Ben Langat has spent enough of his career working for FMCG multinationals, such as Coca-Cola and Unilever, to appreciate that there will always be healthy competition in the market.
But as Managing Director of dairy producer FrieslandCampina WAMCO, he knows what’s at stake now is bigger than brand awareness and sales figures – it’s the wellbeing of the country. And he’s calling on all the players in the industry to unite.
“Dairy nutrition intake in Africa, and in Nigeria in particular, is still very low,” he explains. Indeed, the country’s milk consumption is lower than both the African and worldwide average, according to the Global Nutrition Report’s 2018 Nigeria profile.
“Of course, there will always be competitive tendencies in the industry, but our main focus should be working together to make quality dairy attainable and affordable for all Nigerians.”
Affordability, Ben continues, is a hot topic within the company. “Unemployment is very high, so with less disposable income, consumers are being forced to choose what they want to buy,” he says.
Yet, with dairy products such an important component in a balanced diet, how does he ensure that the right choices end up in their shopping basket? “From the pack savers that we market to products offering nutritious formulations, we are being very innovative,” he says.
It also helps that some of the nation’s most trusted milk brands, such as Peak and Three Crowns, are part of his portfolio. Promoting local industry is also at the top of Ben’s agenda.
“Traditionally, Nigeria is not a dairy-producing country and all companies imported their dairy from other parts of the world, including us,” he explains. “But we are the only dairy company in the country today that has actually invested and pushed forward on local content.” As part of its Dairy Development Program (DDP), FrieslandCampina works with 3,500 dairy farmers in Oyo State (of which, he adds, 950 are women).
“These are people who have never really had any source of income, but now they get paid every two days for the raw milk they supply to us.”
Along with improving the living standards of these farmers (one of the company’s corporate goals), the initiative fulfils another ambition: to operate sustainably. “To build a sustainable business, the model needs to withstand the impact of external forces and sufficiently produce for itself what is enough,” Ben says.
“We are the only dairy company in the country today that has actually invested and pushed forward on local content.”
Progress is promising: since he started in 2017, Ben says the local contribution to one of its main products, Peak evaporated milk, has increased from two to 10%.
His goal may be “to provide every Nigerian with quality dairy nutrition” (along with its DDP program, areas of focus for CSR include school feeding programs and supporting internally displaced peoples and orphanages), but, on a personal level, he’s found a meaning to his career that he admits he had been increasingly searching for.
“I’d started to ask myself questions such as, ‘What do I want to do with my life,’ and, ‘What exactly is my purpose?’” he recalls. The answer lay back in his childhood, growing up on a dairy farm in the highlands of Western Kenya.
“I realised that what gave me joy and energy was agriculture, farming, dairy and crops,” he continues. “All things linked to the environment and sustainability.”
The exact moment of clarity came in 2016, during his time at Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, when he was still Managing Director at Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company.
“We had conversations about finding your real True North,” he recalls. “I knew I wanted to make the world a better place, through nutrition, sustainable practices and agriculture.”
He calls it a “life-changing experience”. A week after finishing the course, FrieslandCampina called. Founded in Nigeria in 1954, but an affiliate of Royal FrieslandCampina, the company has its roots in Dutch cooperative dairy factories of the late 19th century.
Ben believes that, along with its purpose, the company’s heritage, quality and a commitment to Nigeria give it the leading edge, a position maintained by “excellence in route to market, high efficiencies in production and logistics, and our people development,” he says.
But the real barometer for success is the adoption of its nutrition agenda. “If every single Nigerian has a portion of dairy nutrition in what they consume daily, then, as an organisation, we will have succeeded.”
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