Ipswich/UK: Animal feed makers enter new era as ForFarmers

Iain Gardner, chief operating officer of ForFarmers, and Yoram Knoop, chief executive of ForFarmers,

Iain Gardner, chief operating officer of ForFarmers, and Yoram Knoop, chief executive of ForFarmers, at the re-branding of the BOCM Pauls name to ForFarmers at an event at the Farmers' Club in London on Monday, October 6, 2014 - Credit: Archant

The Dutch owners of animal feed operation BOCM Pauls, based in Ipswich, rolled out their group-wide branding to the UK this week. They also set out ambitious plans for the future of the company, which operates in the Netherlands, the UK, Germany and Belgium. SARAH CHAMBERS was at the Farmers’ Club in London as ForFarmers announced the re-brand.

ForFarmers has announced the re-branding of its BOCM Pauls operation in the UK and has begun putting

ForFarmers has announced the re-branding of its BOCM Pauls operation in the UK and has begun putting the new livery on its lorry fleet. - Credit: Archant

Animal feed firm ForFarmers has come a long way since the start of the century.

By 2010, what started out with the merging of some small farming co-operatives in an eastern corner of the Netherlands, became a listed company and European market leader in the animal feed sector.

Through a series of acquisitions and through organic growth, the Dutch feed firm, based in Lochem, has emerged from relatively small beginnings to become a major international player, and has ambitions to grow further.

Two years ago, it realised its ambition to become a leading animal feed operation in the UK with the purchase of BOCM Pauls, a prominent feed business whose roots stretched back to the 19th century when it was part of a thriving community of merchants and traders based on Ipswich’s dockyard.

ForFarmers brief the press at the Farmers' Club in London on its re-branding exercise.

ForFarmers brief the press at the Farmers' Club in London on its re-branding exercise. - Credit: Archant

By then, the Paul family, which founded the Pauls side of the business, were no longer owners, but their historical link can be seen on the old R & W Paul building which still stands on Ipswich Waterfront close to Stoke Bridge.

On Monday, ForFarmers, which has since acquired more feed firms in the UK - Dairy Direct Ltd, HST Feeds and Wheyfeed - as it consolidates its position in the region, held a conference in London to publicise its decision to bring its branding together to create a more cohesive and immediately recognisable identity for the group.

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It means the end of the BOCM Pauls name, and the beginning of a new era for a very old business. The ForFarmers UK headquarters, though, remain in Ipswich, along with its UK-wide network of milling and manufacturing operations, which include a recently upgraded operation at Bury St Edmunds, remain. So does its 1,000-plus UK employees - half of ForFarmers’ entire 2,200-strong workforce.

“This is everything the company stands for. It’s all we do. We are there for the farmer,” chief executive Yoram Knoop said of the name change. “The success of the company will be directly related to the success of our farmers.”

ForFarmers is the UK’s leading animal feed manufacturer, manufacturing, selling and distributing more than two million tonnes of animal feed per year, and provides UK-wide coverage across all livestock species groups. The company has an annual turnover of £590million in the UK, and operates 12 compound feed manufacturing sites, together with six blend plants, a co-products and by-products division which adds a further 600,000 tonnes to its sales, and is active in the premix and minerals market.

“What we are announcing today forms part of our ‘One ForFarmers’ strategy, which aims to intensify cooperation within the group, realise a more uniform way of working and focus products and innovations on the markets in which we operate,” he says.

“ForFarmers will become the name for our entire organisation, but it is more than just a change of brand name. It concerns all aspects of the organisation and has one objective: to optimise the potential of all the ForFarmers businesses and create one international, strong company and brand. Re-branding our activities in the United Kingdom as ForFarmers is a part of this process.”

Yoram, who became chief executive and chairman of the board in January, sees a bright future for the growing group.

Its ambition is to become the leading or second placed feed operation in Germany and Belgium - a position it already holds in Holland and the UK - and, over time, break into new territory by moving into a fifth country, as yet to be decided.

The remarkable rise of ForFarmers, as the conference made clear, reflects changes in the farming sector. As agricultural operations become bigger and more professionalised, so the companies which supply them have, by necessity, become bigger too.

“Our strategy is to provide customers with products based on optimal nutritional expertise through a combination of growth, increasing scale and international expansion. Our efforts are entirely focused towards helping customers to improve their returns,” explained Yoram.

“We do this by providing them with best-in-class nutritional solutions, specialist expertise and world-class technical advice to promote faster animal growth rates, make more efficient use of feed, improve animal health, as well as minimising agriculture’s impact on the environment. We are investing in the long-term future of the business and our goal is to further expand our ‘Total Feed’ concept to further encourage the sustainable production of dairy, meat and eggs.”

He sees opportunities for further growth across Europe and within the countries where it currently operates.

“We believe we have still got a bigger role to play in further consolidation,” he explained. “We feel it’s still fragmented in a number of countries.”

ForFarmers provides feed mainly for cattle, pigs and poultry and strives to provide a one-stop shop for farmers in all areas related to feed, as it sees strong relationships with farmers as key to its success.

“We are now trying to put all these companies we have acquired altogether and try and create this strong international group,” he said. “We are giving the farmer any product in whatever shape he needs for his business.”

In the first half of this year, ForFarmers, which enjoys an annual turnover of 2.6billion euros, or about £2bn, delivered 3,215million tonnes of compound feed.

“What’s important for our future is despite we made these two acquisitions in the UK our balance sheet is very strong,” said Yoram.

“We did manage to see some volume growth. Our profits went up despite the fact that raw materials went down.”

The company is still majority owned by the original co-operative, but its shares have reduced as a proportion over time.

Sustainability is important to the group, said Yoram, and it hopes to have moved its Dutch operation to 100% sustainable soya, as the food industry moves towards an agreed definition, by next year and the UK slightly later than that.

“Sustainability is very high on our agenda and we have a very proactive approach on sustainability,” he said.

“We want to grow, but also we want to be there in 20 years’ time.”

The firm’s balance sheet is still very strong, which means that it continue its plans for further acquisition, he added.

Chief operating officer Iain Gardner, who was chief executive of BOCM Pauls at the time of the takeover in 2012, now sits on the ForFarmers board. So too does his fellow former BOCM Pauls colleague Steven Read, who is now director of purchasing, pricing and formulation, reflecting the Europe-wide nature of the operation.

Iain believes the name change is a positive move for a feed brand covering the whole of the UK, where it is “big business”.

ForFarmers had brought “massive, massive investment” to the UK operation, improving efficiency and investing in mills and plants.

“The big thing is it’s a long-term future,” he said. “We are investing in plants and lorries and staff, the future of the business.”

He added: “Whilst some may regard the rebranding of BOCM Pauls as the end of an era, in reality it simply represents the next step in the history of a company which has evolved continuously for more than 100 years in response to changing market conditions and customer requirements.

“The consolidation which we have seen in the food and farming sectors over the years is accelerating rapidly. For example, since July 2012, we have acquired Dairy Direct, HST Feeds and Wheyfeed. ForFarmers history is firmly rooted in the agricultural sector and as part of a strong international business we are in the best possible position going forward.

“Since ForFarmers Group acquired BOCM Pauls in July 2012 we have operated as ‘BOCM Pauls – a ForFarmers Company’ and continued to develop our ‘Total Feed Business’ approach to an even wider customer base across key markets, supplying livestock farmers throughout the UK with animal nutrition in whatever form they require. The resulting economies of scale and optimum use of resources have enabled us to further increase the value proposition which we offer by maximising our customers’ production, returns and profitability.

Being part of a highly-professional international business meant they were able to attract and retain the best staff, critical to the future of the firm, and customers.

“It also enables us to access ForFarmers’ extensive R&D and knowledge bank, enabling us to bring forward new products, services, initiatives and nutritional innovations which are competitively superior and relevant to our customers’ requirements. This makes our already strong New Product Development programme even stronger,” he said.

“This is just the start of a very exciting process, one which will ensure that we remain at the forefront of the animal feed sector for many more years to come.”