Dairy giant FrieslandCampina is concentrating its research in Wageningen. R&D director Toon van Hooijdonk: ‘We look for the best partners, so that we keep ahead with our knowledge.’
'Wageningen has a broad knowledge base that fits well with our corporate strategy. From cows to nutrition - Wageningen has knowledge about all the links in the dairy chain. It has strong research groups, from genetics and animal nutrition to human nutrition and all the various aspects of food technology. The quality of the component parts is decisive for the results of research.
What is more, the dairy institute Nizo food research is nearby, and we work closely with the university in the Top Institute Food & Nutrition and the research programme Milk Genomics, researching the relation between the genetics of the cow and the composition of the milk. Through this collaboration in the Food Valley, with high tech companies too, we can stay ahead of the field in terms of knowledge. Only the best are our partners. Often they are in Wageningen, but sometimes they are elsewhere too. Wageningen has a good name. That is something we noticed at our branches in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe too. It feels good to be here.'
Toon van Hooijdonk studied in Wageningen, doing his PhD there as well. He then went on to occupy management posts at Unilever research, Nizo and the ingredient division at Campina. In 2001 he became director of R&D at Campina, which became FrieslandCampina from 2008.
In 2007, Van Hooijdonk became extraordinary professor of Diary Science in the Product Design & Quality chair group at Wageningen. He teaches three modules, followed by about thirty students, of whom about ten graduate with a major in Dairy Science.
What distinguishes your R&D centre from the university?
'The innovation chain is much longer than the knowledge chain. At the university you can conduct research in relative isolation, but in a company there is much more dependence. You have to adapt your work to suit suppliers, production and the customers. It is a much more complex business because you are dealing with the whole production chain.
Secondly, R&D at the company is more tightly organized: after every phase we look at whether we are going to achieve the underlying objectives. We regularly check whether we have come up with enough innovations, whether there are enough new products in the pipeline and whether our achievements match our ambitions. At the university there is much more freedom. As extraordinary professor I have objectives too of course: I want to deliver good students and PhD researchers who will easily get jobs. And I hope that the knowledge we gain will generate new options for innovations in the dairy chain.'
250 new neighbours
FrieslandCampina's research activities in Northwest Europe are spread over eight locations, mainly in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Three of these (Deventer, Tilburg and Wageningen) are now going to be clustered in Wageningen. The R&D centre will house about 250 researchers and developers. One hundred researchers are already in Wageningen, at the agrobusiness park. Another hundred will transfer from Deventer and about fifty from Tilburg. There is a fair chance that the new research centre will be built on the Wageningen campus.
Is it all about research on milk then, or about ideas for new desserts?
'We pay a lot of attention to the composition of the milk. This is affected both by the genetics of the cow and the feed it gets. The issue is the nutritional value of the milk, the proteins, vitamins and minerals. We want to capitalize on that value and we can do that will the basic product, milk, with desserts, and also with ingredients. We are also the specialists in breaking down milk. Wageningen is going to be our location for product innovation too.'
'But there is something else as well: we are working with Wageningen in the field of sustainability. We have set firm goals for reducing greenhouse gases in the dairy chain. Together with our dairy farmers, we want to cut CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2020. If the dairy industry in the Netherlands wants to maintain its strong position, we will have to be not only enterprising and efficient but also sustainable.'