BELGIUM – Milcobel, a Belgium-based dairy cooperative, has announced the departure of CEO Nils van Dam, citing a “difference in vision” with the co-op’s board.

Although Milcobel asserted that the separation was by “mutual” consent, it alluded to the challenging business environment, marked by a surge in milk production, “volatile markets,” and “stricter sustainability requirements” in Belgium.

The Kallo-based cooperative, which sources milk from approximately 2,000 family-owned local dairy farmers, emphasized its strong efforts to reposition itself in a competitive dairy landscape.

Despite these efforts and a push for a value-added agenda, Milcobel is now on the hunt for a new CEO, leaving a “limited management team” temporarily in charge.

President Betty Eeckhaut acknowledged van Dam’s role in implementing the Phoenix strategy, aimed at boosting Milcobel’s value-added ambitions.

“We may speak of a real transformation, even if today it does not always deliver the results we aspire to,” Eeckhaut stated hinting at dissatisfaction within the board.

Milcobel reported a turnover of €1.36bn (US$1.47bn) in 2022, reflecting an increase from €1.14bn in the previous year. However, profits dwindled, with before-tax figures halving to €5.04m and net earnings dropping to €4.3m from €10.6m.

The cooperative, which supplies supermarket chains, local retailers, and manufacturers, expressed its commitment to paying an above-average milk price to its member-cooperates.

Eeckhaut stressed that while the foundations for this objective had been laid under van Dam’s leadership, tangible results were now essential.

Milcobel, known for its diverse product range, including cheese, butter, milk powders, cream, and whey, faced challenges in 2023 due to sharply falling dairy markets, resulting in a lower milk price for member-cooperates.

Despite this, the cooperative is exploring new opportunities, including a partnership with Arla Foods’ ingredients division to supply whey proteins for infant formula and pharmaceutical applications, initiated this year.

Meanwhile, Milcobel also plans to invest in “highly valorising products.”

“To be successful, we need to increase our commercial clout, among other things. We expect a new CEO to take the lead in this and inspire the teams,” Eeckhaut concluded.

As Milcobel navigates this leadership transition, industry observers are keenly watching for the cooperative’s next strategic moves in a dynamic and challenging dairy market.

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