May 09, 2017

The Interview - Volkmar Wywiol

 
There’s more to Volkmar Wywiol than meets the eye. While he’s passionate about his flour museum, it is his commitment to the development of the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe – with 11 specialised independent companies including Mühlenchemie and numerous alliances throughout the world – that has made him an industry icon.

Now over 80, for decades he has worked tirelessly to provide an economic supply of ingredients and additives to improve flour. 37 years ago Wywiol bought a small Hamburg-based company and developed it into a world market leader for lecithin, an important food ingredient, along with many other ingredients including enzymes and stabilisers. Today, the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe provides a range of key ingredients for the food and feed industries.


Its companies Mühlenchemie, DeutscheBack and SternEnzym with their broad line-up of products, cover every sector of the milling and baking industries in a significant number of countries.

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When did you start your company, and why?
I started my company Stern-Wywiol on January 1, 1980. Before that I was the general manager of an ingredient company called Lucas Meyer, which made soy lecithin, an emulsifying agent. I was there for 25 years, but when a new generation came in with different ideas on company policies, I decided it was time to go into business for myself. I bought a very small company that had revenues of just DM 300,000 per year. It was really quite small. From that DM 300,000 or €150,000 in 1980 we have grown into a group turning over €500 million.

Do I understand it correctly that you started the company as a one-man show?
Yes, I started the company with very few products but a lot of enthusiasm and ideas. My company was originally not involved with lecithin at all; it concentrated on one small technical product. However, I saw an opportunity to bring my old product to the fore, and with this enthusiasm and my new ideas I developed soy lecithin into the number one lecithin in the world today. Soy lecithin is now a very familiar ingredient.

Did you focus solely on the European market at the time or did you see a wider reach for your product?
I always saw the world as my market. I am an individual who looks at the wider world and its future. We started in Germany but quickly expanded throughout Europe and worldwide. Personally I was very interested in international business, seeing other cultures and building up other partnerships. I also found other young people who shared my passion for the development of new products and for new markets.

Was your philosophy simply the development of new markets or did you feel like there was a nutritional need outside Germany and Europe that needed to be met?
There was. I was brought up with lecithin, which is an important functional as well as nutritional food additive. It was in this direction that I wanted to go, and from the first day I said to myself that I had to go into the food industry and focus on nutritional products by providing application service. I was also very keen to improve animal feed in the right way.

Were your products accepted in the marketplace straight away, or did it take time to convince people of their benefits?
I started off as a one-man show and I had to convince each customer every time. Even though I was widely known as a lecithin specialist I had to really prove that I was an expert in the eyes of my customers. It was not easy. But I received a lot of guidance and support from friendly customers so in the end it was a success. Mühlenchemie are known for milling ingredients and food fortification. Are you more focused today on this company? No, Mühlenchemie is just one of the specialised companies within the Group. It is a very important company, but we also have Hydrosol (stabilising agents), SternVitamin (vitamin and micronutrient premixes), and SternEnzyme (enzyme systems) among others. In Germany we have a total of 11 companies plus 16 affiliates worldwide. So today we are a big group. Mühlenchemie is just part of that, but it is a leader in flour improvers and fortification. A professor in the USA has called flour millers heroes. Your company makes the improvers that millers rely on to achieve quality end products.

Do you consider yourself a hero when it comes to flour quality, especially in terms of nutrition for consumers in developing countries? Does it make you proud?
Hero is a very strong word. We are leaders in the production of ingredients for the flour industry. But yes it does make all of us very proud. The key to our success is our world-class milling and technology centre. We build quality into flour, and more than 2000 millers depend on our expertise every year.

Where do you see the future?

We see a lot of future in Mühlenchemie, especially in the flour and pasta industry. We have seen that the market for flour is growing, including baking, biscuits and pasta, and there are a lot of possibilities. There is much more work to be done. We started with bread flour but now we also make products to improve pasta flour, plus additives and vitamins for rice. So Mühlenchemie will be getting bigger and stronger. Our thanks go to all the millers of the world who day after day and year after year make the ‘white gold’ that is mankind’s most important staple food. As for me, I love this company, I love our team and I love our customers for the products they make.

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