Making a difference through young animal nutrition
The Dutch magazine De Molenaar sat down with Hamlet Protein CEO, Erik Visser and Regional Director Jan Kamphof to discuss Hamlet Protein’s focus on internationalization.
Hamlet Protein produces ingredients for young animals nutrition based on plant-based raw materials. The products are delivered all over the world. The company recently became more active on the North-West European market. “There is still plenty of potential here in terms of animal numbers and development,” says the Managing Director Erik Visser.
The head office is located in Horsens, Denmark. In addition, the company has a production line located in Findlay (United States) and a sales office in Qingdao (China). All international customers are served from these three offices. The Dutch native Erik Visser has been the Managing Director of Hamlet Protein since June 2019. He is committed to making Hamlet Protein a more famous name in the animal feeding industry. Worldwide, but certainly also in his own home country, the Netherlands. “There is still a lot of market potential here,” Visser says.
Visser is no stranger to the international animal feeding industry. He has held various positions in companies dealing with animal nutrition, commerce and policy; he also worked at Provimi and NutriAd, among others. “The Netherlands is a fantastic school when it comes to the animal nutrition industry,” he states.
Visser came into contact with the Danish company through the current owners of Hamlet Protein - the investment companies Altor and Goldman Sachs. “It became apparent from the discussions that Hamlet Protein has a clear ambition aimed at internationalization. I was interested in this challenge.”
“Hamlet Protein is a leader on the Danish market. The company is well renowned by Danish livestock farmers for its quality and technically advanced products”, explains Visser. “This reputation is sufficient to serve the Danish market. We had been selling our products on the Danish and international market for a long time based namely on this.”
However, Visser believes that something more is needed to proactively conquer and serve a larger market. “Until recently they were not doing it all at Hamlet Protein in this regard.” Visser is in charge of changing that. “Getting things moving requires a cultural shift. This demands something from both the company and the people. Such a process requires good guidance and visibility from me as a director.” Therefore, he travels almost every week from the Netherlands to Denmark even during the corona pandemic with due observance of all required measures.
Hamlet Protein was founded in Horsens in 1989. Since its start, the Danish company has been focused on the production of plant-based ingredients for young animal nutrition, more specifically on piglets’ feeds. “Denmark is known for its high-quality pig meat production. This is also what animal nutrition production is aimed at.” Due to the success of Hamlet Protein’s ingredients in Danish pig farming, interest in these products grew over the years in other countries as well. In addition, Hamlet Protein also develops raw materials for calf feeding and steps in the poultry farming have been taken. “We are finalizing a research for a new ingredient for broiler chicken nutrition. The research has been somewhat delayed due to Covid-19, but we expect to launch our new poultry product early next year.” The product will initially be marketed in the United States, but will subsequently be available for export for other markets as well.
The key to a healthy life
Young animal nutrition is the key to a healthy and productive life, says Hamlet Protein. “A good start makes the difference. Starting from that basic idea, all of our attention is focused on research and development of feeds for young animals.”
All products of the Danish company are based on vegetable proteins. The founders made a good choice at the time, Visser notes. “An increasing number of animal proteins are being replaced by plant-based proteins. In part due to pressure from the consumer market and in part as regards to biosafety. Our many years of research experience show that plant-based materials in young animal feeds are a good substitute for animal-based materials while maintaining the production results.”
The most important raw material is soy (see box). “This crop provides the highest protein content and the best amino acid pattern of all plant-based raw materials”. Hamlet Protein applies a patented processing procedure in order to make these nutrients available to the young animal and to remove the present anti-nutritional factors (ANF) as much as possible. “What enzymes do for the animal, we already do partially in our process,” says Jan Kamphof, Regional Director at Hamlet Protein.
The interest in young animal feed is growing worldwide, Hamlet Protein observes, and this offers prospects for the expansion of the Danish company. “Research shows that feeding high-quality ingredients via starter feed leads to increased intestinal activity, better digestion and absorption of the nutrients, improvement of muscle development and build-up of the immune system.” All of this leads to more uniform flocks and a better production result in the further life of the animal.
The Danish animal feed specialist company wants to respond specifically to this growing interest in young animal nutrition. “In view of management, we made an analysis of the potential of the different markets. Based on the results, we made targeted choices of countries where we wish to actively approach the market with our products,” says Visser.
In Europe, in addition to Denmark, on the top of the priority list are Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium. In Asia, the focus is initially on China, Japan and the Philippines. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the United States, Canada and Mexico are the main target markets. Over the past year, Hamlet Protein invested in active presence in Asia and North America. From next year on, the emphasis will be on the European market and more specifically on the Benelux countries.
“Until recently, serving the European market was done through resellers,” says Kamphof. “This is now changing. We have hired someone to establish and maintain the contact with our customers in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.” The company's own staff is supported by a German nutritionist, who has been offering technical support to Hamlet Protein customers in this region for a long time.
Visser: “When serving a specific market, it is essential that you speak the “language” of the country. It is important to know how your product fits into a market, what the differences are and what are the similarities. This requires local interaction, direct contact with your customers so that you can translate it to the customer’s situation, not only with view of nutrition, but also with regard to the animal husbandry industry. This is why we are now investing heavily in setting up local interaction in the markets that are our priority.”
Hamlet Protein does not only focus on communication with the animal feed industry in the Netherlands and Belgium. Kamphof: “Our sales manager will also be going to the farms, particularly to the larger pig and poultry farms.” It is important that the product and the people behind the product meet on-site in the farm. “Our feed is a nutritional product that makes an important contribution to animal health and, in particular, intestinal health. You do not see that in the factory, it comes to light in the barn. So you have to be there to tell the story.”
Although the pressure on livestock farming in Europe, and in the Netherlands in particular, is increasing, Kamphof and Visser still see a lot of potential for their products in their own “cradle”. “Just like in Denmark, pig farming is highly respected in the Netherlands. The Dutch livestock farmer opts for high-quality products that translate into good results, both in terms of animal health and financially. Our products belong to this working method,” says Visser.
On its home market in Denmark, most of Hamlet Protein products are sold through the animal feed industry. “Danish pig farmers mix the starter feed themselves. They buy the ingredients from the feed supplier”, says Visser. According to Kamphof, this is different in the Netherlands. “Here livestock farmers often buy the compound feed. However, farmers will have more control over the composition and the ingredients in their feed. And that is an opportunity for us.”
Hamlet Protein already sells products through animal feed producers and premix companies. Moreover, according to Kamphof, an increasing number of Dutch livestock farmers are using independent feed consultants and alternative feed suppliers. “Whatever strategy a farmer has, our products must be the hot topic of discussion and every link in the chain in the composition of young animal feeds,” says Kamphof.
Through the more than thirty years that Hamlet Protein has been on the market, a wealth of knowledge has been built up according to Kamphof. “We spend a lot of money on scientific research to show the advantages of our products. In practice, the results of those studies alone are not enough for farmers to actually start using our products. They often take on that step only after they are sure it works.” Hamlet Protein therefore uses the products in practice. “In pig farms, we prefer to conduct research within closed farms. You can follow the animals from birth to slaughter. There is no better way to show how much importance young animal nutrition has on life and production results.”
CEO, Erik Visser
Regional Director, Jan Kamphof