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The key to emerging market success? An open mind, says Ingredion’s new EMEA exec

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

11-Mar-2014
Last updated on 11-Mar-2014 at 13:32 GMT

Martin Sonntag says he sees growth opportunities in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - but also in so-called mature European markets
Martin Sonntag says he sees growth opportunities in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - but also in so-called mature European markets

An open mind and real interest in local culture can make the difference between success and failure for companies looking to enter local markets, says Ingredion’s new EMEA vice president and general manager Martin Sonntag.

Sonntag took the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) job at Ingredion just four weeks ago and, in an interview with FoodNavigator, said he hopes to bring his previous experience of entering emerging markets to his new role.

“Since 1995, I have been in global leadership positions. …How do you enter China smartly?  How do you enter India? Establishing companies with good local market support – that’s what I’ve done over the last 15 years,” he said.

His most recent food industry-related role was as general manager at Dow Wolff Cellulosics (now Dow Food Solutions), which helped him to understand the market space, he said. However, he joins the company from the private equity sector, in which he was an executive investment partner and portfolio manager. Through this, he has experience of leading large organisations through transformative periods and entering emerging markets.

“If you really come with an open mind and you are really intrigued about the local insights and enjoy being with your customers at the local level, it is much easier to anticipate local market needs,” he said. “It’s about being open.”

However, for right now, Sonntag is focused on the EMEA region, so what has caught his eye closer to home?

Growth in any market

“There is plenty of growth opportunity,” he said. “Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East still have big growth prospects.”

He added: “We always get very interested in growth markets, but I’m also interested in ‘mature’ markets. There is always room to grow. A true specialty company will be able to grow in any market, even with 0.1% GDP growth.

“Take North Africa for example. In big cities like Cairo, they might like tiramisu and they want to have it at home – but some of the ingredients might not be available locally. We can produce these in a ready mix form with a missing ingredient, not because of cost cutting, but because an ingredient isn’t available.”

Texture: ‘A key enabler’

Sonntag also said he was interested in Ingredion’s capabilities in sensory technology, working out how to prepare and cook with different foods and ingredients with various aims.

Specific trends that are feeding into current R&D work include demand for clean label ingredients, and free-from foods, including gluten-free, he said.

“Texture is always a key enabler across all of those springboards,” he said. “…When you understand the consumer preference, we can understand what you mean when you talk about crispness and then what it is that makes it different scientifically and chemically. You can then develop that into a native starch for example, which translates into that consumer preference.”

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