A new ‘FrieslandCampina feeling’
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A new ‘Friesland­Campina feeling’

  • 10 June 2014
  • By: Judith Witte

Last year Geke Naaktgeboren, director of quality assurance & safety at FrieslandCampina, won the Quality Manager in Food 2013 award. According to the judging panel, she has “succeeded in significantly improving the quality policy within the cheese, butter & milk powder business group”. The policy has been improved – but how is she ensuring that it is implemented in practice?

FrieslandCampina was created over five years ago as the result of a merger between two Dutch cooperatives: Friesland Foods and Campina. The two dairy companies had a similar evolutionary history but major differences in terms of working methods and corporate culture. “Immediately after the merger, the main priority was to create a clear external image as quickly as possible: ‘one face to the customer’,” recalls Geke Naaktgeboren.

“The nice thing about that kind of objective is that, as the management team, you make quick decisions. The danger is that you skip over the basics – and they were not firmly in place. Friesland Foods and Campina had different corporate cultures. And although the manufacturing processes in the individual factories complied with all the relevant legislation and rules, there was no central, standardised approach. The processes were not built around basic controls, so we spent too much time solving problems and identifying precisely where things had gone wrong. We were also poor at dealing with complaints. A lot of time was taken up internally by discussion and research: Who was responsible? Who’s going to pay the costs? Who will inform whom? Plus, due to the lack of a standard system for registering and handling complaints, we ended up making the same mistakes again.”


It is FrieslandCampina’s ambition to create the most successful, most professional and most attractive dairy company for its dairy-farmer members, employees, customers and consumers, and for society as a whole. Among other things, the company is striving to further grow its profits, and to achieve an 80% reduction in the number of accidents leading to absence from work per 200,000 hours worked by 2020 (compared with 2011). In other words, Geke Naaktgeboren faces a considerable challenge. “Quality is higher on the agenda than ever,” says the passionate quality manager.


Quality management means optimising the quality of a product, production process, service and/or company. It is not a stand-alone discipline; it is present in every aspect of managing a business. The aim to improve quality can serve as the basis for management decisions, whereby customers (whether internal or external) always play a central role. At FrieslandCampina, signals from external customers were a clear indication of the need for fundamental changes. Geke: “I was unhappy with our performance. Customers have become more demanding. They no longer look only at the end product, but also at the factory itself and how the logistics operation is organised. We realised that we had to keep pace with the changing world around us, and highly demanding customers are part of that world. It was, and still is, our ambition to really work on a ‘first time right’ basis and to ensure every customer is a satisfied customer. That wouldn’t have been possible if we’d carried on working as we were.”

What had to change?

“It was time to make a clear choice for a single strategy and for standardisation throughout the entire company. Operational excellence, or ‘OpEx’, is a business strategy which saves costs by organising processes extremely efficiently and standardising them. We want to set ourselves apart strategically through excellent operational processes. Key to this strategy are low prices, fast and reliable delivery and good service. In other words: cost-saving efficiency. Internally, this means focusing on costs and quality: ‘the process is king’. It’s all about getting things right immediately, in all areas. The core value is: whatever we do today, tomorrow we will do it even better, faster and cheaper, without waste. The processes are characterised by speed, predictability and reliability. It is essential to reduce errors. Ultimately, this will result in high-quality products which are always in accordance with the pre-defined specifications. Once we had decided on that strategy, a whole manual was written containing the necessary steps for introducing OpEx and implementing it within every single work process. In order to achieve such a change, employees have to conform.”


One of the projects at FrieslandCampina is the ‘World Class Operations Management’ (WCOM) improvement programme. Geke explains: “For example, if there is a lot of downtime somewhere because the process is not running smoothly, we assign a multidisciplinary improvement team to it. This actively involves the workforce in the improvement process in practice. It’s not enough to merely change the processes, of course. Quality management goes much further, and it’s essential to change people’s behaviour. Everyone knows that implementing a zoning plan is more than a matter of merely putting hand-washing stations in the right places. Making your staff aware of the importance of actually using them and of complying with other essential rules and standards is a challenge for every manager. In the past, we used to say: “Sorry, we don’t want to do it either but it’s what the customer wants.” Now our message is: “This is our standard. And it’s a happy coincidence that this is what the customer wants too.”

Cheese on the menu

“To achieve the necessary behavioural and cultural transformation, and to create a new ‘FrieslandCampina feeling’ among the employees within the FrieslandCampina Cheese operating company, we enlisted external help from MPuls. That firm designs and manages drastic, participatory change processes such as strategy development and implementation, collaboration and integration processes, organisational and process changes and culture change. MPuls launched the ‘Cheese on the Menu’ programme here three years ago. It kicked off with a session for all decision-makers and managers from the various departments. If you want to realise your ambitions, you first need to gain their support and really involve them in the change process. We looked at all kinds of cases in teams. Together, we then compared the results from the exercises with the actual situation, because the cases weren’t hypothetical ones – they were real. That was an eye opener for many people: what they believed in theory was often actually done very differently in practice. This resulted in the realisation that processes could become more efficient and revealed where improvements could be made.”

What could be improved?

“Not enough information was being shared about performance. Some plant managers acted like heads of their own little kingdoms. That’s no longer possible thanks to OpEx: the same standard applies to all locations, with the same specifications and uniform controls. Needless to say, that met with some resistance: ‘We’ve been working like this for the past 20 years, why do we have to change now?’ You can’t always explain every decision, sometimes you simply have to stand your ground. If you’re striving to achieve OpEx, employees have to accept and adhere to the agreed rules, orders and instructions. But I also know that they are more likely to do so if they know why it’s so important. There is an element of double standards: we are asking our staff to conform, yet I don’t want employees who just mindlessly follow others. Awareness is an important first step, but we want to go further: how do I get the person who is working at one of our production facilities, with processes that have been standardised within OpEx, to be ‘active’? We don’t want a situation in which an operator is managing and organising all sorts of matters at home but who as soon as he gets into work no longer has to think for himself, since then we miss out on potentially good ideas about solutions and improvements.”

What has been achieved so far?

“We had a tradition of emphasising what wasn’t going well. Now, the focus is on what we are already doing right, and on what can be done better. We ask all our employees to think about how the processes can be organised tighter and more efficiently. If you’ve got a good idea, don’t keep it to yourself – share it! We’re still in the middle of this process. It will only work with full openness, and you only get that if employees are prepared to reveal their vulnerabilities – not only the production workers but also office staff and the management team. With support and guidance from MPuls, we are organising sessions which are helping in that respect. We are seeing more collaboration and more sharing of knowledge and information. It has also become easier to gather and exchange information, both within and between the various locations. People are increasingly realising that they are part of FrieslandCampina, and that each and every link in the chain matters. The fundamental idea is: if you want people to get involved, then you have to involve them in the process.”

Looking ahead, what is the main priority?

Our focus is now on further professionalising our quality management system so that we can continue to anticipate and respond to changes in the world around us. We are aware of the considerable responsibility we bear as a manufacturer to offer consumers high-quality products. The demands are becoming higher – on the part of our customers, of consumers and of the authorities. In order to live up to them, we must be flexible enough to anticipate changes but we must also win their confidence and convince them of the effectiveness of our quality policy.

Another aspect which is currently high on the agenda is to further ensure that all our employees understand the impact of their own actions on the ultimate quality of the product and the process. Does every operator realise the implications of dosing the wrong quantity of an ingredient? Does everyone know that a single production error can result in a huge product recall from stores, which can incur extensive costs and damage consumer confidence? By further improving employee awareness and involvement and working together to market a high-quality product, we expect to be able to improve our performance. And finally, it is important to celebrate our successes. It’s good to look at what can be done better, but don’t forget to look at what’s already been achieved successfully.

What does the future hold?

“Ultimately, the success of our chosen approach should be reflected in the figures: I want to be able to see that there has been a clear reduction in the number of incidents, that there is less downtime and waste, that we are receiving fewer complaints and that any complaints we do receive are dealt with more quickly. We believe that every complaint is one too many. We want to show that running the company based on leadership, structure and discipline will eventually result in zero complaints, 0% downtime and 100% first time right. We have decided to fast-track this ambition at two of our facilities by taking a disciplined approach to implementing our strategy. Any deviation which arises in the process must immediately become apparent to the operators, and those operators must know how to – and also be able to – take direct corrective action. Our systems must be able to measure our performance online so that we know exactly where the quality costs are and where we need to make improvements. At those two locations, we are going to prove that the combination of our ‘first time right in processing’ approach, sharing best practices and using them as the basis for standards which are implemented in a disciplined manner, getting employees involved and anticipating the needs of internal and external customers produces an excellent result in the broadest sense of the word. Working in a successful environment not only results in high-quality products and hence satisfied customers, but also happy employees. So at the end of the day, everyone’s a winner.”

FrieslandCampina in The Netherlands
FrieslandCampina is The Netherlands’ largest dairy company with an annual domestic production of some 8.5 billion kilograms of milk. Dutch consumers are familiar with FrieslandCampina brands such as Campina, Mona, Chocomel, Fristi, Optimel, Milner and Slankie. The head office of FrieslandCampina, which is based in Amersfoort, houses shared services and various operating companies. Its new international Innovation Centre is based in Food Valley, Wageningen. Approximately 7,500 people are employed across the processing companies, research centres and offices in The Netherlands. FrieslandCampina has around 14,500 Dutch dairy-farmer members who supply the milk and are co-owners of the FrieslandCampina company through the FrieslandCampina cooperative.


Source: Geert de Jong