The world’s population is predicted to grow to between nine and 10 billion people by 2050. If such an increase is to be believed, then feeding these vast numbers will be an enormous challenge – one that has implications for people, animals and the environment. Highly nutritious, milk is firmly associated with a healthy lifestyle. But how can the dairy sector continue to feed an expanding world in a sustainable way when it faces the problems of ageing farmers, a scarcity of natural raw materials, a shortage of fertile land, and less and less clean drinking water?

To overcome these hurdles, Dutch dairy firm Royal FrieslandCampina has developed approaches that enable it to make better use of available resources and attract young people to a sector that offers excellent career prospects. Committed to helping nourish the world, the company is a major global employer, with around 21,000 staff in 30 countries and revenues of more than €11 billion from dairy products including cheese, butter and infant nutrition. It is owned by one of the world’s largest cooperatives, made up of more than 19,000 independent dairy farmers from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium – a collaborative effort that constitutes one part of the company’s solution to the problems faced by the dairy industry.


Long-term sustainability

“Being a cooperative means that it’s in our farmers’ interest to keep FrieslandCampina sustainable in the long term,” says Jaap de Vries, Corporate Director of Human Resources. “That, in turn, benefits the wider society because we all need milk and dairy products.”

However, operating in a sustainable way is difficult for the dairy industry because, with the global population rising fast, the planet’s resources face a double dilemma. On the one hand, the world will – according to the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, John Beddington – require around 50 per cent more food by 2030. Yet, at the same time, land that’s currently used for farming will be transformed into urban areas to accommodate the greater number of people, which means that there will be fewer sites available to produce the required food supplies.

To meet this challenge, FrieslandCampina prioritises sustainability in all aspects of its business, from its member farms and dairy plants to transportation, supply chain and packaging. This entails, for instance, devising innovative initiatives such as using manure from cows to produce bio-gas that then provides power for the company’s dairy plants and trucks. Another noteworthy example is an upcoming project that will look at safe feed additives to reduce the amount of methane that cows emit.


Extensive research

Maximising the nutritional benefits of all its dairy products also helps FrieslandCampina reduce its environmental footprint. This requires extensive research, but the company goes the extra mile to tailor its output to each market around the world.

“For example, we recently carried out a nutritional scan of 17,000 children in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia,” says Margrethe Jonkman, Corporate Director of Research and Development. “This provided detailed information on what kind of vitamins and micronutrients children in that part of the world need to grow and develop in the best way. Such research, as well as the fact that we pay close attention to feedback from our customers, shows that we really try to fine-tune our products for the people we serve.”

FrieslandCampina also opened a new innovation centre in the Netherlands and a development centre in Singapore in the autumn of 2013 to bring its considerable research and development expertise together. The former is based in the Dutch town of Wageningen and accommodates around 350 research staff. It boasts an experience centre where the company can educate employees, customers and non-governmental organisations about its work. The latter centre provides research tailored to Asian markets.

“These two centres bring people together and create a lot of energy,” says Jonkman. “We have designed both buildings with flexible seating, which means that staff who have never worked together before are coming together to exchange ideas and inspire each other.”


Future leaders

Inspiring people to join the dairy sector has, however, become increasingly difficult over the years. The industry’s survival is threatened by the fact that the average age of dairy farmers around the globe is climbing rapidly.

Since this has severe implications for the world’s ability to produce enough nutritious food for its growing population, FrieslandCampina tries hard to ensure that farming and working in the dairy sector remains an attractive career for young people – and not just in the countries where its member farmers produce.

“We work with several non-governmental organisations to support tens of thousands of small farmers in Asia and Africa directly and indirectly,” says de Vries. “We use knowledge sharing, training courses, exchange programmes and the establishment of local milk-distribution systems, and offer help to small farmers involved in soy growing in India and Brazil as well. In this way, FrieslandCampina contributes towards the welfare of farmers throughout the world.

“This reflects the company’s philosophy – that the future of farming depends on helping small farmers to become successful entrepreneurs and earn a decent income to support their families,” he adds. “In addition, we offer career opportunities for young graduates in our company because we need their input so as to adapt quickly to the challenging and volatile markets in which we operate.”

As such, the company has teamed up with Ashridge Business School in Hertfordshire to create a future-leader programme that helps individuals develop the skills they need to lead and manage change. “This was done with the explicit objective to fill our senior management positions from within,” says de Vries. In 2014, the programme was awarded the Excellence in Practice Gold Award by the European Foundation for Management Development.

In order to link its sustainability objectives and leadership development programme, FrieslandCampina offers plenty of exciting on-the-job learning experiences. For one of these, a group of potential leaders recently headed to Kenya, where they created a new and more sustainable distribution channel for milk by using street vendors.

“This type of work – offering a wider sense of social and environmental purpose – as well as the cooperative nature of our business, helps us attract and retain talented employees,” says de Vries. “Our purpose is ‘nourishing by nature’, and for us this not only means feeding people everywhere but also providing great careers for our staff. Because both aspects are equally important in creating a sustainable future for the product that has, for thousands of years, sustained the world.”