The reason why Marel joined a cluster: “The fast paced development means that we can no longer stand alone – we need to think beyond our own needs.”
CEO Henrik Ladefoged gets the most recent knowledge and shares his own experiences in the cluster organisation Danish Food Cluster. Here you can read how you can benefit from joining a cluster and consider if you should join one.
This article was brought in Børsen 27 December 2018. The article was produced along with a series of articles by Børsen in relation with a new promotion of trade setup that has become effective. Danish Food Cluster has translated the article from Danish to English.
There are companies that do research on larvas, companies that make proteins, people from the municipality and researchers, who once were tricky to lure out of the universities. And then we have Henrik Ladefoged, CEO of Marel in Denmark – a company that makes equipment for processing meat, fish and poultry.
All of the abovementioned actors are part of Danish Food Cluster in order to reach the big perspective on the challenges the food industry faces, e.g. maximising the use of raw materials and reducing the negative effects on the environment when producing food.
“The fast-paced development means that we can no longer stand alone – we need to think beyond our own needs,” says Henrik Ladefoged.
Danish Food Cluster, located in Aarhus, has members that represent 70-80 percent of the entire Danish food industry, and in addition to companies the cluster collaborates with universities, GTS institutions, and public institutions such as regions and municipalities. Large companies like Marel are not the only ones in the cluster – also one-man businesses and start-ups are part of the network. The only common denominator is that you work with food or a product or a service related to food.
Marel uses its network to get inspiration from the external environment, which can be used within the company and vice versa.
Henrik Ladefoged has through the cluster e.g. connected with a company that works with sanitary design, which is a very relevant area for a company like Marel, who produces high-tech production equipment for the meat-, fish- and poultry industry.
“You get in touch with people who possess a knowledge you actually did not know you needed. This provides us with new perspectives on things and means that we are constantly being challenged in relation to how we can improve and optimise areas of our own business,” says Henrik Ladefoged.
Marel is the sponsor of the annual Danish Food Cluster prize: Food Innovator Award, which is given to a person who has made an innovative impact within the Danish food sector. From right: Henrik Ladefoged, Lasse Hinrichsen, last year’s winner and Esben Laulund, chairman of the Danish Food Cluster board.
Through the cluster he has also met companies that do research on packaging material – e.g. some who make packaging material of cornflour which can dissolve in water – a discovery that can proof to be of interest to Marel who packs and exports spare parts to customers all over the world.
Moreover, Marel has, alongside with a total of 10 larger food companies, taken the initiative together with the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council to develop a food research and innovation strategy which points out common challenges within the industry up until 2030. They have presented the strategy for universities and research- and technology organisations, who subsequently have worked out a proposition as for how to help the industry within the different areas, e.g. sustainable production, food safety and health.
“The cluster is a melting pot for all kinds of actors who have an interest in food production and food in general. It creates a gathering point and provides a great and unique knowledge,” says Henrik Ladefoged.
Be at the front edge of the business
A cluster is a network that gathers businesses, public authorities and knowledge institutions, e.g. the universities who all work within a specific field, e.g. life science or food. The purpose of the clusters is to inspire one another and share new research and knowledge.
“You should become a member of a cluster, if you want to ensure that you are at the front edge in relation to the newest knowledge within your business area and to create a network with both small and bigger companies within your business field,” says Dorte Nybroe Gram, head of SME and Entrepreneurship at the Confederation of Danish Industry.
Some clusters are publicly financed and with the new business promotion setup that becomes effective in January 2019, the more than 60 publicly financed clusters will up until 2021 be merged into a total of 10 to 12 clusters together with a smaller number of start-up clusters.
The consequence of the many clusters is that companies can lose the perspective, choose not to join a cluster and thus miss out on the opportunity to get insights into the newest knowledge within the business. Another consequence is that there are many events around the country who are quite similar
It is the newly established Danish Agency for Trade and Industry who will decide which clusters are to be merged or closed down.
If you want to join a cluster, you can contact one of the six business development centres which are created together with the new business promotion setup.
After-hours meetings about ingredients and the future consumer
Danish Food Cluster arranges event such as Innovatefood.dk, Round Tables, networking events, conferences and after-hours meetings about e.g. food safety, ingredients and the future consumer. The cluster has also contributed to attracting global conferences, e.g. the agriculture and food conference, Ifama, which took place in Aarhus in 2016. The cluster often get delegation visits, which helps the companies stay up to date in relation to the development within the food business on a global level. An example is that the cluster was recently visited by the ambassador of Thailand and officials from the Thai Foreign Ministry, who were shown Marel’s solutions.
Marel participated with a company challenge at InnovateFood.dk 2018 on how to use big data to support their own and their customers’ business. Five students with five different expertise and experts from Aarhus University proposed ideas and solutions to their challenge. At the picture the Marel employees are talking to their student team.
“Things like this mean that we as a global company get new and different contacts and new inputs which we can use,” says Henrik Ladefoged.
Besides companies, the universities are also part of the cluster cooperation in order for the newest research results to come alive in the business world.
One concentrated week
“Historically seen it has been very difficult for companies to enter a dialogue with the right people at the universities,” says Henrik Ladefoged.
This is a thing that the cluster has helped change, and now Marel has a dialogue and professional back-and-forth with the universities Force Technology, Technological Institute, DTU and more in relation to both recruitment of talents, collaboration on projects, technological challenges and in order to be up to date with the latest research.
An example is that Marel recently organised a seminar about hygienic design with specialists from DTU, and Henrik from Marel often gives speeches for other members of the cluster.
“This means a lot to Marel,” says Henrik Ladefoged, who estimates that he approximately spends one week of concentrated work on activities related to the cluster. However, he emphasises that it is difficult to calculate the time spent on the cluster, as there are many derived effects in the form of networks and contacts, which he also spends time on outside the cluster’s official events.
The cluster also has public representatives, e.g. people from the municipalities and the regions, from Invest in Denmark and other public players, who all work to promote the business world and the food industry in Denmark.
Be prepared to contribute
Henrik Ladefoged’s advice to companies who consider joining a cluster is that you need to enter the cluster with an attitude of contribution – that you contribute with your own experiences and ideas.
“The success of the cluster depends on, in particular, how much us managing directors are willing to engage – I am confident that networks create value if you participate with an open mind and contribute. You should not just spend the time with the aim of getting something out of it for yourself solely.”
His best argument for why one should join a cluster is that you will always receive new knowledge.
“My experience with the cluster is that you get valuable insights and future business partners. You can only learn something that you did not know on beforehand,” he says.