A winning taste for life
Symrise is a global supplier of fragrances, flavorings, cosmetic active ingredients, raw materials and functional ingredients and its clients include manufacturers of perfumes, cosmetics, food and beverages, the pharmaceutical industry and producers of nutritional supplements. Africa Outlook speaks to Ibrahim Wagdy about how Symrise has taken a hold in Egypt and beyond and its plans for the African continent.
Writer Hannah Eiseman-Reynard
Project manager James Mitchell
Symrise creates flavourings and fragrances for cosmetics, toiletries, sweets, savoury foods and beverages. Its clients include manufacturers of perfumes, cosmetics, food and beverages, the pharmaceutical industry and producers of nutritional supplements and it is among the top four companies in the global flavors and fragrances market.
Of course, the firm is headquartered in Holzminden, Germany, but the group is represented in over 35 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the U.S. and Latin America.
"It takes on average 45 aroma chemicals to make a flavour so it takes a long time to train those people to develop a solid knowledge of hundreds of raw materials to be able to create different flavours," says Symrise Egypt's Managing Director Ibrahim Wagdy, talking about how Symrise trains technologists to work in flavours and fragrances.
It sounds like a lot of fun – how do we get in?
"We prefer to bring fresh people in than to headhunt," he replies. "We operate in quite a niche area and we select young, fresh graduates who show scientific curiosity and have a can-do attitude. We need them to be entrepreneurial, pro-active people. It's a very competitive industry and our clients compete in a very competitive industry."
The training programme can see selected candidates travelling and doing training and internships for months at a time. Symrise has operations all over the world, so the opportunities can be extremely wide and varied.
"Symrise was formed ten years ago when Haarmann & Reimer (H&R) and Dragoco merged," says Mr Wagdy. "Both companies were already majorglobal players in the industry with over 100 years heritage and we've had strong growth since year-on-year and that's reflected on our share value in the stock market. We're the fourth biggest globally and the second biggest in Europe, the Middle East and Africa."
The company has an annual total turnover nearing two billion euros and employs over 5,000 people.
Wagdy's involvement with the firm began in 2010 when Symrise acquired Futura Labs Group, a leading flavours and fragrances manufacturer in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt has a population of 80 million and is a fast-growing market.
"Symrise thought merging the two companies would end up with a faster growing gig: Futura Labs had over 100 people and offered a lot of synergy, as well as a very good technical team," Wagdy says. "Africa is a focal point because of the potential in it. We had been growing rapidly in Egypt and the region – we have two plants in Egypt and one in Dubai. Integration went very smoothly back in 2010 and since then we've been doing double-digit growth in Egypt and in all of Africa."
Double-digit growth across a whole continent? "We're growing faster than the industry," says Wagdy.
Symrise has another base in South Africa and from these two locations the company is plotting to conquer Africa.
So what's the secret of its success? "All top industry players have good technology and special molecules but our service is what really distinguishes us," says Wagdy. "We have on-site support for our clients. There are other players who simply send off-the-shelf samples for the client to evaluate but we visit our clients, tailor make a flavour creation over several visits. We then fine tune the recipe with the client testing it on his production line and with consumer tests. It's an integrated process. Our partnership goes beyond even making sure we deliver successful finished product and we often help clients engaging with other complimentary suppliers of packaging or machinery.
"We really look at the whole product concept," Wagdy stresses. In addition, Symrise puts plenty of eff ort into ensuring not just that its flavours and fragrances smell and taste great, but that they are appropriate to their markets. "We claim to know the consumers in Africa much better than our competitors. We do lots of market research. This year we're looking especially into the food and beverage market – and researching how the African consumer sees refreshment."
This research serves Symrise well, and it also serves its clients well.
"Clients are happy to see we have research-based products," Wagdy says, who explains that consumer trends are leading the industry and Symrise is staying ahead of the curve. "Consumer health is a focal area – we have created a business unit which caters to consumer health. This focus is what the market wants."
In addition it is attractive for the consumer, not to mention a great business model to look closely into sustainability.
"All the natural materials that we use have to be used in a responsible and sustainable way… for example, for the vanilla we have a special programme in Madagascar, and we're the only company in our industry that does this. We have a sustainable growth programme with the local growers and we help support that community."
The company gained DQS certification in November of this year and is a certified green company. It has a campaign currently to help preserve the threatened blue lavender species of Provence, Wagdy says.
Sustainable ingredients aside, what are some of the challenges facing Symrise? "The main issue is the ever-growing complexity of industry regulations. Those standards keep getting more and more complex every year. Every day we see more and more certifications we have to comply with and our clients often have their own regulatory limitations and specific quality certifications too. Operating across so many countries and regions adds to the complexity."
So what's the focus for the future? "We'll continue to focus on Africa where we're putting more and more resources" Wagdy says. "Egypt was first – investing in infrastructure to manufacture flavours, emulsions and seasonings in Egypt and South Africa. Our main focus will be on development and production. We want to remain one of the top two suppliers in Africa."
That seems pretty much guaranteed.
To learn more visit www.symrise.com.