Danisco probably belongs to the category of corporations that are the most anonymous to the general publish, since it is almost never seen or mentioned in any brands that we consume.
And yet it is behind most everything that you enjoy everyday.
“We have our ingredients in every second ice cream that is served on the planet. You don’t get to that level by being small. In yoghurt it’s every fourth, and in every second cheese we supply something,” explains Gorm Larsen, the driving force behind Danisco’s current intimate involvement with Danisco clients’ innovations all over South East Asia.
Behind everything we eat and these products’ textures, tastes and shelf life there is science and that is where the skills of the people at Danisco come into play.
Gorm Larsen is the Director of Innovation and he has developed Danisco’s operations in Southeast Asia from scratch, moving first to Penang in Malaysia where he spent five years as the first innovation staff in the Asia Pacific with the target to build up the innovation function and bringing Danisco closer to its Asian customers. And from there to Singapore gradually as different companies were acquired in Singapore and it was decided to streamline the operations into one location there.
“We gathered everything together here in Singapore and added additional activities. That’s why we have it here. Singapore, in lots of aspects is a smart place to operate from, even if not the cheapest.”
The Penang operation where it all started is still a large production site.
“It was easy and cheap to start there. But apart from being a wonderful place to live, it’s not the very central place in Asia. The number of people that came to work with us in the facilities in the first five years, we probably achieved the same in one year in Singapore.”
“What we do here is unique in the sense that in order to achieve speed to market and all those sales gimmicks, we get local people with local taste preferences to do the development of basic cultures here,” he explains further.
Thus Danisco can tailor these cultures to fit their customers’ needs and achieve innovative solutions that target a specific market.
“You can have a product with more fibres in it etc. so we help people to apply our ingredients. That’s why we in the Asia Pacific need to have facilities like this one.”
Danisco runs similar operations in Sydney, Shanghai and Tokyo.
“If you think you can develop a solution sitting in cold Denmark and make it fit into warm Indonesia that’s probably naïve,” says the experienced innovation engineer.
“When an Asian person takes a product and tastes something they get a different impression. Some of it is also related to that their standard diet is different from our standard diet in Europe. They have a different way of actually tasting the product, which impacts what they recognise.”
“So when you work with people in a region like this you really need to have people in the region.”
“Basic technologies you can develop centrally but they need to be adapted to the local people’s preferences.”
Taste is absolutely a big issue, agrees Gorm.
“Take some of the low calorie products that were put into the market; a lot of these have not been very successful until the industry realised that a product is not acceptable to consumers eating-wise if it tastes bad. So you need to be closer to people and that is one of the good reasons why we are here.”
Sourcing the right raw materials in the region is another.
Improving taste, texture and appearance, extending shelf life, optimising food safety and enabling cost effective production – Danisco’s ingredients have many functions, where the ability to improve the nutritional profile, without compromising on taste or texture, and general quality of foods is key.
For instance, many food products with reduced fat or low calories are only possible because of the so called emulsifiers or similar ingredients they contain.
“Danisco has changed over the past 3-4 years to become a two-fold company where we have Bioactive – being much more health oriented in what type of ingredients – and then the enabling ingredients, which is also part of making the products healthier in the sense that it will allow you to reduce your fat in bread or ice cream etc. Making an ice cream with only 4 per cent fat that feels and tastes like an ice cream with 10 per cent is health beneficial.”
“The crisis has taken a little bit of the boost from the health trend, but I think it will come back to that health is an important element of the market. In Asia Pacific Probiotic cultures is 40 per cent of the world market. Why? There’s that willingness to spend money that brings you further in your health aspects.”
Danisco’s offices within The Galen in the Singapore Science Park with the National University of Singapore nearby confirms the anonymity of the company to the generalpublic. Their hi-tech facilities are located in an ordinary office building, which you could never guess unless entering the premises. And the labs are understandably sealed, being clinical in nature.
Danisco allows only their B2B clients inside their labs to perform tests in order to create new concepts that are fully viable in production and improve their products for the consumer market.
Gorm oversees nine staff working within the culture creation and a tech centre, which is the one working close with customers. In the Asia Pacific Danisco employs around 40 people in similar functions.
When not spending time with customers (75 per cent of his work) Gorm, who is a chemical engineer, also spends some time in the factory supervising tests.
“My function is managing and coaching but there are certain segments where I still have knowledge they don’t,” he smiles