Tapping in to SA tastes: Alcohol free beer and happy milking cows #WEF20

There are many overseas companies operating in South Africa somewhat under the radar and if economic conditions improve it would enable them to expand investment in the country. At the 50th World Economic Forum in Davos, Biznews met a CEO of a German company that is supplying automatic milk machines to South Africa. The Chief Executive Officer of GEA, loosely translated as Global Engineering Alliance is Stefan Klebert who said his company’s technology can provide fascinating insights into the mindset and moods of milking cows. They are also using technology to tap into our changing tastes. – Linda van Tilburg

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I’ve bumped into someone really interesting – and that is the thing about Davos – you start talking to people and find out there’s a South Africa link. And he is Stefan Klebert, the Chief Executive Officer of GEA.  What does GEA stand for?

GEA is a company producing machineries and processes for the food and beverage industry, also for pharmaceuticals and we say it stands for Global Engineering Alliance. It is not the real name, it is a very complicated German expression, but if you remember Klebert Engineering Alliance, you are right.

You say you are in South Africa?

We’re located in South Africa. We have subsidiaries there and are all over the world. We are a €5bn business with about 20,000 people worldwide. So we’re present in all the major and important economies.

In what application in South Africa?

For instance we sell milking robots for dairy farms – they milk the cows automatically – it’s also really an advance in terms of digitisation, so a cow has a transponder, we know her name, we know how much milk they normally give, we know if she was already milked today…

So can you say Daisy’s unhappy today she didn’t give enough milk?

Yeah absolutely. We also find out – in the movement pattern – when is it the right time for her to get pregnant again.

That is incredible. How is it applied in South Africa?

Yeah, we also do a lot of yoghurt lines for instance for South African producers, milk powder factories, we do pasta lines, we do chicken nugget lines, we are the world market leader in olive oil – which is not in South Africa – but I’m sure that people in South Africa are also drinking olive oil. This is mainly made in our machines. Every third litre of milk worldwide is running through our machines, every second litre of beer is running through our machines. We are also in the wastewater treatment. So there’s really a huge portfolio with very sophisticated high technology ingenuity.

South Africa at the moment is going through a slow growth period. Is there a vision for you that you can grow your business in South Africa?

Yeah. I think first of all we are depending on the population, when the population is growing our customers have higher demand to supply and then also they invest in machineries and processes. We see also that the behaviour of the human being – [it’s] changing much quicker than in the past – that also triggers a demand to have new production lines, be it Greek yoghurt instead of yoghurt with a lot of sugar, and things like that.

Don’t you find that there’s less sugar used at the moment?

Absolutely, at the moment it’s the trend. We also deliver to all the companies which are trying to produce alternative proteins – instead of meat – for instance, so they all use our products.

So you can spot trends? For instance from less sugar more towards Veganism?

Absolutely. We are involved in the ideas from our customers. They see what the trends are in the market. They give the consumer the choice – no big company is pushing alternative food – but they find out what the market wants or needs, and then they talk to us on how we can produce it.

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