March 01, 2017

The Interview - Gerard Klein Essink, entrepreneur and Director, Bridge2Food

Director and entrepreneur, Gerard Klein Essink set up Bridge2Food 15 years ago in the Netherlands. Having worked internationally in the food industry for over two decades his experience lies in business-to-consumer markets as well as business-to-business industries.

He has fulfilled roles from Vice-President of Sales to Business Development Manager with a Pan-European FMCG company, not to mention his roles as a General Manager, Global Business Manager, Asia Pacific Marketing Manager and Research and Application Manager with an international food ingredient company.


How did you come to occupy your current position of Managing Director and owner of Bridge2Food - what experience do you possess in the protein industry?
As Steve Jobs said, “It’s about connecting the dots” I worked during my Food Chemistry masters on a soy protein isolate project, followed by a novel research project on new applications for potato fibre at AVEBE, the leading potato starch ingredient company. In the 90’s I was responsible for an application lab in Singapore for the Asian market and I worked in Asia with Taiwanese Buddhists on meat-free shrimps, abalone and other products. After the Asian period I switched to work at Tivall/Nestle on business-to-business marketing of a novel fibrous vegetable protein technology and selling meat-free products in European markets. This led to publishing market research report on the European soyfood industry between 2002-07, when I set up Bridge2Food in 2002.

Who are Bridge2Food, what makes them so unique?

Bridge2Food is a networking organisation, so we have a small office and many, many experts in the food industry, the ingredients and technology industries, the research industries and media. The uniqueness lies in the ability to connect and add value vice-versa in professional, personal and playful way. There is a lot more to gain, create and enjoy when you work together in an open way, looking for a win-win and also challenging each other to raise the bar. So, I like to say that we are an organisation with 7,500 experts, the number of delegates, partners and speakers who have joined the Bridge2Food summit in the past years.

In which areas do Bridge2Food currently focus and do you have any plans to diversify even further by incorporating any other areas of the food industry in the future?
The mission of Bridge2Food is to create and be the place where industry professionals gather to advance and accelerate for a better food world. We like to inspire the industry and food value chain with trends and foresight to create better innovation for a healthier life and sustainable planet. We focus on the following fields via our summits: proteins, healthy ageing and sports nutrition, which we host annually. We train and enable our industries teams with passion and can-do commercial excellence; we try to support and advance growth via our academy, releasing the full potential of every member. Two of the key words in our industry at the moment are sustainability and efficiency.

Is this important to Bridge2Food - what ways do you ensure these values are incorporated into conferences, courses and media platforms?
Sustainability and efficiency go hand in hand. Both can lead to a gain in profitability, better utilisation of raw materials and living healthier and longer. An example of sustainability in view of protein streams is we incorporate the usage of new protein ingredients, such as faba beans, pulses, insects as well as animal by-products during our 2016 Protein Summit in Lille in September. Discussions on efficient processes using less water and less waste are then on the table, this is what we can do better and it is a question of how we can cooperate, no company alone can solve these issues.

Do you believe that dietary education in schools is adequate?
That is an interesting question, in the Netherlands scientists and other stakeholders have called on the government to make food and nutrition an obligatory part of the curriculum at primary and secondary schools. Make this topic as important as language, geography, sports etc. Public education on why we need protein and how important it is to balance the intake during the day is a key and important area where the industry can work together; for instance 30 grams of protein for breakfast, lunch and dinner is a good example. A positive change can be implemented for society and public health. It is important to have healthier options, more fruit at school and more exercise, yet the basic education is then not enough. I am excited to see how the discussion will develop in the Netherlands and hopefully the curriculum will soon contain dietary education. On the website you state, “I have a passion for bringing people together, bridging cultures and combining views and experiences to innovate in business and research.”

Do you feel this ethos has influenced the development of Bridge2Food?
I have always felt that there is more to gain with multi-party cooperation as innovation and change is taking place at the edges of the various domains in the value chain. During the last 10 years we have seen the food industry changing and being more open to collaboration. This is a great development; open innovation is often part of corporate strategy. Now it is all about accelerating and raising the bar together. We hope that we can contribute to this evolution by having a great environment where key industry leaders can feel comfortable and safe to develop new joint strategies for a better food world.

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