‘Safest salmon in Europe’

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2313

The salmonella outbreak that hit Dutch salmon processor Foppen in 2012 has led to optimization of quality control. Since then, growth in smoked salmon has increased tremendously.

Quality control has top priority at Foppen. “Our hygiene processes are very well-managed. We have by far the safest salmon in Europe. Our quality control budget is huge, and we have been focussing on that from the start. Of course, the salmonella outbreak in 2012, at our premises in Greece, intensified that,” says CCO Wilbert Vedder.

It had a huge impact on the company, adds CEO Jan Foppen.

“It was a very difficult period for everybody involved. We took full responsibility, financially and otherwise. We compensated everyone and sent flowers to those who had been taken ill.”

“In spite of it all, we did not lose any customers,” Foppen continues. “They knew our quality control was very thorough. Nobody could have foreseen this.”

Lead auditor

Since then, the company has been completely free of salmonella.

“We learned a lot from what happened. Since then we have updated our complete monitoring system, together with TNO, the Dutch Organisation for Applied Scientific Research. It’s updated every year. We’ve also hired a lead auditor, who used to work for quality controller SGS, where she was head of the department responsible for monitoring the quality of fish.”

“Actually, the whole affair has made us stronger,” says Jan Foppen. “We were made an example for the whole country. We took it upon ourselves to set things straight, and we did. We can look back on it as something we learned a lot from.”

The only thing that should have been handled differently was the way we presented the situation to the outside world, concludes Jan Foppen.

“We were too much focused on ourselves during the first week and a half after the incident, which resulted in a lot of negative press. If it were to happen to us now, we would most likely choose a different approach.”

Growth in the US and Asia

Now, in 2017, Foppen is a very healthy company, with smoked salmon being its most important product.

“Salmon represents 70 to 75 percent of our turnover of 190 million euros per year,” says Wilbert Vedder. “Our prime markets are the US and Europe, with substantial growth in Asia. We have a sales office in the US, one in Shanghai and one in the Netherlands. We are growing in the US as well, especially with our range of salmon products.”

Asia, especially China, is a huge growth market, adds Jan Foppen. “It’s an enormous area with a growing middle class. It’s not an easy market, and we have been working on entering the Chinese market for a couple of years now.”

Vedder nods. “We are just getting in now, only recently getting approval under the Chinese quality law, which wasn’t easy. It took two years! Fortunately, we had a lot of help with that from the Dutch embassy. We also have a Chinese salesperson working at our main office, here in Harderwijk. To find your way in China, you need to work with local people. And for long-term relationships, you need to be present in the country itself.”

“We always take a right, where others take a left, or the other way around. We go where others don’t go. That is how we work. We don’t follow the standard paths.”

Demand for smoked salmon

Vedder: “Everywhere in the world, where the middle class grows, the demand for smoked salmon is growing along with it. In the last six months, we have been shipping a lot of salmon to China. And the demand is growing in Japan, Malaysia and South Korea as well. We are also expanding in the US, Canada and Mexico.”

Jan Foppen: “Fortunately, we are in a position to invest, because the company is very healthy. Even the high salmon prices have not affected us very much. Of course, there is pressure on purchases, and we would appreciate it if the prices fell a bit. But we make good arrangements, in close consultation with farmers and buyers, setting prices for three to six months or a year.”

Plans for the future

The production process is fully automated, all the way through to smoking the salmon. After that, it is mostly manual work, explains Wilbert Vedder. “But we are following market developments closely. The salmon business has only become a serious industry for about the last twenty years now. A lot can and will still happen. More and more machine manufacturers are eager to jump in, so we’ll see what happens.”

Foppen will keep focusing on new markets, says Vedder. “We are also expanding in southern Europe. The combination with our shrimp selection is very attractive to a lot of customers, in both retail and the food industry.”

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