In Denmark, Sawaeng Kongpetsak worked in the dairy business for thirty years and founded the Thai-Danish Association. In Thailand, he worked for another twenty years in the Thai dairy business and was for several years the chairman of Thai-Danish Club. Now, the successful businessman plans to retire and go back to Denmark .
By the end of this year, Sawaeng Kongpetsak plans to retire for the second time in his life.
His first retirement was in 2002. At that time he retired from MD Foods, today Arla Foods, where he had been working his whole life. After that retirement he moved to Thailand.
His second, upcoming retirement is from his job for the past 20 years as Production Manager at TD Dairy Foods in Muaklek, some 150 km north of Bangkok. This time, after his retirement, he is moving the other way, back to Denmark.
“I miss my children – I have four of them and they are all in Denmark – and my nine grandchildren,” Sawaeng says.
Four years primary school
Sawaeng Kongpetsak’s extraordinary life started in a small village in Sai Lam Phong in Nakon Sawan province. He was born there on 3 January 1942 and six years later he learned to read and write at the local village school.
After four years in the local school, his parents enrolled him in an agricultural school in Rangsit north of Bangkok. Sawaeng was now ten years old and the agricultural school in Rangsit was 250 km from his home in Sai Lam Phong.
But Sawaeng knows how to adapt and he studied at the college for five years until he graduated. After a brief job in Surin, Sawaeng accepted the government’s offer to give young farmers land for farming in Lopburi. He was now 18 and ready to take on life.
“But the land was in a forest which had no value at that time. To make a living I needed to grow corn. Therefore, my first task was to cut and burn the useless trees to make room for growing corn,” Sawaeng recalls.
To survive, he got a credit at the local grocery. He could get 10 kg of rice up front if he would trade it in with 5o kg of corn from his future crop. He also needed fish sauce.
“When I had my first crop, it all went to pay back the credit at the store. Then I could start running up a new credit,” Sawaeng explains.
Thai-Danish Dairy Farm
Luckily, in 1962, the Thai-Danish Dairy Farm opened in Muak Lek less than a hundred kilometers from his land. Rumours travel fast and Sawaeng thought this could be his new future. He applied and was accepted in 1963.
Sawaeng doesn’t say that he studied at the Thai-Danish Dairy Farm. He says “I worked there for five years.”
The first 6 month he worked at the dairy, then he went on to take the advanced course which took another 9 months. He then had to work as a trainee for another four years before he was a graduate.
At this time, DANIDA, the Danish development aid organisation, had been established and started offering young Thai dairy technicians to be further educated in Denmark.
Sawaeng applied right away. If you have previously as a young boy moved 250 km away from home, then moving 8600 km further away as a 25 year old man doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. But of course it was not easy. He didn’t know the language and everything was taught in Danish.
New life in Denmark
It took Sawaeng four years to complete his education as a Danish dairy technician but by then his original dream of moving back to Thailand and work in the upcoming Thai dairy sector was completely changed.
Sawaeng had not wasted time outside the classroom. Within the first year he had found a Danish girlfriend, Helga, and by the time he graduated they had married and had a two year old son Henrik and a one year old daughter Malene.
Sawaeng started his life long career in Denmark and for the next 30 years, he worked for MD Foods, later Arla, in Goerding, Grindsted, Grejbjerg, Nordenskov og Varde.
“In 2002, when I turned 60, I took the opportunity to go on early retirement. Around the same time, I had just helped the owner of TD Dairy procure some equipment from Denmark and he asked me if I would come and work for a few years at the dairy not far from Muak Lek, where my whole dairy adventure started,” Sawaeng recalls.
“Helga and I talked about it. Our two youngest children, the twins Inge and Henning, were in their early twenties, so the timing was perfect.”
Sadly, Helga did not enjoy her life in Thailand as much as Sawaeng enjoyed working at the dairy. She left for Denmark a few years before Sawaeng’s contract with the dairy was completed, and by the time he followed, it was too late to save the marriage.
“I was very sad at the time, but today, we have moved on,” Sawaeng says.
New life in Thailand
In Thailand, the dairy went into a crisis without Sawaeng and he went back to Thailand to help the owner, Khun Manas put it back together. The task was to create a new, successful milk brand in Thailand. Sawaeng picked the name for the brand to be “Dalum” because Dalum was the name of the agricultural college in Denmark where he first studied when he moved there in 1968.
The starting point was that TD Dairy produced school milk. The job was to find a niche for the new Dalum brand that distinguished it from the main established brands. The difference should be based on a better quality and this was a home turf for Sawaeng.
Sawaeng would use only real cow’s milk and he would make the milk taste better than any of the existing brands by using his Danish knowhow. For a while it even said “Produced with Danish knowhow” on the milk bottles. The bottles were also designed to look like the milk churns in which the farmers in Denmark delivered their milk to the dairy before big tank trucks took over that job.
Dalum is here to stay
Today, eight years after the introduction on the market, the Dalum brand has expanded from full fat and semi fat pasteurized and homogenized milk into chocolate milk, banana milk, honey milk and recently barista milk. You will find the brand in Foodland, Villa Market and Tops Supermarket.
“Barista is a good example of what we stand for. Barista must have a lower water content to foam up correctly when used in cafes to make capuchinos etc. The bigger brands achieve this by adding milk powder. We do it by evaporating part of the water so the concentration of what is left becomes higher. That way the quality becomes much better – but of course the price for the quality product is also higher,” Sawaeng explains.
Recently, Dalum’s yoghurt series has become very popular because of its creamy consistency. And new products are about to be launched. You can start looking forward to a new Icelandic yoghurt and a Dalum cream cheese to be launched in 2022
Sawaeng feels confident that the dairy will be able to keep up the standard after he retires. He has set up benchmarks and specifications so the staff should be able to keep it up. From January he will still be a consultant for a year, and he will not leave for Denmark until May 2022.
Sawaeng clearly looks forward to the reunion. He hasn’t seen the grandchildren for almost two years by now.
“The youngest is four years old and the last time I saw him was when he was baptised!” Sawaeng says.
Back in Denmark in May next year, Sawaeng plans every year to spend some months in Thailand from October and onwards as long as his health permits. If he should no longer be able to do that, there is no doubt that he will stay in Denmark.
“In Thailand, I only have a brother – and he is ordained as a monk. My whole family is in Denmark!”
“I was born here, but I really feel more Danish,” Sawaeng says in Danish. We conducted this whole interview in Danish and Sawaeng remains fluent in Danish. At times he may be looking for the English word for something, but not the Danish.