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Frederik Hoeck

Co-owner At GNT Group B.V.

Demand for colouring foods, natural colourants for confectionery, bread, soft drinks and dairy products, continues to grow rapidly. Food bloggers and influencers highlight their favourable properties with good reason, and co-owner Frederik Hoeck of top producer GNT is making the most of this trend. GNT is a unique workplace for foodies with technical knowledge of food, in many ways.

While walking around the GNT site in Mierlo, Frederik shows the lab that was completed in 2017 and talks about plans to create a campus atmosphere where employees can meet each other. He also appears to know everyone by name. We reflect on the 3D artwork in the entrance of the lab. 'It is the largest 3D scan with an app in existence. It tells the story of GNT, colour explosions and recipes included', explains the owner. Originally hailing from Germany, the market leader in colouring food has 12 branches from Dubai to New York and from Barcelona to Singapore, sales to some 80 countries and an impressive customer base. By chance, almost 40 years ago they ended up in Mierlo, where the head office is now located, and then quickly started making international progress.

Looking at the incredibly bright and fresh colours, it's difficult to believe that they're all natural.

‘We've been told that before. But it's true. We have approximately 400 different colours under the brand name EXBERRY™; which makes our range the broadest in nutrition in the market. They are all made from vegetables, fruit and edible plants using physical processes such as pressing, cooking and filtering. We don't use artificial additives such as chemicals or solvents. This means that our products are clean label, kosher, halal and vegan. Convincing consumers that nature is this colourful is quite a challenge. Although we only do operate in the business-to-business market, we feel it is important to teach consumers about natural colours. Food bloggers and influencers love our products and show them to the world on social media, including Instagram, with incredibly beautiful pictures. In this way, we hope to achieve a change in mindset.’

Natural raw materials, without E-numbers and other additives, are all the rage. Was GNT ahead of its time, or have you kept to your traditions?

‘The answer is that we have always remained true to ourselves, while always continuing to innovate and optimise. It started with five employees and one product, grapes, and from there we have always continued to create new colours. It is true that we are in a growing market. Customers are increasingly buying natural products, wanting to know about their origin and how they are produced. We have no secrets in that respect. We are great fans of food transparency. There is a reason why we have a glass wall in the factory. We deliberately keep our production process out in the open. To us, sustainability is more than just a marketing trend.’

Going back to growth, how did you go about this?

‘Over the past 40 years, we have grown rapidly, under our own steam. Without takeovers or mergers. For now, there is no end in sight to that growth. There is still room for expansion in Europe and the US, and we see even more opportunities in Asia and South America. Seven of the top-ten food companies in the world use EXBERRY ™ in a wide range of products such as confectionery, bread, pastry, soft drinks and dairy. You could say that we are outgrowing the market; which is an excellent reason for employees to join us. With us, you'll be in the front row to shape the future.’

"A unique workplace for foodies, in many ways"

What does this growth mean for employees?  

‘The company's identity is becoming more international each year and also more complex. This requires employees with a global mindset. We consciously create teams with people who have different skills, who complement each other in terms of diversity. We have real international jobs here. In the morning you consult with the Singapore office about a campaign in China, then Skype Dubai about product-market combinations in the Middle East, while helping your European colleagues after lunch with a sales presentation and ending your afternoon contacting Brazilian and American marketing colleagues to review the plans for the next quarter. Despite all this, we manage to maintain the values of a family business. It feels like a worldwide family.’

How does GNT maintain values in its rapidly growing and globalising business?

‘Our values are everywhere: work with passion, innovate, learn from mistakes and continuously work on improvements, take responsibility, take decisions and fulfil obligations. That's not just window dressing, that's what it's all about here. We want employees to feel welcome, interact informally and work in a positive culture. If you have a good idea, we will listen. Whether for your own department or for another; the goal is always to get better.’

What opportunities do employees have for personal development?

‘The only limitation is you. Need I say more? It is not in our interest to hire people who leave after two years. To be future proof, we need to keep the teams together.’

What constitutes a job well done for the new Communication Manager?

‘This person needs to have experience in B2B Food and Beverage, be a real initiator, generate new ideas, and get their team on board. Because we work with different offices and cultures, being able to lead discussions is a skill that should come naturally. Obviously, that doesn't mean that we all have to agree all the time. The point is to communicate openly and honestly with each other. That is how this company works.’

A rosy future, as it were?

‘No one ever looks back once they have switched from artificial to natural colours. That is why we expect a greater urge for international expansion. As a result, our foreign offices will grow. The advantage is that we manage our own supply chain and focus only on natural resources. This means we are not distracted by other segments and divisions. This has also contributed to our position as the main producer in natural colouring of food products worldwide.’

If you feel inspired by this story, find out more about GNT and about the vacancy for Communication Manager.

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