germany, for many years. He and his team of experts will be readily accessible to all customers in eastern and southern Africa.
This will permit short reaction times and flexible solution development in response to any request. Moreover, the TC will be highly instrumental in conveying and adapting the German technology developed at our headquarters in Ahrensburg to create local technical solutions with high added value for our customers.
WG: What are some long-term projects Mühlenchemie is focusing on?
Steiner: Our new product and business development teams have initiated several long-term projects. One important cornerstone is the use of big data analysis. No other company has anywhere near as much data on flour as a raw material as we have. Our aim is to relate this acquired competence to future product solutions and develop software programs that permit conclusions to the quality of the flour, without the need for baking trials. Other projects are concerned with the use of smart glasses as communication tools in applications laboratories, for instance, or in various production processes.
WG: How are you interacting with customers given COVID-19 restrictions?
Steiner: Consultancy and the transfer of information are essential components of our corporate philosophy. We have set up a “green room,” for example, where we can hold virtual seminars to complement personal contacts. Another new feature is digital teaching on the subject of enzymes. In this case Dr. Lutz Popper, our head of research, uses interactive, audio-assisted presentations to explain the functionality and applications of flour improvers. This self-study offer will soon be available in English, French, Spanish and Russian, too.
WG: The first Digital Millers’ Conference will be offered by Mühlenchemie, Sept. 16-22. What can we expect from a digital format?
Steiner: We have drawn up a sophisticated program with speakers from our own company and outside. The topics include flour improvement, flour fortification, composite flour, laboratory analysis and mill construction. But the effects of climate change and the COVID crisis will be discussed, too. The conference will be interactive and allow the participants to make an active contribution. If you would like to join us, please register at http://www.digital-millers-conference.com.