European Business: Mr. Beilke, your company was founded in 2000 out of a research project. Can you tell us what its aims were?
Gerd Beilke: Certainly. The company was the brainchild of two process engineers who were working on a non-chemical process for purifying oilseed as part of their doctoral thesis at the University of Essen. Using a now patented procedure, they were able to remove the bitter hulls from rapeseed kernels without the need for harsh chemicals. The resulting cold-pressed kernel oil is golden in colour, a reliable indicator of its purity. As well as attracting federal funding, this sustainable and gentle process was also singled out as being particularly innovative.
European Business: How has the company developed since then?
Gerd Beilke: Very successfully. The new process came just at the right time. Consumers were looking for both healthier and more sustainable cooking fats, and our high quality, cold-pressed rapeseed and linseed oils fit the bill perfectly. The company was taken over in 2016 by the Mörle family and now employs 80 people here in Ibbenbüren and generates 40 million EUR in annual turnover.
European Business: How have the new owners influenced the company strategy over the past four years?
Gerd Beilke: They immediately set about restructuring the company to return our focus to our core activity in cold-pressed cooking oils. Most importantly, they accelerated the shift towards organic production. When I joined the company in 2017, organic oils made up just 10% of production. Today, organic products account for 65% of our output. But that is by no means the end point. Our goal is to completely reverse the position of three years ago and make 90% of our production organic. The market is certainly there. The organic trend has grown steadily in recent years and the recent crisis has only speeded up that process.
European Business: In what other ways have you felt the effects of the coronavirus crisis?
Gerd Beilke: We, like many others in the food production sector, have not suffered to the same extent as other industry sectors. In fact, many food producers have profited strongly from the fact that people stuck at home under lockdown or quarantine have done more cooking for themselves. That is certainly one of the reasons why our sales have continued to grow strongly throughout the crisis.
European Business: How would you describe the key advantages of your products over other cooking oils and fats?
Gerd Beilke: There are a number of interesting trends at play here. In addition to the organic boom, we are also riding the vegan and vegetarian wave as well as a greater awareness of ecological issues. Our core product, rapeseed oil, is a natural product with a high proportion of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids – more than ten times the amount found in olive oil. It has a naturally nutty flavour but is also available in a butter taste version. Its delicate flavour makes it suitable for use in salad dressings while its high oleic acid content makes it an ideal frying oil as it remains stable at high temperatures and spatters less than other oils. Overall, it is an extremely versatile cooking oil that should be part of everyone’s kitchen larder. We also have sunflower and linseed oils in our programme, both of which are also cold-pressed using our patented gentle extraction process.
European Business: What are your main distribution channels and what is your market position?
Gerd Beilke: We sell under private label and our own brand and are the market leader in both areas. Our clients include all of the major German supermarket chains such as Edeka, REWE, Kaufland, Real and K&K. One of the biggest growing sectors for us is the premium end of the market. In terms of marketing strategy, this is a market that is best reached via SEO and the new social media channels of Facebook and Instagram. For our more established products, television advertising remains our main communication method.
European Business: What do you see as the main qualities that you bring to the company?
Gerd Beilke: As someone who played handball at national league level in my youth, I can see many parallels between sporting success and business success. Every manager has to have something of the attitude of a professional athlete in order to push through when things get tough. For me personally, I find the greatest motivation at those moments. When things are not running as they should, I want to get behind the reasons for that and find a solution. The coronavirus is a case in point. It has made everyone question whether what we are doing is right. I firmly believe that we as a company are – but there is still more to do.