"The food industry is facing profound change!"

Interview with Thomas Wünsche, Industry Director Food & Beverage at ANDRITZ Separation

Andritz Production

The world's population will increase by about two billion people in the next 20 years, which poses enormous challenges for global food supply. Moreover, especially young consumers are setting much stricter requirements for sustainability and animal welfare. How the international technology group ANDRITZ plans to support the food processing industry through this transformation was explained by Thomas Wünsche in an interview with Wirtschaftsforum.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Wünsche, with an annual turnover of over 8.6 billion EUR, ANDRITZ operates as an international technology group in various sectors – from the paper industry to the construction of hydroelectric power plants. How does the Food-and-Beverage division, for which you are responsible, integrate into the overall context of the company's activities?

Thomas Wünsche: Over the past 20 years, ANDRITZ has significantly grown through strategic acquisitions, including business segments of well-known brands such as Krauss-Maffei and Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz. We have now successfully consolidated all these elements under the name ANDRITZ, thus also acting as a coherent unit in the market – this has been no simple challenge in the Food-and-Beverage segment, as ANDRITZ has not been primarily associated with this industry before.

Thomas Wünsche, Industry Director Food & Beverage at ANDRITZ Separation
Thomas Wünsche, Industry Director Food & Beverage at ANDRITZ Separation

With an annual turnover of about 140 million EUR, this field of activity still represents a relatively small part of the total market commitment of our company, even though we recognize very clear growth potential for our technologies and are pursuing it with confidence.

Wirtschaftsforum: What is your core competence in this?

Thomas Wünsche: In the Food-and-Beverage segment, ANDRITZ appears as a classic mechanical engineering company - we thus deliver plants as functional basic units. In our 170-year company history, we have been developing and implementing complete solutions for the food and animal feed industry and many other sectors for decades. In addition, the business unit "Alternative Protein Solutions" was founded, which deals exclusively with holistic process solutions for our customers. Against this backdrop, we have made significant investments in a new R&D center, where we can simulate and validate relevant processes, in order to manufacture custom-fit plants for our customers on this basis afterward.

Andritz Protein Powder
Andritz alternative proteins

Wirtschaftsforum: What main topics are especially in focus of your work?

Thomas Wünsche: The central goal is the development of process solutions that deliver high-quality proteins more quickly to supply the rapidly increasing global population. The worldwide decrease in agricultural and grazing land, an increasingly strong focus on animal welfare and livestock management, as well as crop failures due to droughts or floods, necessitate the search for alternative process solutions. These processes must deliver proteins in less time with less resource input. Independence from climate factors, reduced land use alongside decreased energy and water consumption are at the forefront, simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions. In this context, we are dealing with solutions that help to minimize food waste and at the same time enable the production of health-promoting foods. An example is the generation of proteins through alternative methods, such as the use of larvae.

Wirtschaftsforum: The latter is a hot topic in public discourse.

Thomas Wünsche: However, the urgency of the global protein shortage is underestimated – with potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity if we do not take decisive action today. According to WHO forecasts, the world population is expected to grow by about two billion people in the next 20 years, with this population increase mainly occurring in countries of the so-called Third World - regions where sustainable food security is already insufficient today. The debates we have in Europe about alternative protein sources or vegan foods completely miss the central issue. I recently spent a long time in Nigeria – and it's amazing how much further many innovations in food technology are already being implemented there.

Wirtschaftsforum: How is this noticeable?

Thomas Wünsche: In Europe, we are facing a luxury problem. An average person needs about 100 g of protein per day. If the protein price per kilogram increases by one EUR, nobody here really notices. In Nigeria, where the average monthly salary may be 100 EUR, such a price increase is an existential problem. Indeed, food prices there have quadrupled in some areas over the last few years, while wages have only risen by about 20%. To ensure a sustainable and secure supply of essential foods, the highest possible efficiency is imperative. On one hand, the efficiency of processing and valorization of agricultural products must be increased and the basic foodstuffs produced must be made durable against climatic factors. On the other hand, humans and animals are in competition for the use of basic foodstuffs. The use of nutrients unsuitable for human consumption should be preferred in animal nutrition, while the so-called conversion rate, i.e., the transformation of plant proteins into animal proteins, needs to be sufficiently optimized. This is exactly where we can provide targeted support with our expertise.

Wirtschaftsforum: Impulses from which Europe can also learn?

Thomas Wünsche: Especially young consumers question established dietary habits and pay particular attention to sustainability and animal welfare. This means that the local food processing industry is facing a profound transformation – in which we want to support our customers as a strong partner.