Connecting with consumers of today and tomorrow

Markus Dedl, CEO of Delacon since 2010. Photo: Delacon
Markus Dedl, CEO of Delacon since 2010. Photo: Delacon

“Consumers have the power to change every aspect of the animal livestock industry. Their concerns, their acceptance of production methods, should be critical in how our customers and we ourselves organise our businesses,” says Markus Dedl, CEO at phytogenics company Delacon. He commissioned a survey among millennial foodies to get insights into their take on food production.

They outnumber generation X and are far more influential than the baby boom generation. Millennials, born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, are the most highly educated and culturally diverse group of all generations, closely connected to their social and environmental surroundings and are expected to make up approximately half the workforce by 2020. They are the consumers of today and will be the big spenders of tomorrow. “It is this group of people, highly involved with what they eat and how it is produced, we need and want to communicate with,” says Dedl.

He continues, “We think there is a tremendous opportunity to connect with millennials with a story about animal wellness, good management practices and natural plant-based feed ingredients.”

Pig Progress: Why would an additive company connect with consumers, while their primary business is with the feed industry?

Markus Dedl: “We at Delacon claim that we are pioneers in our field of expertise. Being at the forefront of the industry has for us the consequence that we have to look over our borders of day to day business. We want to have an information base that goes well beyond what is expected from us to be able to help our customers in offering the best choice for their customers.”

How does that pan out?

“It is essential to know what makes the world go round on a consumer’s level. Yes, we develop and manufacture additives, our customers make feed and their customers produce animal protein. That said, there is a great potential to interact with consumers and educate them about the way we cater to their protein needs. We have to be honest, agriculture has a dilemma to some extent when it comes to consumer trust and communication. We want to be transparent, for that we have to communicate and above all, have an honest story to tell.”

I can imagine that the concept of phytogenics is somewhat far-fetched for the average consumer. How do you bridge the knowledge gap?

“Of course phytogenics aren’t on the average consumer’s radars. However, millennial foodies do care about animal well-being and the environment. When selecting their food, they actively search for added value propositions such as ‘raised with good animal welfare practices’, ‘raised without antibiotics ever’ and ‘raised in ways that reduce environmental impact’. They can relate to the fact that raising and feeding chickens with herbs and plant extracts contribute to overall well-being. The benefits of feeding phytogenics, with the potential to promote gut health, reducing ammonia emissions and being a proven performer in antibiotic free production, support a compelling narrative.”

From chemicals to botanicals

The idea of using plant-based compounds for feed additives at Delacon started in the chemical industry. At the Austrian state-owned company Chemie Linz, Helmut Dedl made a career in the innovations department. When the company was split up and privatised, he started his own business and founded Delacon in 1988.

Dedl started blending botanicals in a garage and soon realised there was great potential in the plant-based substances, especially as a tool to support in replacing antibiotic growth promoters. His vision materialised and got traction in the years that followed. Together with nutritionists and technicians, Helmut Dedl learned increasingly more about how botanicals work and interact with each other. He invented the term ‘phytogenic feed additives’, before handing over the management to his son Markus Dedl in 2010. Since then the company has displayed strong growth and new product developments.

Earlier this year, the company had its poultry feed additive Biostrong 510 EC registered as ‘zootechnical additive’ by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), just like what happened to its piglet feed additive Fresta F in 2012.

What did you learn from the survey among millennial foodies?

“First of all they ‘dig’ the concept of plant based feed ingredients. The survey showed that nine out of ten millennials say meat and poultry produced with phytogenics would make a positive impact on their brand choice. Secondly, there is a way we can communicate with them. Nearly two-thirds of them look at food labels closely, suggesting an untapped opportunity for food brands to differentiate themselves with the powerful story of phytogenics.”

What can you do with the results?

“Realising that if millennial foodies knew that animals were fed phytogenics, 62% would feel great about their food choice, helps us to connect with them. This is an outcome which we can have discussions about with our customers, discussing marketing and food labelling strategies to differentiate their food brands. As said before, as a pioneer, we see it as our duty to help customers by developing and providing solutions that work. For the producers themselves, for the animals, for the environment and of course for the consumers.”

Just recently the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control issued an alarming statement that bacteria resistant to antibiotics are on the increase. Is the growing awareness helpful to your business?

“Consumers and legislators demand from the livestock industry that their production is sound, only using the minimum possible level of medicines. Supporting animal gut health and integrity with phytogenic feed additives does certainly help in reaching this goal. That said, the silver bullet that can replace all antibiotics doesn’t come from us. We are realistic enough to see that we are only a part of the antibiotic-free solution. We see some good combinations between phytogenics and for instance esterified MCFAs, but they only work well when we deeply understand the problems the animals face.”

Are phytogenics top of mind when it comes to phasing out antibiotics?

“The phasing out of antibiotics from feed has certainly accelerated our business to some extent. Especially in the US. But we sell our products in countries where antibiotics are still allowed as well. That said, many know that there is an expiration date on in-feed antibiotics and they are looking actively for alternatives. We need to solve all problems, but not all of them in one day. It is like driving an electric car, I will not save the planet by doing so, but it is my contribution to saving the planet which makes me feel good. And that is the ultimate reason why people are doing things.”

Fabian Brockotter Editor in chief Poultry World