Monday, January 30, 2017

The interview - Dr Antje Eckel, founder of Dr Eckel GmbH

A year after gaining a doctorate in Agriculture in 1993, Dr Antje Eckel founded world-renowned alternative feed additive and supportive application company Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition GmbH. 

Throughout the 22 years as CEO, Dr Eckel has also held multiple honorary positions including Member of the board of the International Research Association of Feed Technology, and in 2009 was awarded the prestigious Oscar Patzelt Foundation’s special prize as ‘Business Woman of the Year’. 


What was your main motivation for founding Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition GmbH, and what relevant experience do you possess of the feed additive industry?
I founded Dr. Eckel in 1994 as a trading venture. Just two people - a real start up. We were the first feed additive company in Germany dedicated to animal production free of antimicrobial growth promoters. We faced many challenges in the beginning, but we trusted that we were on the right path. The successful growth showed us that we provided the right solutions for our customers. Since the beginning, customer satisfaction has always been our motivation for pioneering animal nutrition. Being close to the pulse of the industry led to innovations and to the construction of our own production facility in 2009. This enables us to provide the best solutions - to research, innovate and develop is our passion.

So, who are Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition and what is it about the organization that makes them so unique?
At Dr. Eckel, innovation is not just a word. We live innovation. We believe in the power of diversity. This is why we have assembled a highly trained team of agronomists, veterinarians, pharmacists, biologists, chemists, economists amongst others, who all contribute to our common objective: Innovation. This dynamic group of people from 18 different countries, who speak 13 different languages are the foundation for our excellence and our worldwide operation. This is how (and where) creative and effective solutions are formed.

In which areas does Dr. Eckel Animal Nutrition currently focus, and do you have any plans to diversify even further by incorporating any other areas of the industry in the future?
Our core business and our focus are feed additives. In our industry, it is not about having too little opportunities, it´s about selection and focus on the right things. This is what we do. When we started the company, everything was about chicks, pigs and cattle. Within the last six years, we changed our innovation focus. Beside land-based animals, we explore and research chances, challenges and opportunities in aquaculture, with all their diversity around the globe. Besides the chicken industry, Aquaculture is the largest growing animal protein industry. Shrimp, tilapia or pangasius need assistance and knowhow; they are part of efficient production for a growing world population. Two of the ‘buzz words’ of our industry at the moment are sustainability and efficiency.

Are these two factors important to Dr. Eckel Animal Nutrition, and in which ways do you ensure that these values are incorporated into your everyday working practices?
Well, let me put it this way: In my view, Efficiency is something you can measure. In our industry for example you can measure how much feed you have to feed to animals to get a certain output of protein. However, to be honest this is only part of the truth. Efficiency is also about reducing post-harvest losses, saving resources and increasing the life cycle of animals (e.g. breeding animals in aqua or cows with more lactation periods). Sustainability is a fashionable term, not measurable. Everybody is using their own definition and doing what they think sustainability can be for them. So yes, we are working on efficiency. We do this with many different approaches and we must have sustainability in focus without knowing exactly what that means. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: Improving efficiency and supporting animal welfare and health are sustainable.

Does Dr. Eckel Animal Nutrition have any new or ongoing projects or products that you would like to share with our readers?
In the area of additives for poultry and pig feed, our company was one the first to understand animal welfare as a new consumer demand. Consequently, we are developing animal welfare concepts for aquaculture with focus on stress reduction, hygiene and improved health. For this, we have invested in intensive indoor recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). This enables us to carry out feed trials in-house and consequently speed up the development of new additive concepts. At the moment, we are starting a new research project in aqua for a multifunctional particle system (MPS) to increase hygiene, and with this concept to increase efficiency and “sustainability” in aquaculture, without the use of AGP´s. The project investment is estimated to be half a million euros within 2 years. We envision providing animal welfare solutions for aquaculture with improved efficiency at no added costs. Only this provides a sustainable solution and a real benefit to our customers.

As a family owned company, have Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition tried to maintain the family ‘ethos’ as the business has expanded?
Today, Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition GmbH is almost 23 years old. My husband Bernhard and I were alone in the beginning. Now Dr. Eckel Animal Nutrition has more than 60 employees and we continue to grow. Our innovative spirit attracts many young high potentials that like the challenge of working in a demanding environment. Our sound growth over the years was only possible because we put much emphasis on the development of a motivated, highly dedicated team. When you look at us from the outside, you see pretty much what you expect of an outstanding German “Mittelstand” company: An innovative, fast, energetic, hardworking, trustworthy pioneer of the industry. This is what makes us a reliable partner for our customers. Adapting new structures and bringing in the next family generation will guarantee continued growth and success.

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