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ECUADOR - Industry

Christof Leuenberger

CEO, Nestlé Ecuador

Bio

Christof Leuenberger is Executive President of Nestlé Ecuador since May 1, 2020. He is a Switzerland national. He graduated in 1995 as Master of Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. In 1997, he joined Nestlé as Marketing Basic Trainee at the Company’s world headquarters. That same year he was transferred to his first international assignment in Mexico. After different commercial positions in Sales and Marketing areas in Nestlé Mexico, in 2003 Christof is appointed Marketing Director of the Ice Cream division in Nestlé Brazil, then in 2006 he takes over the General Management of the Ice Cream business in Nestlé Peru. In 2012, Christof was promoted to the position of Regional Business Head Latin America for Nestlé Professional based first in Mexico and then in Panama. Nestlé Professional serves institutional clients such as restaurants, hotels and convenience chains. In 2017 Christof returned to Nestlé’s global headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, to join the Americas Zone Management team, which represents 45% of Nestlé’s total sales. He served as Regional Business Manager responsible for managing Nestlé’s business in countries such as Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Caribbean. In addition, he had overall responsibility for the Americas Zone for the Culinary, Dairy, and Ice Cream product categories. Since 2018 he was also part of the Board of Directors of the Ecuadorian company Terrafertil S.A., acquired by Nestlé in that year. In 2020 Christof was appointed to lead Nestlé’s operations in Ecuador, as Executive President.

"We have been in Ecuador for almost 70 years. We have four factories, an important footprint, a significant number of sales, and a corporate reputation for the third consecutive year as number one."
TBY talks to Christof Leuenberger, CEO of Nestlé Ecuador, about working in the country, sustainability, and promoting nutrition.
How has Nestlé Ecuador evolved over the years to become a local partner for the Ecuadorian community?

We have been in Ecuador for almost 70 years. We have four factories, an important footprint, a significant number of sales, and a corporate reputation for the third consecutive year as number one. We are not a transnational company for Ecuador; Nestlé has always been there together with its own brands such as La Lechera, Natura, Amor, RicaCacao, Tango, and many more. In the case of Maggi, multiple generations grew up with this product. People know we are not Ecuadorian, but we are close to them. We foster local production through different plans such as our cacao plan. This is an important pillar that is about 10 years old. We are the second cacao exporter in the country, exporting USD80 million in 2022 mainly to other Nestlé companies. At an international level, Nestlé is the leader in chocolate and because the quality of cacao is here is excellent, we export a large amount; however, our cacao plan is a social responsibility that aims to develop agriculture via good practices, advice, nutrition, training, and more. We have more than 5,000 farmers in this program that are extremely loyal to us. They produce 50-60% more per hectare than a regular farmer, which is great because it allows us to create a shared value with them in the field. The cacao produced by our program has a different dimension. Consumers want to know what is behind a brand, so having a story like this one is extremely appealing. We have visited these farmers and work closely with them, where typically the entire family works on a small farm.

What initiatives is the company implementing to be a reference in sustainability?

We have many initiatives, the most important of which is plastic neutrality. Ecuador was one of the 12 countries at a global level for Nestlé to achieve this. To be plastic neutral, we had to take from the market more plastic than how much we were putting out with our packages. We reached this achievement in both 2021 and 2022. We have removed almost 3,200 tons of plastic working together with partners to recycle them. We have also decided to change our sales points. We invest heavily in sale points as we are a mass consumption company. Today, all our materials, exhibitors, and so on are either made of sustainable materials or materials that can be recycled. We have wood components that come from sustainable plantations with no deforestation, and we communicate this actively. Consumers demand this. These materials cost 20% more. This is a strong commitment, but we believe in it because we believe we have an opportunity and a duty. When it comes to plastic neutrality, our objective was to be recognized, though we also to be an example for other companies. We have spoken to Deloitte about being certified and audited. If other companies want to do the same, they can meet the standards with a company like Deloitte. By 2025, we want all our plastics to be recyclable. 90% of them already are, but that 10% is technically not that easy. We need more time. 2021 was about plastic, and 2023 is about fit for purpose, meaning our products only use the necessary amount of plastic. The 100% designed to be recycled will start in 2024 most likely. Young consumers are now more involved in purchasing decisions, and most of the time they also look at sustainability, so as a company, we have to communicate this. All our products and the furniture of the sales points have an explanation and a QR code to learn more about the product as well. Companies and sustainability have to go hand-in-hand nowadays.

What is Nestlé’s role in nutrition, and how does the company promote a healthier lifestyle?

The trend is clear people are more aware of what they eat now. In Ecuador, the US, and other countries, there has been a boom in different styles of food: gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, low sugar, low carb, and more. Information is crucial. Based on multiple studies that we have conducted, we have designed a communication strategy on our packaging and also on TV called “Nestlé’s more than you think.” We have taken our products and identified all the benefits that could be important for today’s consumers. For example, our mayonnaises are gluten-free by design, but we have never said it—now, we announce it on the packaging. One in every 10 Ecuadorians cares about gluten-free, one out of 10 is vegan, and so on. We cannot exclude anyone and need to include thorough information. This is our approach. We are also optimizing our products and reducing sugar levels as well. Providing thorough information is crucial.

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