Scenes of cattle grazing in New Zealand’s rolling pastures do not stop at being picturesque. Beyond the postcard potential is an industry that is anchored to the country’s temperate climate, grassy paddocks and contented cows.
“People associate New Zealand with green pastures and a nice, safe place. These good traits are part of Fonterra, which [expounds] that healthy cows produce high-quality milk,” says José Miguel Porraz-Lando, managing director of Fonterra Brands Malaysia.
New Zealand-based Fonterra’s cows graze outdoors year-round on grass, silage, hay and forage crops grown on its farms. “There is full traceability from farm to table,” Porraz says.
Every day, farmers collect the milk, which then goes to the factory where all the required nutrients are put in before it is packed and distributed. Safeguards put in place along the entire production process ensure that what customers get is goodness they can trust.
About 40% of Malaysians are familiar with Fonterra’s brands — Fernleaf, Anchor, Chesdale, CalciYum, Anmum and Anlene. They also consume its dairy ingredients in chocolate, pizzas, sport drinks, muesli bars, baked goods and condensed milk, says Porraz.
“Milk binds them together and its benefits are carried across to all the products. Once that story is understood, people will appreciate the brand at different levels,” he adds.
The brand has been in Malaysia since the 1970s, as New Zealand Milk then. Today, the country is home to Fonterra’s two manufacturing sites in Shah Alam — Dairymas and Susumas — and a global business service centre in Puchong that provides ICT support to its operations worldwide, besides serving as a regional centre for procurement and food safety and quality.
There is a continued focus on innovation in Malaysia, where brands such as Anlene and Anmum were created and rolled out across several markets in Asia and the Middle East. The country is one of the 10 largest exporters of milk in the world and has the potential to grow as a dairy consumer, Porraz says.
Malaysians drink an average of 47 litres of milk per year in any form, compared with Singaporeans’ 65 litres. The global average is above 100 litres per person per year.
He attributes the country’s relatively lower intake to milk not being a staple. But consumption has grown substantially over the years, with people eating out more and being exposed to and enjoying dairy in different ways.
Also, with better education, consumers are more cognisant of the ingredients and nutritional differences in dairy products. This enables them to make more informed and sophisticated lifestyle choices.
On its part, Fonterra strives to identify what people need and to develop the products to meet demand by asking: Where can we make a difference? The constant is the three objectives for its brands — offering the best nutrients, taste and value for money, Porraz says.
Fonterra is a co-operative owned by 10,500 NZ farmers. The co-operative collects 20 billion litres of milk across its various markets annually. The group supplies dairy ingredients to food companies, branded dairy products to consumers, and dairy ingredients to food professionals at out-of-home dining establishments.
Milk binds them together and its benefits are carried across to all the products. Once that story is understood, people will appreciate the brand at different levels
New Zealand’s milk model is cost-effective because its cows eat grass, a natural food, he adds. Dairy cattle needs high-quality pasture to boost milk production and farmers take the health and comfort of these “family members” very seriously.
The same work ethic applies across Fonterra, which has a total revenue of about NZ$19.2 billion (RM58.2 billion) and 22,000 employees worldwide.
“People normally want to have a purpose [at work]. If they are connected with the vision of the company, there is a greater sense of ownership,” he explains. For example, “Fonterra helps to improve the health of Malaysians. Our staff are proud of that. [It’s something] they can tell their friends”.
Purpose and mission, coupled with the right support for staff to grow in their personal development, enable the group to do what is right while driving business, says Mexico-born Porraz, whose own career has benefited from such support.
He joined the company in 2003 and held management positions in New Zealand and Australia. Subsequently, he was chief financial officer in Chile and managing director of Fonterra Brands Vietnam before being appointed to his present position in 2014. “I moved from the sales team in Vietnam to manufacturing here. I had no experience but the company supported me,” he says.
The journey from Latin America to Asia has been a long and eye-opening experience, but this father of three has been able to adapt at each new posting by being positive and open to change.
“Things never go as planned. You will always plan and strive to achieve and be assertive. Luck and generally good things happen to those who are pushing through,” he says.
A willingness to open up and embrace instead of being enclosed has helped him “capture the learning opportunities and grow in a diversity of settings”. Being unfamiliar with a new language and culture prompts him to go out, travel and sit and eat with people to learn about them, their history, differences and aspirations.
“There’s not a single way of achieving an objective. No one is better than another. We bring to the table what’s common and work together,” says Lando, who believes pushing boundaries to make the place you work in better has its share of setbacks and problems, but you have to move on. “You need to pick yourself up and ask, ‘What is the real problem?’ And you just have to look for the solutions.”
After completing his formal education, young Porraz joined Mexico’s Ministry of Finance. “I thought I could change things from inside if I worked with the government,” he says. With hindsight, he realises that being allowed to learn through experience is one of the key lessons that has shaped his life.
“I grew up in a nurturing environment. My parents never questioned my choices — they might not have agreed with me, but they allowed me to find out what it was I wanted to do. My father was an entrepreneur, but he didn’t ask why I wanted to work with the government.
“That’s unconditional love — something you cannot describe until you see it. I try to replicate that with my own children,” says the Harvard graduate, who also credits his parents for teaching him integrity, persistence and being constant and transparent in his choices.
Relocating to Malaysia has been as good for him as it has been for his children, aged 13, 11 and six, who have friends of different nationalities and races here, unlike when Porraz was growing up. “I studied in a priest-run school in Mexico and did not have any friend who was not a Catholic. My children are in a great place now and I would not change that. My place is here at this point in time.”
But looking around him, he notices an increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity and is concerned. Before, kids were healthier because they went out to play, he says. “Now, you see children aged five or six who are obese, so people think it’s normal. I remember people being leaner when I visited Asia two decades ago.”
Action needs to be taken to tackle obesity and the government could work faster towards that, he thinks. Well, we could take a leaf from Vietnam’s book: The country is trying to grow height by helping its children reach their full physical level and achieve their optimum potential with the right nutrients.
Fonterra sees this as an opportunity to emphasise proper nutrition and advocate an active lifestyle for good health. It is never too late to start exercising and take care of yourself to prevent potential health issues, Porraz assures.