Edible Oils, Incredible Food
A specialist in edible oils, Olenex is broadening its one-stop shop concept and reaching out to new markets.
General Manager, Marco Herpers, gives us the details
Writer: Jack Salter | Project Manager: Liam Pye
Edible oils and fats have long been part of the human diet.
Extracted from various seeds, beans, nuts or fruits, they remain a crucial ingredient in food products across the world today.
Vegetable oils are used for food preparation, especially in frying applications; fats are used for baking pastries and cookies, whilst a combination of the two is used for spreadable products such as margarine and hazelnut or chocolate spreads.
Olenex provides its customers with a comprehensive portfolio of edible oils and fats, from commodities to functional fats.
“We supply ingredients used to produce final consumer products which we all buy in stores, supermarkets and restaurants,” opens General Manager, Marco Herpers.
Olenex was founded as a joint venture (JV) in 2012 by parent companies ADM and Wilmar International (Wilmar), the latter of which Marco Herpers first joined in 2005.
“Wilmar had the desire to further expand in Europe,” he tells us.
“The purpose of the JV was to combine the strengths of both companies, and build a one-stop shop for customers in Europe to supply tropical as well as liquid oils and fats and a combination of the two.
“We had a vision for the future and developed our strategy moving forwards, acquiring four of our own Olenex refineries from our parent companies in 2016,” Marco Herpers continues.
Olenex’s tropical oils (palm/palm kernel, coconut), liquid oils (sunflower/high oleic sunflower, soybean, rapeseed), and functional solutions are the main resource for thousands of products, for customers in many different segments and applications.
From frying and baking to dairy, confectionery and much more, Olenex’s extensive portfolio supplies customers in all sectors of the industry, and is the true one-stop shop that the company was originally created to be.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for expansion available to Olenex courtesy of its R&D and product development labs.
“Access to these large research centres from ADM and Wilmar provides us with even more possibilities for innovation, and ensures we stay on top of new trends in and out of Europe,” states Marco Herpers.
Likewise, Olenex is able to source from its parent companies’ integrated global supply chains in both tropical and liquid oil products.
Despite having the support of such an extensive supply chain for the past decade, however, Olenex remains a lean organisation with the ability to help customers in a personal manner.
“Our customers’ requirements are unique and we have the ability to provide tailored service and products to fit those needs,” he emphasises.
“That mindset is core for every single employee, from operators to finance and quality to sales, and our partners are also committed to this approach. Every customer is unique and needs an optimised solution for their product, and that is what #TeamOlenex does best – from large to small, we help our customers find that sweet spot.”
Today, Olenex owns a specialty oils and fats facility and palm refinery in Hamburg, as well as tropical oil processing plants in Brake (Germany) and Rotterdam.
With refined oils and fats also marketed from ADM’s plants in the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK, Olenex’s operations are strategically located throughout Europe.
“We are unique in our set up since we have access to the extended footprint of our parent companies yet we maintain a small and personal approach - a concept that our customers appreciate.”
Ready to expand
Earlier this year, Olenex also started construction of a new building in the Netherlands, which will feature a Product Development laboratory (PD lab), packaging capabilities, and a customer experience centre. The site is expected to be completed in 2023.
Located in the city of Zaandam, also known as “Specialty Fats Valley”, and conveniently close to Amsterdam Airport, it will enable Olenex to tailor its portfolio of products and services even better.
“With our new PD lab, we will increase our ability to create and evolve oil and fat solutions for a growing landscape of markets,” Marco Herpers outlines.
“It will also allow us to anticipate future challenges and be better equipped to find new solutions and products, not only in light of market developments but also increasingly demanding legislation.”
The packaging line will be ready to supply products in boxes of various sizes, from 10kg to 25kg. Additionally, Olenex customers will have a choice of delivery in drums or Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs).
“The initial production volume in Zaandam will increase our overall packed output, which is really good, but the location also has the ability to expand considerably, making us ready for the future,” says Marco Herpers.
Olenex’s customer experience centre, meanwhile, will be about showing customers and other partners what Olenex is about.
“Customers will not only learn about the company and #TeamOlenex, but also about products and ingredients and how we work with our customers to make food the best it can be.”
The new location in Zaandam, as well as the ongoing construction of a specialty fats plant in Brake, represent an important milestone in the execution of Olenex’s five-year strategic roadmap, which was launched in 2020.
To improve product flow and optimise stable supply, storage is also crucial. With that in mind, Olenex is constructing four additional high volume storage tanks in Brake.
The tanks are now being commissioned and will make Olenex less dependent on third-party storage, provide greater control over storage flows, improve competitiveness, and most importantly, service customers better.
“It is the third significant step in our five-year strategic plan. Combined, our Brake facilities will become Europe’s largest edible oil production location – something we are especially proud of,” Marco Herpers acclaims.
Well-oiled and sustainable
As one of Olenex’s main strategic principles, partnerships drive the company and are right at the core of its success.
Whether a supplier, contractor, team member or customer, partnerships with these stakeholders are intrinsic to Olenex’s DNA; after all, the company itself was originally founded through a JV partnership in 2012.
“We all rely on one another to achieve the best possible result. Therefore, only reliable partners can keep the engine running so we can move forward and achieve our goals – responsibly,” acknowledges Marco Herpers.
Olenex takes responsibility for driving industry-wide transformation and sustainability. This is based on a three-pillar approach, the first of which is its No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) Policy to advance an environmentally and socially responsible palm oil industry.
To build the second pillar, in 2016, Olenex launched its first smallholders’ sustainability programme in Latin America. Now onto its fifth programme, Olenex is impacting more than 5,000 smallholders on their sustainability journey.
The third and final pillar is certification. Olenex is a dedicated member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) with refineries all RSPO certified. As well as actively participating in RSPO standing committees and working groups, Olenex is committed to fulfilling any RSPO demand requested by customers.
It is Olenex’s ultimate goal to rely on sustainable supply chains that provide opportunities for rural communities, while improving their livelihoods. The company’s holistic approach to sustainability is fully integrated into the business model, aligning processes and standards with universally accepted social and environmental standards.
Olenex’s social responsibility does not stop at the supply chain, though.
“It’s also about what we call the three Ps: People, Planet, and Products. For us, the first and foremost priority is safety. We want our people to be safe, work safe, and go home safely when they have finished,” Marco Herpers informs us.
“We take this very seriously, and accommodate people to be guaranteed of their safety. Whether it’s safety gear, plant access regulations, or as simple as proper office materials, we are very risk averse.”
The company is also continuously looking at its emissions, and enhancing the use of green energy and wastewater management.
“The new facility we are currently building in Germany has given us the opportunity to rebuild our wastewater plant. In doing so, we will be introducing new processes that will help to improve the quality of our wastewater and reduce the amount of natural gas needed in our refineries,” reveals Marco Herpers.
“Sustainability and social responsibility are quite interconnected, and therefore main pillars in our organisation and everyday work. It is our responsibility to people, the planet, and everything in between.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact around the world, one positive effect for Olenex was the introduction of remote work.
It got the company thinking about a hybrid model, and as soon as the circumstances allowed, full-time employees were free to choose to work from home once or twice a week.
“What we have seen is that the team has picked it up really well, having a better work-life balance and reducing the time required to commute.”
The hybrid model is an extension of the Olenex ecosystem, one in which employees are motivated to be the best they can be and provided with training, education, goals and challenges.
“It took substantial support from our IT team to make the hybrid model possible and provide the right equipment for home office use. It required a steep learning curve to prepare the IT infrastructure, and install the right hardware and software to reliably maintain our work processes,” reflects Marco Herpers.
“Overall, the pandemic made us jumpstart the hybrid model and move in fast-forward mode, allowing us to optimise our organisation and dramatically increase our efficiency. Considering our planned expansion, we view it as a win-win situation and continue to improve and optimise our path.”
Emerging from the pandemic, Olenex’s full focus going forwards is on the second half of its five-year strategic plan.
“A few years ago, we anticipated that we would be able to consider and engage with new opportunities, which may require us to expand more. We will be ready for that extra demand and prepare ourselves for the next decade and beyond.”