28 February 2022

Historical foundation and familiar relations create a strong dairy and supplier sector

Dairy industry

DDFI has asked two experts in the Danish dairy industry with roots outside of Denmark to comment on the Danish dairy industry with special focus on the supplier industry. Professor Lilia Ahrné and Professor Serafim Bakalis are both affiliated with the University of Copenhagen’s Dairy Product Technology, Department of Food Science, Master Education in Dairy Science and Technology, which is crucial in supplying staff for both the dairy and supplier industries.

Picture of dairy workers in a dairy

By Lars Winther, editor of Mælkeritidende (Dairy Nordic)

This article was originally brought in the 31st issue of Mælkeritidende, published on February 18, 2022. Click here to read the original article.

How do you explain the success of the Danish supplier industry? 

Lilia Ahrné, professor at UCPH FOOD: There is no doubt that the dairy industry and the strong international position of the supplier industry are closely linked to the historical foundation on which the industry stands. We have just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the dairy engineering education, which is quite unique and a significant explanation of the development of the associated supplier industry. This is of course connected with the establishment of an efficient milk production in the rural areas via the cooperative movement, which in turn has even older roots in the Danish society. Together, this historical foundation has contributed to prioritizing education, research and framework conditions for the industry, which also includes other parts of agriculture. As the industry has grown large and has become an important part of the Danish economy, it has managed to maintain this position.

University of Copenhagen (Science), as one of the few educational institutions in the whole world, has a specialized Master education in Dairy Science and Technology, which partly explains why both dairies and the supplier industry have developed to such a high professional level.

Serafim Bakalis, professor af UCPH FOOD: When I came to Denmark a year ago after 15 years in the UK, it was clear to me that you have a very well-integrated and closely connected eco-system consisting of the dairy industry and the suppliers. There is great mobility and exchange of employees and thus sharing of experiences between the two universes, which become mutually reinforcing with wide knowledge and high competitiveness. An incredibly dynamic development environment has been created in this universe. And I experience significant focus and support from the state for this ecosystem, where you have an understanding of the connection in the ecosystem with support for the dairy industry, and this has a contagious effect on the supplier industry.

The importance of a well-founded ecosystem can also be illustrated with an experience from the UK, where I lived in Birmingham, the city where Cadbury’s was founded in 1824. Several generations had worked at the chocolate factory, and an ecosystem had originally been built around the production with associated suppliers. When Cadbury´s was sold to the Kraft Group, the local focus was slowly lost. If you draw a parallel to the Danish dairy industry, you cannot overestimate the importance of having a large international player in the form of Arla Foods, which is a crucial prerequisite for the interaction between the dairy industry and the supplier industry.

How do you assess the Danish education system, and how does it contribute to a strong supplier industry? 

Serafim: If we start from scratch, the Danish education system is very informal and characterized by an incredibly high level of discussion. This applies all the way down to primary schools, where my children have just started.

Lilia: At the University of Copenhagen (Science), I experience a very high level of responsibility among the students, who actively participate in the teaching. There is a plenty of dialogue between teachers and students, and the latter have a very proactive approach to learning.

Serafim: I do not know if it is a general time flow, but I experience a marked entrepreneurial spirit and great interest among the students for smaller start-up companies. In the UK, I experienced more focus on aiming for a career in a particular company - typically a large international group.

Lilia: I think the interest in start-ups is a new trend that has emerged in recent years
- the interest and desire to start up on your own has grown significantly in recent years.

What does the presence of a specialized dairy engineering education mean? 

Lilia: It is obvious that when 25-30 graduates with a special focus on the dairy industry graduate every year, then you have an important contribution to the ecosystem, which Serafim mentions.

It also propagates to other parts of the education system. Denmark is a relatively small country, and therefore it is necessary to further cooperation with other related institutes. At the University of Copenhagen , for example, students have the opportunity to attend classes at DTU (Technical University of Denmark) and at Aarhus University and vice versa. Furthermore, we have a fine collaboration with Kold College, where the dairymen are educated, and where we also borrow facilities for internships. This should also be highlighted as a very important part of the Msc ind Dairy Science and Technology.

Serafim: We should also mention an exciting and growing collaboration with several international institutes - for example with the universities of Lund (Sweden) and Wageningen (the Netherlands). This is an area we would like to develop further in the coming years.

How do you ensure knowledge sharing and close connection between the industry and the research world in Denmark? 

Lilia: I was, and I am, very impressed with the collaboration between the University of Copenhagen, and the entire industry in the formalized work in ‘The industry group behind the Master of Dairy Science and Technology’, where 27 food companies jointly provide input for the education. I have not seen it elsewhere. It provides fantastic input on the needs of the industry, so we continuously, and much faster than in other countries, manage to adapt both research and teaching to the current needs.

Serafim: I have seen similar collaborations in other countries, I can however see that the local industry is very proactive and committed in Denmark. You experience a large family togetherness, where you focus on common interests rather than on narrow self-needs.

Lilia: This is also seen in the interest of the students and young people, who are seen as future colleagues and therefore have a great interest in being integrated into the environment. It is also seen at many professional events, where both the elderly and retired staff meet with the young and new students.

Denmark also has a very varied and active network for knowledge sharing, which is found both around The Dairy Technical Society, which offers seminars that appeals to both the dairy industry and the supplier industry. The same applies to the professional organizations such as The Association of Msc in Dairy Science and Technology and The Association of Dairy Managers and Specialist - FMF, which similarly offer a large number of workshops and activities supporting the tight bonds within the sector. Moreover, magazines and news media also constitute an important part of the Danish dairy culture.

Serafim: Finally, one should also mention the work of the Danish Dairy Research Foundation, where the industry helps to allocate funds for research projects constituting another example of the close collaboration between research institutions and the dairy industry.

What does the current focus on sustainable food production, including plantbased foods, mean for the future of the dairy industry in Denmark? 

Lillia: We already have a significant focus on these two elements in both research and teaching, and it will probably become more so in the coming years. But dairy products or plant products are not a matter of either-or but a matter of both-and.

Serafim: We must continue to develop both plant universes and traditional dairy products. We see that the new product areas are attractive to many start-ups, but now we also see the established food companies following suit. And they have the large production facilities ready for scale-up, if the consumer interest is sufficient.