NEW YORK — It has been five years since Soren W. Schroder took the helm at Bunge Ltd., and one thing that has stood out to him during his time as chief executive officer is how consumers everywhere are taking more steps to personalize their food.
“People want to know what they eat,” Mr. Schroder told participants at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference held May 31 in New York. “They want to relate to what they eat. They want to eat real food, less processed, connected to the origin. And so I think this umbrella of real food is a massive change, and you see it, of course, in the packaged goods companies, but it’s something that we’re beginning to feel also in our business as we supply, not only the established companies, but also the new ones that are coming up knocking on the door.”
Mr. Schroder’s comments came in response to a question by an analyst to identify the biggest changes and surprises in the global ag environment during his tenure at Bunge.
In addition to personalization of food, another major change has been the focus on sustainability, he said.
“A huge part of the intersection between agriculture and the environment is around sustainable practices, and it connects also to what we think is a selling point for Bunge to downstream customers: that we control the entire supply chain and that we are a big advocate for sustainable farming practices and that we help farmers make the right choice in those growing regions of the world where it’s not always easy,” Mr. Schroder explained.
He said that since he took over five years ago the demands and complexity surrounding sustainability have ramped up, a trend he described as “a good thing.”
A third challenge, or surprise, over the past five years has been the amount of innovation taking place across the supply chain. Mr. Schroder described the pace of change as “mind-boggling.”
"We control the entire supply chain ... we are a big advocate for sustainable farming practices ... we help farmers make the right choice in those growing regions of the world where it’s not always easy." — Soren Schroder, Bunge
“Whether it is gene editing on the farm input side to alternative meats, on the other aspect, conversion of protein, big data originating from tractors or from markets or contract systems, satellites, all converging to try and predict something free flow of information,” he said. “There’s so much going on across the value chain that it can be disorienting, but I also believe that if you pick the ones that you feel are most disruptive or potentially opportunities, they can also give you new avenues of growth.”
Subsequently asked to look into his crystal ball over the next 5 to 10 years to identify the biggest opportunities, Mr. Schroder pointed to complete control of the value chain.
“I think it is delivering to our downstream customers specific traits that we can help our farmers grow,” he explained. “Of course, you can do that and match it perfectly one-to-one. But I see the supply chain control and the — whether it is crushing of specialty seeds or milling specialty grains to meet ever-increasing demands for health and wellness and functionality by our downstream customers, at the same time, giving some differentiations to farmers around the world to grow specialty crops.”