Innovations from Finnish raw materials: Dennis van der Veer encourages the food industry to be curious

A 16-year-old boy stocks groceries on the shelves at his local supermarket in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “Even back then I remember thinking about how consumer products are developed,” says Dennis van der Veer. Twenty years later, he has relocated to Finland and is driving food innovations as the Head of Customer Development. Dennis interacts daily with people living in different countries, cultures and time zones – and he enjoys it.

What inspired you to apply with Valio originally?

Prior to joining Valio, I worked for a large brewery that exports beer and energy drinks globally. When Covid hit, I started to rethink my future. My goal was to be in leadership one day, something that wasn’t possible in my previous job because the working language was mainly Finnish. Then I was offered a position at Valio working with beverages and licensing. Now I have an up-close view of how food and other consumer products are processed – something I’ve been passionate about since my job at the supermarket.

Our food company customers see us more as consultants rather than as sellers. Consumer sales is primarily about brands and flavours, but in this work I get to engage with numerous different customers. This is about how our food industry customers use the special milk powders we produce in the production of their own products. The end result can be a myriad of different innovations. That is why I encourage food industry players to be curious.

At Valio you work in the international sales. Your main products are special milk powders. What are they used for?

Special milk powders are sold mainly to our international industrial customers for many different applications, such as the production of protein-enriched dairy products for active lifestyles, or for the production of chocolate and confectionery, and baby food. We are constantly finding new applications for special milk powders, as our customers use them in their own products. Milk powder is kind of like salt: it’s everywhere.

Few people know that 80% of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant. Thanks to lactose-free milk powder, an increasing number of people can enjoy a variety of products. Most recently, milk powder has been tried in pet food production. Lactose intolerance and lactose-free ingredients have become a major topic in that category, because animals too can be lactose intolerant. Now you can find lactose-free food for lactose intolerant pets.

What motivates you in your work?

At Valio I am responsible for customer development. Our customer base is very diverse, so we work a bit differently with every customer account. It used to be that we always wanted to talk with the company’s procurement people, but these days talks might start with someone in the research and development department, for example. Our main goal is to boost awareness about special milk powders, define the boundary conditions for the business we develop, and grow the business further. As a leader, it is important for me to support my team members so that they can achieve their goals. I want to give them as much freedom as possible in their work.

Important to me is knowing that Valio pays its profits to the Valio owners, i.e. the dairy farmers who are working almost 24/7, day in and day out. Before joining Valio, I didn’t realise how much effort Valio puts forth to ensure that we have domestic food production and that milk is produced in Finland, including in the most northern area of Lapland. These are the things that bring meaningfulness to the work.

Dennis van der Veer

  • Head of Customer Development at Valio, and also has customer accounts
  • Studied marketing and innovation management in Rotterdam
  • An extrovert who wants to spend time alone in the forest
  • Moved to Finland in 2008 to be with his love
  • Still wonders why people don’t get better room-darkening curtains for their Finnish summer cottages, and is always prepared to bring his own trash bags to cover the windows during the light-filled summer nights.
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