Masters of the Market: From Global Trends to Trading Triumphs
Hi Hu, can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Hu Zhening, I’m 43 years old and I am a Senior Trader at Interfood Beijing. I’m married and a father of a 13 year old daughter. I live in Beijing, together with my wife and daughter, not far from our Beijing office. Besides milk, and after having done my family chores, I love playing basketball or reading fiction books. And of course drinking and having a good time with friends. Those moments are always full of highlights, especially when I have a guitar in hand.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up at Interfood?
I studied Food Science and Engineering and have spent my entire career selling imported dairy ingredients to the Chinese market. I first encountered Interfood in 2004 when I was working for Milkyway, selling Interfood IPRO 3105. In 2016, Interfood Singapore offered me an opportunity to bring more selected brands and products to China, which I gladly accepted.
What inspired you to pursue a career in your field, and what motivates you to continue working in this industry?
“Dairy, the source of life” – I love that slogan, although we don’t use it anymore in our corporate branding and story since Interfood renewed its brand story back in 2021. Dairy ingredients are crucial in the global food industry and in China, the world’s largest developing country. Innovations emerge annually from both the supply and application sides. At the same time, we are utilizing futures markets for risk control and long-term benefit fixing. Working with Interfood, dairy ingredients are a truly dynamic business.
What motivates you to come to work every day at Interfood, and how does your role contribute to the company's success?
New demands, offers, brands, products, recipes, pricing methods, and even claims bring valuable lessons. I have established a strong influence on customers and the industry, working closely with local application R&D teams and participating in trade shows, making all new projects easier to handle.
Can you talk about a project or initiative that you were particularly passionate about, and what about it resonated with you?
Becoming a certified Fonterra reseller! We were approved just this year, positioning us as one of the most important milk powder suppliers in China and facilitating our substantial growth in the coming years. We developed an innovative pricing method never before offered, providing competitive prices to customers while securing a fixed margin for Interfood. This has made me a very popular figure in the industry.
What do you find most exciting about the dairy trade market, and how do you stay up to date with industry trends?
The dairy industry is truly dynamic, with new technologies and products emerging almost yearly, not to mention the monthly price fluctuations. Interfood provides various tools such as the Interfood Market Watch and other market updates to help both me and our customers and suppliers stay updated with the latest trends.
Can you talk about a specific challenge you faced when working with a supplier or customer, and how did you resolve it?
One of my long-term customers for SMP lost a significant amount of money during a 12-month price drop, making it financially challenging to fulfill a 200 tons per month x 15 months contract. This left hundreds of tons of SMP uncleared at the port for about a month. I arranged meetings with the customer, the General Manager of Interfood China, and the Managing Director of Interfood Singapore to find the best solution to keep the customer performing under the contract. Interfood China and Interfood Singapore worked together to clear all the goods, financing our customer to pay for the settlement truck by truck over an additional three months until all goods and port fees were paid.
How have you seen the field of commodity trading evolve over the course of your career, and how have you adapted to those changes?
Two main changes stand out: 1. Quality has become more standardized. For example, more milk powder producers are making low spore milk powders, and more whey powder producers are making heat stable whey powders. This has made customer approvals easier than before. 2. The futures market, also known as the derivatives market, is becoming involved in long-term pricing risk control and arbitrage.
I have naturally adapted to these changes, as Interfood has built very professional QA and derivatives teams from which I can learn and get support whenever needed.
Can you share a specific example of how Interfood's culture and values have impacted your work or the way you approach your role?
Not at all. Just joking! There are actually too many examples, making it difficult for me to choose just one. During my visit in June 2023, to the lab of Interfood BV in Holland, our R&D team introduced me to a supportive project aimed at improving milk fat value by upgrading from cream or regular butter to sheet butter. I realized that one of the biggest dairy companies in China might be interested in working with us on a commercial and R&D combined project to produce and sell sheet butter in China. By introducing this project, we were able to build a better relationship with higher level managers of this customer. Although this project is still in its early stages, we have already sold milk powders to this customer. In Interfood, our non-commercial teams are always supportive and enthusiastic about commercial targets. Together for better!
What do you think sets Interfood apart from other companies you've worked for, and how has this impacted your career development?
(1) The people we have. We are young, straightforward, professional, and warm-hearted. This combination and culture is easier said than done, and I am proud to be a part of it. (2) The reputation. We are well known in the industry for working hard to uphold all contracts and commitments, especially in a highly fluctuating market. This is also easier said than done. Our corporate values – teamwork, commitment, continuous improvement, professionalism, responsible leadership – are a fantastic guideline to learn, adapt, develop, and to stay on top of your game.
How does Interfood foster a sense of community and teamwork among its employees, and what role do you play in this?
We always work as a team. In the modern dairy industry, it is impossible to sell anything without support from QA, R&D, logistics, and financial teams. We also have a great general support team, which ensures operational work runs as smoothly as cream. In my line of work I know that I need the support of my colleagues and I always try to connect the dots when necessary.
Looking to the future, how do you see Interfood evolving and adapting to new challenges and opportunities, and what role do you see yourself playing in this journey?
We are playing a significant role in China, adapting to all the changes in the Chinese dairy industry, such as local milk surplus, cost-reducing recipes, Free Trade Agreements with Oceanian countries, the booming coffee shop industry, and an increasing craving for milk fat. I am fully participating in almost every new opportunity by selling new products, assisting with new recipes, and providing better pricing methods.
And finally, what would you say to potential Interfood team members?
"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me." ~ Ayn Rand
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