Foppen: constantly working on product innovation

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Jan Foppen, CEO of Dutch salmon processor and smoker Foppen, is the third generation of the family-owned business founded by his grandfather in 1918, and now one of the most prominent salmon producers in the Netherlands.

He and CCO Wilbert Vedder spoke to SalmonBusiness about the company’s development.

Grandfather Jan Foppen started selling eels using a cargo bike in his hometown of Harderwijk. A few years later, he expanded with a small smokehouse for eels and herring. The company really began to grow when he and his son, also Jan, started selling large quantities of smoked eel at fairs in the south of the Netherlands.

In 1978 the smokehouse was moved to a new location in Harderwijks industrial area. Current owner and third generation, Jan Foppen, at the age of 17, then started working at the company, which was still primarily focussed on eels.

Head-start with salmon

“When I started working, we had some good years selling eels in large quantities at fairs. But at the beginning of the nineties, eels stocks were decreasing all over Europe,” Jan Foppen says, reminiscing. “That’s when farmed eel entered the market. Instead of whole eel, which we used to sell at the fairs, we started to sell eel fillets. That created an interest for eel within the supermarkets.”

Wilbert Vedder and Jan Foppen.

At the same time Foppen took over a small eel and salmon processor from Scheveningen. Jan Foppen: “Eel was not doing too well then, so we looked around for a new product. Salmon was a good addition to our smoking activities.”

The raw material, farmed salmon, was purchased in Norway and Scotland. Adding salmon to the selection turned out to be a good choice. It was the start of the growth of the company, says Jan Foppen.

“We expanded sales internationally. That led to substantial growth of the company.”

Around that time, smoked salmon changed from being a seasonal product, mostly consumed at Christmas and Easter, to a year-round product, Foppen explains. “Because of the increase of production by the farms, availability grew and prices decreased. This led to even more growth in our company, and we needed more production space.”

In 2000 Foppen bought several neighboring buildings, and in 2001 the current production location, with a production space of 10,000 m² was built.

Eel was at that time still an important product for the company. Filleting and smoking operations were, in the meantime, transferred to Greece.

“In 2008 we needed extra production space for salmon, because we had just started supplying the US,” says Wilbert Vedder. “In 2010 we built a new factory in Greece; an exact copy of our Harderwijk factory, including the quality requirements. Foppen Greece has Dutch management, its own lab, and quality control.”

Meanwhile, Foppen started another new product – shrimp –  to compensate for the decrease in eel volume. Jan Foppen: “We experimented with smoked shrimp, but that wasn’t successful. However, our clients were definitely interested in shrimp, so we decided to add it to our selection. We bought our own ships to catch Dutch grey shrimp. The name and number of my great grandfather’s boat, HK 78, was still available, so we used that for our first shrimp vessel.”

As a result, Foppen now supplies a complete range of fresh shrimp products, from Dutch grey shrimp to tropical shrimp.

Long term relationships

Fresh salmon on ice arrives in Harderwijk from Norway all week, except on Sundays, for further processing. Foppen has a fixed group of Norwegian and Scottish salmon suppliers, including Salmar and Ocean Quality.

“We have long term relationships with our salmon farmers, and expect the same quality all the time. All of our products, including trout, are purchased straight from the farmers or fishermen. Our wild salmon arrives frozen from Alaska.”

The main customers are supermarkets and the food industry in Europe and the US. “If you look at the top 10 retailers of the world, we deliver to numbers one, two and three,” says Wilbert Vedder.

For the production of the various smoked salmon products, Foppen has five processing lines and fifteen packaging lines. The company is in production 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Social media

Foppen has a wide range of smoked products for the retail and the food industry, including kosher and ultra kosher, approved by visiting rabbis from various countries. The company also produces hot smoked salmon, which has recently been in greater demand, says Jan Foppen.

“15 years ago we started producing hot smoked salmon. We kept trying to promote interest in this product over the years, but without much success. Then about four years ago, it suddenly became popular and hit the market. Since then, sales have gone up every year, in Europe as well as in the US. We even purchased a new production line for it this year; a very nice skin pack line!”

“Consumers are increasingly looking for convenience products,” adds Vedder. “And it’s easier to reach consumers via social media. For example, food bloggers promoting hot salmon have a big impact.”

Jan Foppen says, with a smile: “Five years ago we won an award for the most innovative product with our wok shrimp. Because Weight Watchers promoted this product through their social media channels, lots of people voted for it.”

“We are successful because we are a full-range supplier with lots of new products and ideas,” Wilbert Vedder adds. “Every now and then something really special comes up; for example, salmon carpaccio, sandwich salmon or, more recently, toast salmon. Products that are recognizable and clear to consumers really work.”

Foppen is constantly working on product innovation, says Vedder. “We have our own product development team, consisting of six technologists and creative chefs, working both internally and externally.”