“Sören Affeld has been appointed Managing Director of the leading, Germany-based soil and substrate producer Stender GmbH. Mr. Affeld holds a Master of Business Administration and Economics. Before joining Stender, Mr Affeld worked at the global young plant company, Syngenta Flowers as Country Manager for Germany and Eastern Europe. In an interview with Gulf Agriculture, Mr. Affeld shares his view on the industry challenges, how Stender intends to tackle them and why ‘fulfilling consumer needs’ and ‘sustainability’ are set as key priorities in Stender’s strategy for Europe and Middle East.”
GA: Congratulations to your appointment. Have you already acquainted yourself with the business?
Thank you, and yes, I received a very warm welcome by all employees, and I feel grateful and honored to be given the chance to lead such a successful and passionate team. Due to my previous assignment at Syngenta Flowers I know well the industry dynamics and the challenges that our customers face in their daily business. The famous first 100 days have already passed and I got a very good overview on Stenders’ strengths and opportunities. As we are active in both the professional and consumer segment of the substrate industry and in more than 50 countries across the globe, one of my first take-aways is that each segment, each country and each customer has different challenges and needs, and has to be looked at and served individually.
GA: Stender is known well beyond Germany and has a large customer base in the Gulf region. What are your first impressions?
Stender is a traditional, family-owned company with deep roots in the production and distribution of premium quality peat and substrates. I am impressed by the experience and passion of our employees. Also, coming from a global, multi-billion corporate in which speed sometimes was a struggle, I am fascinated by the pace and responsiveness of our team at Stender. Everyone is truly dedicated to satisfy our customer’s needs – for me the key to success in any business.
GA: Where do you see opportunities?
The substrate industry faces major changes which sometimes are very different by country and segment. In general consumers become more and more conscious of our global societal challenges like sustainability, climate change and protection of the environment. Hobby gardeners increasingly ask for biological, vegan, peat-free or peat-reduced substrates. A completely new product segment has developed – and it is growing fast! Intensive marketing support and innovative product solutions are key demands of our customers. Where some people might consider this radical change as a risk, I see huge opportunity for Stender.
The critical topics in the professional segment are different: Producing consistent, high quality substrates, shipping reliably and on time while offering competitive conditions. Keeping this promise with every shipment led Stender to the strong position we are in today. Said that, so far the focus of our oversee business has been on products for the nutrition industry, namely propagating substrates for fruits and vegetables. In Europe however, our core business is mainly with the horticultural industry. It is a logical step to leverage our vast experience and deep technical knowledge in this area and also offer it to our international customers. Especially as more and more nurseries heavily invest in automation technologies and seek for advice how to drive efficiency and enhance quality. It creates a Win-Win: Our customers receive first-hand expertise from their trusted partner, and we can tap into a new growth potential and thrive together with our clients.
GA: What is your strategy to exploit the potential?
Stender is a well renowned soil and substrate company in the world. We might not be among the very largest companies, but we definitely are one of the top suppliers when it comes to service, reliability and product quality. We will further focus on product development and innovation to continue strengthening our portfolio and offer worry-free solutions that simply work. Just recently we decided to build a new, modern production facility in Germany to support our growth strategy.
We will also invest in digital solutions to pave the path into more convenience for our customers and higher efficiency for Stender. Finally we acknowledge our accountability to preserve Mother Nature and will put ‘sustainability’ at the top of our agenda. A lot has been done already i.e. all our peat fields are RPP™ (Responsibly Produced Peat) certified, so we guarantee to re-cultivate all land according to very strict regulations after it was harvested.
GA: Sounds like an ambitious plan. What makes you confident that you will succeed?
There are a lot of aspects indeed that make me feel very confident about our growth ambitions. But let me focus on the single most important one: People!
The Stender team that takes care of the business outside of Europe is highly dedicated and has tons of experience. Antonia Wesche leads the Export team consisting of 3 employees that deal with offer development, order planning and freight management. M. Adel Zaraa represents Stender in the North Africa & Middle East region. He has spent his entire career in this industry and speaks the language of our customers – in every sense. The whole team is full of passion and commitment, truly breathes and lives this business and is definitely ready to go the extra mile. With such a team you can only be successful.
For more information, visit: www.stender.de