Five minutes with Philipp Schoeller, CEO of Dr. Schär

Philipp Schoeller, CEO of Dr. Schär, shares his journey through the food industry, managing supply chain shortages and producing Gluten Free food

Hi Philipp Schoeller! Could you please introduce yourself and your role? 

“As CEO of Dr. Schär, the leading producer for gluten-free and specialised nutrition, I am responsible for our global business leading from our headquarters in Postal, South Tyrol. I moved from Germany to Italy with my family in December 2020, when I took over the role of CEO at Dr. Schär, succeeding founder Ulrich Ladurner.”

Tell us about your background - how did you come to work at Dr. Schär? 

“I have always been passionate about food and have worked with several major companies in the industry. Before joining Dr. Schär, I worked at Barry Callebaut AG, the largest chocolate producer in the world, for over eight years. Prior to this, I was CEO of the German chocolate confectionary company Stollwerck for more than four years.

“However, my roots began in a traditional family business. I used to be Managing Partner of German Schoeller Textile Group, which was founded by my family in the 19th century. I got to know both worlds: family businesses and also global listed companies.

“Dr. Schär is a unique company indeed: a mid-sized family business (annual turnover of €400mn) that is a true global player with 12 production sites from Istanbul to Brazil. Our products are present in over 100 countries. Two weeks ago, I was in the US visiting several leading US retailers and it makes me very proud to see what a strong position we have featuring our products on shelves across the world. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to bring joy to people who suffer from gluten sensitivity and to help them live a normal life.

“In addition, the opportunity to be living in South Tyrol, one of the most beautiful areas in the Alps, is also a great motivator for me. From January to March this year, I have been on my skis every week.”

How has Dr Schär been impacted by the recent supply chain shortages?

“Due to the terrible situation in Ukraine, the ongoing global energy crisis and the recent pandemic, the situation with raw materials is indeed complex. Our main objective is to keep the quality and safety of our products at the highest level without compromise. So far, we do not see any shortages in the availability of raw materials for developing Dr. Schär products, however, are impacted by the increase in prices which are now ‘sky-high’. Moving forward, we continue to evaluate the situation and adapt as needed.”

Tell us about your new sustainability commitment. 

“With our new sustainability strategy, we set out to protecting the world we live in by promoting biodiversity and sustainable farming, sustainable packaging and reducing our CO2 footprint. We are committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aim to contribute to a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. As an example, we are committed to ensuring that all packaging on our products is 100% recyclable, recycled or compostable by 2024.The future we envision is about growing together – for the benefit of our people, our community and our planet.”

What led Dr. Schär to gluten-free and specialised nutrition?    

“At Dr. Schär, improving the daily lives of people with special dietary needs has always been our mission. This goes back to the founding of the company in 1922 and the idea of pro-actively improving the precarious state of children’s health in a post-war period. Medical practitioner Dr. Anton Schär and his brother-in-law and mill owner Gottfried Untertrifaller recognised a huge gap for food tailored to the nutritional needs of children. They started their alliance by developing a wheat semolina product that counter-acted a widespread calcium deficiency in children. The business flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, with a product range growing to include rice cream, sago and tapioca. The goal of the founding fathers extended, at this point, to develop healthy products and relieve food-related suffering for young children and adults.

“In 1980, the new owner of the company, Ulrich Ladurner, had the idea to specialise Dr. Schär in the development of gluten-free products. While the product range already contained some naturally gluten-free options, Ladurner was the first to realise the potential of a completely gluten-free product range specifically targeted at individuals with gluten intolerances. During the following years, Dr. Schär launched several gluten-free products such as pasta in close cooperation with medical experts and coeliac associations. Since then, the allergen-related product range has been growing continuously and the company expanded its portfolio, including the brands Flavis and Kanso, which are designed for people with kidney disease and special needs in terms of fat.”

 

Dr. Schär just celebrated its 100th anniversary – what do you think is the most impressive milestone of the company and what are you planning for the future? 

“Since its foundation 100 years ago, Dr. Schär has achieved a remarkable evolution from niche pioneer to the globally leading producer of inclusive nutrition. What I think is most impressive in this development is that the company, established as a two-person family business, has always remained true to its objective of improving the lives of people with special nutritional needs. While successfully working towards these objectives, Dr. Schär has grown to an international, modern, and agile company with the highest benchmarks in terms of quality and sustainability. 

“We proudly look back at the numerous milestones we have achieved over the past 100 years and are excited for the next ones to come. This is why we have great projects planned this year to celebrate and renew our commitment with different highlights.”

What is ‘Field100’? 

“Field100 is our mission to create one of the most biodiverse fields ever cultivated, a statement for more crop diversity and less monoculture. Together with Laimburg Research Centre, we will sow, grow, and harvest 100 diverse crops, in the heart of the Alps – from corn, oats and buckwheat to millet, sorghum, amaranth and quinoa. Some of the seeds are preserved varieties that were widely used 100 years ago; some seeds are still commonly used today. Some of the seeds used are native to the region, while others are from all around the world, and we will donate the harvested seeds back to a seedbank so that they can be preserved for the future. To aid pollination, we will also be growing an array of wild flowers around the field, making it yet more diverse and even more beautiful. 

“We will invite the public to tour our field to take part in both online and in-person activities that will educate the young and old on the importance of biodiversity in agriculture. Together, we want to explore questions, such as ‘Can ancient crops more easily adapt to climate change?’, ‘Is intercropping a beneficial alternative to monoculture?’ and ‘Is it possible to naturally grow seeds in South Tyrol that we would otherwise have to import?’. Field100 is a mixture of art, education, celebration and a powerful statement, which reminds us that our roots feed our future.”

What is Dr. Schär's stance on monoculture and polyculture in agriculture? 

“Biodiversity plays a crucial role in providing food security for a growing world population. Yet, it is decreasing at a rampant pace and scale, and a large proportion of plant species face extinction. This poses not only a big but irreversible loss. At Dr. Schär, we have long placed a high value on biodiversity and cultivated many different minor crops that provide necessary nutritional qualities. We work closely together with researchers, farmers and millers and select only the best seeds for our production, as first-class seeds are essential for high-quality ingredients and food. Our selection is based on crop rotation, ensuring that it fits our growing programmes. For the cultivation of our grain, we choose growing areas where the plants can thrive naturally and without excessive human intervention. Field100 – our little piece of a better world – will help us to further promote and preserve biodiversity for future generations.”

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