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Food and Beverage HomeExecutive Member Profiles
Mike Augustine, Vice President of Food Ingredients Applications and Technical Services, Tate & Lyle
June 23, 2006
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For the past four years, Mike Augustine has played a key role in expanding Tate and Lyle’s capability for providing specialty ingredient services to its food and beverage customers in Europe. During this period a climactic shift in the European Union sugar regime has struck at the heart of the company’s ingredients portfolio. In response, Augustine has helped grow and diversify the specialty and functional ingredients business, all this while he and his family from Illinois came to terms with a totally new cultural setting in northern Belgium.

After graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree (later becoming a Masters in food science) Augustine began his professional career in food ingredient technical service at Grain Processing Corporation in Muscatine, Iowa. He came to Tate & Lyle, 21 years ago, and started in the sweetener applications group working on developing applications for crystalline fructose.

He then moved from food ingredient applications to food ingredient technical services. After moving to the European ingredients headquarters in Aalst, Belgium, four years ago Augustine was promoted (May, 2005) to Global Vice President of Food Ingredients Applications and Technical Service.

"I was given the responsibility to expand our ability to develop new applications and new ingredients in Europe, as well as to do a better job of supporting our customers and strengthen the technical relationship that we have with our customers here," he says.

From the get-go Augustine encountered a distinctly European logistical environment, poles apart from what he was used to in the US.

"It has been rewarding to see people now achieving things that we weren’t doing before."

Mike Augustine, Vice President of Food Ingredients Applications and Technical Services, Tate & Lyle

"Obviously there is a lot more cultural and language diversity, so as we set up our technical service group here, we worked very hard to make sure we were sensitive to the languages, to the things that we need to do to maintain or strengthen, or improve the contact with our customers. That was an overlying factor when we made decisions about where we would hire, who we would hire, what their skills were in terms of languages as well as technical skills."

The new environment motivated Augustine to work on his own language skills and taught him to become more collaborative and consultative in his day-to-day operations. Still, he anticipates further complexities arising as the European Union and corresponding market grows east.

Despite problems with communicating, Augustine has taken the challenge in stride and, professionally speaking, has enjoyed the opportunity to learn while immersed in his new surroundings.

"I learned a lot in the sense of having only ever been in the United States and, to be honest, having only been able to speak one language."

He is particularly proud of the way his disparate team has jelled, no mean feat when one considers the group has grown from just six people to over 35 in the last four years.

"It has been rewarding to see people now achieving things that we weren’t doing before."

All things considered, the biggest obstacle he has faced since coming to Europe has been the oversupply of sugar in the EU market, which, combined with rising energy prices, has had an adverse effect on the company's European operations. The strategy to combat this industry-wide malaise, according to Augustine, has been "to diversify our ingredient portfolio and add value to our other ingredients to compensate." Crucial to this approach is the profit contribution from Tate and Lyle’s flagship value-added product Splenda® sucralose.

For Augustine, gearing up for the introduction into the European market of the recently approved sucralose product is a challenge in itself.

"Mainland Europe has a different philosophy to the US in the sense that they see more natural foods or self prepared type foods as being a more desirable way to go, so some of the high-intensity sweetener stuff or processed foods are slower to catch on in that part of the world."

Even in the UK, where sucralose has been well received in a market typically more aligned with US consumers, the powerful brand conscious supermarket chains "have pushed very hard to eliminate E-numbers from the products they sell, to use more natural type ingredients."

"Genetically Modified Organism’s (GMO) are an issue in the EU (as well) and that is something that is probably not likely to change in the near future. So some of the things we make and sell in the US we do not sell here," adds Augustine, explaining that it’s a concern for validating that a certain product is GMO free which drives traceability in Europe.

Faced with these unique circumstances, the key to success for Augustine is staying innovative, and the way to stay innovative today is to keep abreast of trends in the marketplace. Its with this in mind that Tate and Lyle has adopted a new initiative over the past two years, something Augustine says is fairly unique among food ingredient companies.

The new initiative is consumer research, and the approach is dictated by two criteria.

"One is to find what needs to be made…and two, what are the consumers expecting from those ingredients. One of the things we are seeing is that consumers expect more from the products they buy."

It’s a desire to fulfill the customer’s demand for functionality in the foods they consume which steers policy these days; and for Augustine and his team that challenge is "to create novel specialty ingredients and to use them in a way that differentiates us in the marketplace."

Contact the writer if you would like to participate in a member profiling interview.

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