The Innovator – Christiaan Middelhoven

Christiaan Middelhoven, Head of Chocolate & Confectionery Fats and Bakery, AAK, details the importance and benefits of adopting a customer co-development approach 

Please introduce yourself and your role at AAK? 

I’m Christiaan Middelhoven and I’m Head of Chocolate & Confectionery Fats and Bakery in AAK. I bring 15 years of experience in the B2B food industry, with a focus on sweet products categories. 

AAK has a long history of championing the plant-based oils and fats industry. Could you talk about that and its evolution today? 

For over 150 years, AAK has embodied the ethos of Making Better Happen™, driven by a commitment to customer co-development. This involves understanding each customer’s unique needs and leveraging AAK’s flexible production capabilities and extensive industry knowledge.   

The plant-based food sector is on the brink of significant innovation, spurred by a global movement towards sustainability and health. Future advancements are expected to improve the mimicry of animal product taste and texture, and hybrid solutions will further propel the shift towards a more sustainable food system. Additionally, plant-based oils and fats offer potential beyond food applications, supporting the transition from fossil-based ingredients to sustainable alternatives. 

By 2050, the global demand for food is anticipated to rise substantially to accommodate a growing population. Addressing these demands in a sustainable and responsible manner presents a major challenge for the world’s food supply chain. Sustainable palm oil, due to its high yield among vegetable oils, could be a crucial element in this solution, helping to replace less sustainable fossil-based raw materials. AAK is dedicated to promoting and sharing knowledge about sustainable palm oil, emphasising its versatility and sustainability when cultivated responsibly and without deforestation. This commitment underscores AAK’s role in enhancing the sustainability of the global food supply chain while driving innovation in plant-based solutions. 

In the bakery sector, we provide sustainable, responsibly sourced solutions such as shortenings, laminating fats, frying oils and margarines that are tailored to meet specific baking needs and boost production efficiency. Our expertise in developing customised solutions helps bakers achieve goals like butter replacement, reduced saturated fat content, improved texture and functionality, and cleaner label products. 

How do you monitor and analyse consumer behaviours and preferences for bakery products? What have you observed? 

Examining consumer behaviour forms an integral part of our trend monitoring approach. To differentiate, innovate and help make our customers fit for the future, we look at change beyond category and market. We focus on scrutinizing macro-level influencers that will shape eating and drinking habits over the next decade. This proactive approach aids us in forecasting customer and consumer needs, enabling us to make informed decisions for long-term innovation and differentiation. We keep a close watch on consumer and cultural dynamics to grasp evolving needs, particularly concerning oils and fats innovation. Moreover, we track industry transformations to comprehend market trends. This comprehensive approach extends beyond bakery products to encompass various industries, providing us with a holistic market perspective that benefits our bakery clients. 

Our dedication to staying informed on market dynamics involves monitoring of the bakery industry landscape. Through this ongoing analysis, we identify key trends and drivers shaping consumer preferences. We delve into category changes, consumer behaviours, and cultural shifts that influence bakery consumption patterns. Moreover, we examine macro-level drivers such as sustainability, health consciousness, and ethical sourcing to ensure that our innovations align with evolving industry standards and consumer expectations. 

We conduct primary research with a focus on creating solutions that put consumers first. By directly interacting with consumers, we gain insights into what drives them and how their needs are changing over time. This understanding allows us to tailor our products to meet the varied preferences and desires of consumers, ensuring that our offerings stay meaningful and impactful in the market. 

Further, our Co-Development approach emphasises collaboration with our customers to create lasting business value. By fostering ongoing dialogue and partnership, we aim to “Make Better Happen” through market differentiation, product functionality, health considerations, quality enhancements, profitability optimisation, efficiency improvements, and sustainable practices. This collaborative journey involves ideation, refinement, and validation of concepts with our specialised teams, ensuring bespoke solutions tailored to market needs. From concept validation to full-scale production, we maintain rigorous quality control to deliver superior products that exceed consumer expectations. 

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International Bakery

Media contact

Joseph Clarke
Editor, International Bakery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920

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