Monday, November 13, 2017

the interview: Patrick Charlton, Vice President at Alltech and CEO of Coppens International BV

Patrick Charlton is Vice President at Alltech and CEO of Coppens International, a specialist aquaculture feed company, which was acquired by Alltech in 2016. Before joining Coppens International, Mr Charlton oversaw the activity of 32 Alltech offices across the European region.
He graduated from the University of Nottingham and joined Alltech UK in 1991, becoming the technical manager in 1995. In 1998, Charlton moved to Cape Town, South Africa, to become Technical Director for Alltech’s Africa and Middle East region.
He currently lives in the UK and received a master’s degree in fermentation and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in 2006.

What has Alltech brought the Coppens brand since the procurement?
I think the biggest thing has been the technology. It was very much nutrition focused, quality ingredients to make a quality diet, which was their focus.

I think the additive side has taken us in a new direction. You saw Ben Lamberigts (QRN Manager) speech and I was really proud because a year ago he might’ve struggled giving that presentation but now he’s seen the products working, like the work they’ve done on astaxanthin and the minerals here. So of course he’s a lot more confident when it’s his data.

The technologies have allowed us to stake a claim that we didn’t have in terms of high-end technology in the field. I think the other thing is global presence. Although Coppens was a global company it was still a small regional feed company. They are now part of a much large company with offices in 129 countries.

We’re not pushing Coppens through all of them, we’ve said from the get go we’ll only work with Alltech where it’s relevant, we’re not going to every Alltech office and saying sell Coppens feed because it’s not fair. Not all of them have aqua people and markets and even if some of them do; selling feed is a different business to selling additives, it’s a B2C business, as opposed to a B2B business.

It becomes possible because we have the people. The biggest challenge with any of these markets is people.


What would you consider to be your top target areas in the future?
I think for this business it’s ultimately going to be distance, we do a little bit in Asia of our very high-end products – Coppens is very good at starter diets. 

You get above one - 1.5ml diets and realistically, exporting those intercontinentally becomes challenging, but we do very little in Asia, which is 67 percent of the world’s aquaculture, so we’d have to look at that and go from there.

Pearse has always said to follow the road least travelled because that’s where the opportunity lies.


Obviously, you’re wearing two hats, VP of Alltech plus CEO of Coppens. How do you manage to balance those two, is there much synergy?
I’m a big believer that my role is to represent both businesses, both ways. By that, I mean I think there is a lot Coppens can help bring to Alltech in terms of it’s business structure, such as it’s Aqua Centre. 

Dr Lyons said to me the other day, “You’re my go to guys, on the aqua side.”

He would always say we’re very focused on not creating business silos, so he uses a passionate phrase, “One Alltech”.

What he means by that is – Yes, the fish feed business is different and separate, but that doesn’t mean the team on the fish feed side are separate to everyone else. They’re not different citizens.

One of the ways Alltech has succeeded is by always breaking down barriers, we want to avoid barriers being built; having me wear both hats, that helps. I can make sure that the Coppens flag is flown within Alltech and globally; but similarly my job has been to help the Coppens team feel ‘Alltech’. That’s really been the big goal; I personally wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

The biggest challenge with an acquisition is integration; the team here has been exemplary in how they’ve integrated into the business, because Alltech is a different company and we do things different ways.

I think that cross-pollination is so important and that’s why you need to avoid creating a silo mentality between the businesses that you have. When someone’s put in charge of a business and their attitude is, “I’m in charge of this business, so I’ll put a border around it because that’s all I’m responsible for.”

But I still see my responsibility being the success of Alltech, of which Coppens is now a significant part. 


What area of aquaculture do you think is most important to focus on?
At the moment, the vast amount of technology goes into, what I would consider ‘cash crops’, like trout or salmon, that aren’t necessarily going to feed the world, but there might be residual benefits in relation to utilising those technologies elsewhere with different species.
It’s kind of like the difference between mining for diamonds and mining for iron ore.
One of the reasons we bought Coppens, is a level of frustration within Alltech with the more conservative nature of the feed industry.

When you sell feed at the end of the day, you’ve still got farmers who are looking to get the best beef; you still get price thrown back in your face and you can’t ignore that. We can all make the best feeds in the world, but at the end of the day, someone’s got to sell them and farmers will look for the best price.

The attractive thing about Coppens for Alltech, was it’s global footprint, but also it’s species footprint. We’re working with trout, catfish, sturgeon, tilapia and we’ve got the hobby sector and the list goes on and Alltech has helped move them into the salmon side of things, part of which is related to here.

We did that to showcase some of our technologies, the aim was to get a feed that was fish product free. The big missing piece of the puzzle for Coppens was that they could go without the fishmeal but they were struggling to go without the fish oil, the DHA. So we came in and added the final piece of the puzzle in.

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