Last month, longtime CPG executive John Haen took the reins as the new CEO and president of Fiberstar, replacing Dale Lindquist, who will now head up sustainable new business development at the River Falls, WI-based supplier of functional fiber ingredients. Three weeks into his new post, Haen caught up with FoodNavigator-USA on his aims for domestic and international growth and the multifunctionality of fiber.
Before joining Fiberstar, Haen was senior vice president of food products at Richardson International, where he headed up the food division of Canada’s largest agribusiness.
“Having a long background in the food industry, one of the first things that drew me to Fiberstar was the innovation and the team assembled here,” Haen said. “It isn’t hard to recognize a solid organization with such a strong product offering. After my first three weeks, I feel comfortable in saying that this organization is ready for the next level. My priorities lie in helping make that happen. Supporting the organizational structure is always key, but providing the necessary support to the team and new technologies that exist is another way I can support that growth.”
Indeed, last year Fiberstar completed a $10.64 million plant expansion to effectively quadruple production of its orange pulp-derived fibers (marketed as Citri-Fi) and citrus fiber and hydrocolloid-based stabilizer blends (marketed as Hydro-Fi, and created in collaboration with Gum Technology). As export sales account for roughly 85% of Fiberstar's revenues (and have been growing at an average compound annual growth rate of 47% for the past few years), Haen said that the expansion will provide support for the science and additional tools and resources for the sales team to facilitate both international and domestic growth.
“Most people are aware that the $10 million expansion has been a focus in this organization for awhile,” he said. “There isn’t anything more frustrating than having to restrict your product from a market that wants it. In addition to follow-up on expansion within our own sales network and team, we are adding some key personnel, innovative products and some new platforms of technology that are new to the industry.”
When asked if fiber has what it takes to be the next protein, Haen replied that the ingredient’s versatility lends itself to so much more: “I speak for our scientific team as well when I say that we think the better question is ‘What can Citri-Fi/fiber do with protein and vice versa?’. The right fiber can replicate the characteristics of many other ingredients. Protein is definitely one of them. Take egg replacement, or thickening in beverages.”
But the future of improving functional ingredients as a whole lies not just in individual improvement, but in collaboration as well, he added. “We have just begun to scratch the surface of the power of synergy in these functional ingredients. And the goal for us, and I hope the industry as a whole, is to answer the market quickly and effectively,” he said. “Innovation is the solution.”