Natural alliances

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Business development Stevia

Lieve Beyen: Partnership working triggers so many ideas
Lieve Beyen: Partnership working triggers so many ideas
Cargill’s business development and commercial director Lieve Beyen thrives on the benefits of collaboration, says Gary Scattergood

Key points

It’s the standard question at any job interview: do you prefer to work in a team or work alone? Answer the former, and you worry a prospective employer thinks you are indecisive and unable to make a decision. Admit it's the latter and the fear is your boss to be thinks you are antisocial and fearful of human contact.

Lieve Beyen, Cargill’s business development & commercial director for its European starches and sweeteners business, has no such worries. For her, teamwork and alliances are crucial, be it within the business or with partnering companies or customers.

Not only does she enjoy working with others – “I didn’t ever want to be sat behind a desk on my own"​ – but she says the collaborative approach is reaping significant business awards for Cargill.

“It is a key strategic decision that Cargill will form partnerships,"​ she says. “The world is moving very quickly and, as a business, we strongly believe in partnerships. Having strong, reliable and trustworthy partnerships is such a crucial part of our success. These are built on complementary foundations which is a win–win relationship for both sides.”

Partnership agreements (Return to top)

In recent months, there have been two such agreements that Beyen has high hopes for: a joint development with Swiss firm Evolva Holdings and a venture with Saudi Arabian business Arasco.

The former will see the two firms work to develop and commercialise stevia extracts derived from a fermentation process, rather than through traditional extraction from the stevia plant. Evolva has been working on the technology for the past several years, to produce commercially viable sweeteners that are molecularly identical to stevia extracts, but without relying on the cultivation, processing and refining of the actual plant.

It claims that the fermentation process will allow it to select and produce specific steviol glycosides – the components responsible for stevia’s sweet taste. This means it could produce different, lower-cost, and perhaps better-tasting steviol glycosides in quantities that are currently not commercially viable because of their low concentration in the stevia leaf.

Beyen – whose firm produces the Truvia brand believes the partnership will result in the ‘next evolution’ for the stevia industry.

“This partnership will benefit food and drink manufacturers in a number of ways, not least by helping them devise better-tasting products.”

In terms of Truvia, Beyen believes its true potential is only beginning to be understood, especially in the food sphere: “For obvious reasons, I don’t want to mention customers we are talking to but we are very much trying to further establish our footprint and we are working very closely with several partners in the food industry – in fact, there are more than 100 of them – to further launch what we believe is a great-tasting natural product.”

She is also predicting that stevia will be increasingly used in food products, as well as beverages.

“It is an ingredient with a lot more potential,”​ she insists. “I am convinced there is a lot more we can do with it. It is a matter of formulating the ingredients, which isn’t always straightforward and requires a lot of fine-tuning and tailoring.”

Sweeteners (Return to top)

Beyen says a lot of work is also being undertaken to combine Cargill’s high-intensity sweeteners with some of its foundational sweeteners.

“This is a key area of focus because we have one​ [Truvia] that is 200 times sweeter than sucrose, so we have to find a balance with other ingredients to make sure we have the same mouthfeel and texture in the final products. For example, one of our zero-calorie bulk sweeteners is very good at working with a number of high-intensity sweeteners, so this work around suitable combinations is a high priority."

The second high-profile partnership – with Arasco – marks Cargill’s first venture into Saudi Arabia.

Beyen says the tie-up will meet growing demand in the confectionery, bakery and juice sectors in the region.

The new company acquired Arasco’s existing corn milling facility in Al Kharj and will produce starch-based products primarily for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, as well as Yemen, Iraq and Jordan.

It hopes that production will be tripled at the Al Kharj plant and the product offering will be expanded to include high-fructose corn syrup to serve the growing food and beverage industry in the region.

“For us, it really is an important step because it is the first operation for Cargill in Saudi Arabia, but it is also a natural fit because it is an emerging market and builds very nicely on the global capabilities we have,”​ she adds. “It is a good fit because Arasco has the local knowledge and the local supply chain infrastructure two things that we don't necessarily have. It will also be very important for Cargill because it will enable us to set up local solutions for customers.”

Fibre provider (Return to top)

Beyen has also been overseeing the innovation work stemming from Cargill's acquisition of Fugeia from Tate & Lyle Ventures.

Originally a spin-off from the University of Leuven, it has developed a proprietary method for extraction and purification of the fibre and antioxidant source of wheat bran.

The result is a neutral, smooth-tasting product consisting of arabinoxylan oligosaccharides. This is highly soluble in water and can be mixed into any food or beverage product, including dairy and non-dairy beverages, ready-to-eat cereals, cookies and biscuits, bread and pastry, as well as dietary supplements and therapeutics. Thereby the health benefit potential of wheat bran can be delivered across a range of products. Cargill is now in its first research phase of the product.

“We are now working with a wide range of our customers to study how that can be valuable to everyone,”​ says Beyen. “There is a very logical product fit here for those that contain cereals, cookies, breads and pastries, but I also believe we can expand it to other areas in the second phase, such as beverages.

“This is a very important priority for us and one of the key areas of focus for us at the moment.”

In her role overseeing business development and innovation, Beyen clearly has a busy agenda working with a wide range of different people, partners and customers.

But after spending more than 20 years with the company, having started as a food technologist, she clearly thrives on it.

“I would never enjoy working in isolation,”​ she says. “It really gives me a lot of energy when you can work with people both internally and externally because it triggers so many ideas and I'm a big believer in diversity of thought.”

She adds: “People from different areas, different backgrounds and different companies always get a better solution.”

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