Dr Jan Vanbrabant, CEO of Biomin’s parent group, Erber, talked up those growth ambitions when we sat down with him at the World Nutrition Forum in Cape Town.
The Austrian company wants to develop a whole portfolio of enzymes for whatever challenges industry faces, he said. The group has the drive to make these technologies available not just to the global feed system, but to the global food system as well, he said.
“In the food industry we want to create value, and with the enzymes we have, because we are the experts, we can do that.”
The Erber Group is family run, with headquarters in Austria. Its turnover is in the region of €400m. Biomin is core but the Group also comprises food and feed safety diagnostics player, Romer Labs, animal health products firm, Sanphar, and biotechnology company, EFB.
Indeed, the Erber Group looks to double turnover every five years.
“It is a target we set ourselves. I do not know what is going to happen five years from now, but we want to keep putting the bar higher. However, we think it [that target] is achievable. What we see is that antibiotic replacement is getting a lot of traction. There is a big opportunity there - with the existing products we have like probiotics, phytogenics, and acids also, we already have very good growth. In terms of probiotics, we are currently only in poultry and aqua. We are researching [their use] in other species as well and that will open up more [doors]. Our phytogenic product, Digestarom DC, is going to bring a lot of extra business, for sure.
“Next to that, we are looking at products that will complement our portfolio – products that fit into our core competence of fermentation.”
Asked whether the current business model of the group supports its expansion goals, whether there is not a conflict in relation to its family funded, independent structure and its growth ambitions, he told us:
“They are no conflicts in that regard. We are a financially healthy company. We are blessed with owners that really are ambitious and want to keep on investing in the business. They are highly committed. With that, we can go a long way. Critically, we do not want to grow just to grow. We want to grow where we see value. Doing it that way, it takes a little bit longer, but from a business point of view, it is more sustainable.”
On the asset trail..
Acquisitions are not off the table, he added.
“It always depends on the opportunities that come along. Recently, a few popped up, and we are working on several acquisition projects now, as well as partnerships. Of course we also invest a lot in our own research, our core competence, which we want to keep in house.”
He noted the increasing consolidation trend in the industry and the astronomical prices paid for some companies: “This is not something we would want to do and also not something we could do.”
Vaccine and probiotic synergies
The Erber group is also looking to capitalize further on the synergies within the group, particularly between Biomin and Sanphar, the entity, headquartered in Brazil, which targets animal health. He said Sanphar is relatively well established in South America: “We have a made a lot of progress there, we also have started activities in Asia.”
In terms of future direction, the vision for Sanphar is very similar to that for Biomin – ensuring healthier animals, particularly the focus on preventing antibiotic residues ending up in the food chain, and reducing the negative impact of animal production on the environment.
“Antibiotics have to be used only for what they were developed for. In that context, in Sanphar, we are now investing in projects to develop vaccines. Animal health vaccines are the future. It is all about prevention. You also see that trend in human health. That is where the real synergy [with Biomin] comes. We see that when animals are under stress, due to mycotoxins or a gut challenge, vaccines are not as efficient or as effective as they could be. However, if you have healthy animals through nutritional [interventions], there is less stress, fewer challenges, and then the vaccines work much better.
“In Brazil, Sanphar is going to launch a vaccine - it is not one we developed ourselves. It is against Salmonella in poultry.”
He said Biomin’s probiotic product, PoultryStar, and this vaccine “fit perfectly together”.
The two companies are leveraging the closer working relationship of veterinarians and nutritionists today, a trend really apparent in the large integrators: “If veterinarians cannot use antibiotics anymore, they need other solutions, and those solutions will come through the nutritionists.”
Mycotoxin risk management
In terms of the future for mycotoxin risk management, he said Biomin fully agrees that prevention is better than the cure:
“If you can really prevent mycotoxins from being formed in the field, then that is perfect. However, up until now, that is not possible and I do not think that is going to happen any time soon. There are also companies working on genetically modified plants that would have natural resistance [to mycotoxins]; they might have made a little progress in relation to aflatoxins, but then there is the GMO issue - the only way to do this is through genetic modification – and, as such, it will be a long time before those type of plants are available or approved.”
Such GM type solutions may work for aflatoxins formed in the field, but may not necessarily work for aflatoxins formed during storage, he noted.
“In Romer Labs, we can test on a routine basis, using Spectrum Top 50 [LC-MS/MS method], up to 50 mycotoxins and metabolites in a sample. With Spectrum 380, you can even measure up to 380 mycotoxins in one sample. That can create more questions than answers, because, with most of those mycotoxins, you do not know if they are harmful or not and, then if they are harmful, whether you have a solution.
“That said, we are actually doing a lot of this 380 testing because we see ourselves as the leader [in this space]. It is also about creating awareness. You have mycotoxins like aflatoxins, zearalenone, deoxynivalenol and trichothecenes, those we know and those we have solutions for. However, we want to start looking at the other mycotoxins, ones that may also have a major negative impact. Once we know which ones are harmful, we can start looking for solutions.”
For Biomin, he said, the ultimate solution is biotransformation of mycotoxins.
“We have the enzyme to biotransform zearalenone; we are just further optimizing its production. When you bind mycotoxins they are still present, they are excreted by the animal, when you biotransform mycotoxins though, you get rid of them.”
He also believes omics technologies including genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics, will make a difference in R&D at Biomin over the next five years.
“Such tools allows us to fully understand what certain ingredients are doing.
"In the lab, we do a lot of cell culture analysis now. In the past, you had to do testing with the animals. We can now mimic an intestinal cell wall in the lab, [determine the factors that compromise] call well integrity. With omics you do not just look at the behavior of the cells, you can start looking at what is happening on the genetic level, which genes are being triggered in the animal, or in the bacteria that you want to get rid of.
“It is all about speed, with omics you can develop products much faster, and you can speed up the safety testing of products as well.”