Growing our company in 50 years
Surpluses of milk and butter
Interfood’s history starts in the 70s with so-called ‘milk lakes’ and ‘butter mountains’ thanks to a huge surplus in milk caused by the European agricultural policy to support farmers and secure food supply. Our founder Jules Joosten, full of entrepreneurial zeal, saw a golden opportunity. He used his Telex machine (an earlier version of the fax) to access the international market, taking advantage of the subsidies on dairy product exports offered by the European authorities to reduce the surpluses. Interfood exported condensed milk to Greece and high nutrient milk to feed calves in Italy.
From Feed to Food
The company was successful in trading these dairy products. Trading speed was much slower than nowadays: there was the crucial Telex, a few noisy typewriters and a telephone to receive information about currencies, logistical hiccups and contact with clients. It was all far from real-time trading. Still, milk production was quickly scaling up thanks to modern equipment so the milkman and his milk cans were rapidly becoming a historical curiosity. Interfood conducted its first business outside Europe with Egypt and Cyprus, gradually gaining more and more international connections. Local agents in Uruguay and Oceania – both net producing dairy countries – were connected to the European market by traders who led them through the trade barriers between the continents.
Frank van Stipdonk steps up
The unexpected and early passing of Interfood founder Jules Joosten was a turning point in Interfood’s history. Would the team be able to continue the business and if so, in what form? Frank van Stipdonk, initially logistics manager before becoming deputy director, decided to take the plunge. After consulting with the other Interfood employees to see if they were committed to carrying on, he took over the business. It was the start of a decade in which Interfood positioned itself as a global player adding value to the dairy supply chain.
Opening up the world
Interfood went global and entered dairy markets all around the world. After many long evenings, calls and calculations, Interfood successfully bid on tenders from Algeria and Brazil for milk powder. They went from new kids on the block to making their name as a serious player.
There’s nothing as addictive as the speed of change. The European Union had been established two years before and Eastern Europe had opened up as an important market. Global offices were established and expanded in America, Poland and New Zealand with local shareholders. The first 25 years of Interfood were marked with a spectacular jubilee event in Orlando.
Strong global structure
A new century saw globalisation proceeding. Interfood established a strong global structure with offices across the globe. Next to the establishment of offices in the Netherlands, Uruguay and Poland, Australia came next. The introduction of the Euro in 2002 stabilised the previous currency shocks in Europe. Interfood’s ambition was to enlarge its global presence and attain new markets.
More than a trader
After years of economic liberalisation and building institutions, many Eastern European countries gained membership to the EU. Interfood’s business model for trading depended largely on preferential import agreements to market Eastern European products into the West-European territory. When this ended, it forced the company to shift focus to serve the interests of suppliers and buyers. Companies had consolidated over the years on both the production end and the customer side. In order to be competitive, Interfood had to be more than a traditional trader. It was scaling up its professional service portfolio to meet the stricter demands of multinational companies within the global food and beverage industry.
Interfood started developing supply chain, technical, financial and dairy risk management services. The growing customer portfolio demanded a more tailor-made approach from Interfood, based on dairy and application knowledge. On the other hand, they also asked Interfood to manage their financial and quality risks. To build and assure this knowledge, Interfood started its own R&D programme and the Interfood Academy to train global employees in the know-how of the dairy market. By improving internal expertise, Interfood was becoming a matchmaker between customers and dairy ingredients.
Group above office
Interfood restructured its model towards a Group Above Office model to achieve a common goal for all its offices: making Interfood a success by providing the best service in global dairy to both buyers and suppliers. All shareholders were placed on the same level to prevent unnecessary internal competition. A bold move that accelerated team spirit and group collaboration, which really came to fruition in 2015.
Running a global company with a lot of cultural diversity was not without challenges but it also gave employees a unique and educational perspective. In the meantime, Interfood expanded with offices in Miami and Singapore.
Strategic value propositions
How do you keep innovating as a company? For Interfood this meant moving beyond the trading business by providing data, market insight and top-level service. The strategic value propositions were implemented to keep focus on market insight, dairy risk management, supply chain solutions and technical service. The relatively flat hierarchy was touted as one of the defining features of Interfood and the young workforce was encouraged to come up with innovative ideas. It was a continuous balancing act between keeping the informal company culture that helped the company become a success on the one hand, and being a competitive and professional partner in a global market on the other.
Partner of choice
Interfood celebrated its 50th anniversary. Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, plans for all global employees to join the festivities in the Netherlands had to be shelved. Fortunately, as our history shows, we have some experience of dealing with uncertainty and our creative team was able to organise a global celebration event online. The coming challenges of creating a sustainable future and growing our expertise will prove that having a resilient past points to a prosperous future as partner of choice for our stakeholders. As Frank van Stipdonk says: “No one knows what the future holds, but one thing is certain: we will be there following our passion and doing what we do best.”
Together for better
Together with colleagues and partners, we have grown our business over 50 years. From a team of four to the global enterprise we are today, encouraging a culture of teamwork, passion and dedication. Thriving on close collaboration and long-term ties with our business partners, we hone our skills and focus on strategic alignment. Striving for better, every single day. Whether for customers or suppliers, our goal has always been clear: to deliver better products, better services and informed insights about the industry.
But our goals go further - beyond our core offerings and business aspiration. We are committed to contributing to a sustainable planet, where we can all enjoy dairy responsibly – now and in the future.
Together for better.