Spreading global business
Walter Rau Neusser Öl und Fett AG is a leading producer of oils and fats. As part of the Bunge group it has extended its reach into a number of global markets
Walter Rau Neusser Öl und Fett AG comes from an area with a strong industrial history. Situated in Neuss, a harbour city around the Lower Rhine area of Germany, it benefits from close proximity to major local ports with connections to crucial distribution points, such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The oil mill in the local area was established in 1887 and in 1929 was taken over by Mr Walter Rau, resulting in the formation of his namesake business. Today it specialises in the creation of products that benefit the food industry, including spreads and baking kits which are produced by the recently acquired company Lindemann. In October 2016, further growth was achieved by becoming part of the Bunge Group, something that has opened up further possibilities with brands across Europe, India as well as North and South America: “Bunge wanted to grow in this market, and so saw an opportunity with a specialist that was winning in that department,” recalls Managing Director Alexander van der Klauw.
Part of the reason that Walter Rau has developed is due to its efficient processes: “The products are made from crude vegetable oils, with the raw materials sourced from the global market. It is mostly derived from sunflower oil which can mainly be found in Hungary, though there are other places in Europe you can extract from, such as France and Ukraine,” Alexander explains. Other examples of oils that are used are rapeseed oil, palm oil and coconut oil. Impurities such as colour and any elements that could create an odour are removed. According to the company, this will result in ‘not just optimum functionality, but also maintaining a nutritional-physiological balance’. Depending on the needs of the customer, it may also be solidified or liquefied as necessary. With over 50 variations, there are a lot of potential options for a client to choose from. For example, it may be necessary to blend different types of oils and fats in order to prevent deterioration. A good illustration of why this is useful is in a fish and chip shop. If you are frying a lot, ideally you want to avoid not having to constantly change the liquid, as this could mean people waiting for food, and may end up deciding to go elsewhere!
Presently 60 per cent of clients are based in its native Germany, though this is something that the group is looking to change: “Certain products are not exclusive, so if it is available closer then there will always be that logistical advantage for rivals in some markets. This is why there is a push to develop more specialised products, so that transportation is less of an issue,” Alexander illustrates. Becoming part of Bunge has also helped to expand the business’ horizons: “There is more of a focus on growth but fortunately that also comes with increased investment. It also means leverage into previously unavailable larger demographics, as there was not the level of workforce capable of meeting that demand available before the takeover.”
This meant there was the opportunity to invest in technological upgrades: “In December 2017, a new bottle line is being brought in that will allow us to produce bottles for liquid oils and fats that are made of 50 per cent recycled material, something that is a requirement for some markets that the group is looking to enter into, as companies look to reduce carbon footprint. There is also a new powder unit – using a supplier’s patented technology, liquid nitrogen can spray cool and transform materials into powder, this can then be used by our customers in other areas, allowing for further growth,” Alexander details. In July 2017, the desire to test boundaries and create new solutions resulted in Walter Rau being given the Top 100 award for innovation by Professor Niklolaus Franke and a group of experts for the third year running.
The process of innovating is not achieved solely by machinery, but also in choosing the right humans to make this possible. When it comes to employing people to join Walter Rau, Alexander has a firm belief in what it takes to be part of the team: “The core philosophy is about working with the customer. Someone coming into this organisation needs to have that orientation. Whether the employee is part of the sales force or a factory worker, the drive needs to be the same, this level of focus will help the group to achieve great things,” he insists. It is not a one-way process, as initiatives have been brought in such as health checks, sports programmes and consultancy services to look after the well-being of its employees, resulting in a recent survey whereby 72 per cent of workers said they were happy with the working environment. Alexander also believes that the safety of the people working for the group is paramount and Bunge’s top priority: “People should be able to come home to their families at the end of the day.”
Another massive focus, on a much wider scale, for both Walter Rau and Bunge is a focus on sustainability: “There is only one world, and it is vital that for the future generations that live in it that processes are sustainable.” Alexander’s words are not just rhetoric, Bunge has a non-deforestation palm oil policy and works closely with suppliers and others to improve the industry overall. On top of that, Walter Rau has made a commitment to only sourcing palm oil products from reputable origins such as RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) members, as well as working closely with ZNU (Zentrum für Nachhaltige Unternehmensführung), an application-orientated research institution that looks at ways that companies can encourage ecologically responsible corporate leadership. This approach has yielded significant results, with landfill and water consumption reduced by 29 and 18 per cent between 2010 and 2015 respectively. Interestingly, these measures also improved productivity by 12 per cent in the same time-frame.
A desire to achieve results on a worldwide stage is admirable, however the organisation has not neglected its social responsibilities closer to home. There has been a firm commitment to engaging with local community issues, including supporting children’s charities and youth sports teams, something that the business believes is crucial for the future: ‘Social behaviour, integration, teamwork and discipline are all parts of a successful communication under any circumstances.’
Inevitably when talking about fats and oils, there is a concern about health, something that has been a major issue in recent years with the growing problem of obesity and cardiovascular diseases around the world. Alexander explains how Walter Rau is addressing this with its processes: “There are steps that can be taken to make a product healthier with an improved fatty acid profile, including removing trans-fatty acids, reducing saturated fat levels and increasing unsaturated fat levels. Often this means replacing the fats with sunflower oil, but this is not always possible. If a product has a different melting point then you need an alternative solution appropriate for the client. Many of the projects currently being researched are about improving the health-giving properties, while at the same time not compromising on qualities such as taste, crispiness and other important factors the client will want covered.” There remains a hunger within the group to continue and progress, further building on the 400 recipes it has created, something that Alexander confirms with a clear statement that this will continue to be the case in the next few years and beyond: “It is about going the extra mile, it’s the main driving force behind what the company does.”