How Smicon’s depackaging machines entered China’s waste treatment market

As the waste management industry in China is developing fast, the future for the waste processing machine manufacturers of Smicon looks bright. It took two single machine orders, a period of negotiations and a couple of draft versions to finally sign the promising distribution agreement with partner Ningbo Kaseen Ecology Technology. China’s waste market now lies open for Smicon’s processing machines.  

Smicon is a European manufacturer of equipment for food waste recycling. The Dutch-based business became well-known for its processing machines for potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Later, the business became even more successful with the expansion of its portfolio to waste recycling and depackaging. Today, Smicon is a global player in the recycling business that offers consultancy, engineering, production, service and maintenance for its products.  

Machines attracted the attention 

Exporting to China was not a clear option, until two Chinese stepped into Smicon’s booth at the IFAT, world’s leading recycling exhibition in Munich, Germany, held every two years. After the exchange of cards, it soon became clear that the Smicon’s depackaging machines had attracted the attention of the Chinese. “Our depackaging machines process large amounts of restaurant waste and unpacked and packed foodstuffs and separate this into organic and packaging flow”, says Fabiaan Hendricks, Smicon’s Commercial Manager. The guests from Ningbo Kaseen Ecology Technology were solutions providers and manufacturers of machines as well and they offer waste handling solutions. The Smicon machine was just the thing they needed to complete their portfolio of solutions for their Chinese waste handling plants.  

Witness the machine 

In the same week, Smicon invited their Chinese counterparts to come and see both the factory in The Netherlands and to witness the machine in action. “Things happened relatively fast after that. The first machine was sold within only a few months.  Subsequently, repeat orders followed, thanks to help of our specialized China consultant Valérie Hoeks of China Inroads.” In short, she helped clear the path in China. She facilitated decisive negotiations between Smicon's management team and their Chinese partner to discuss challenges and set up a mutually appropriate strategy for the coming years. 

Installation, service, maintenance 

Ningbo Kaseen was to operate as Smicon’s distributor, handling both the installation of the machines as well as service and maintenance. Hendricks: “We were convinced that our decades of practical experience in processing food waste combined with specific knowledge and proven solid technology is unique combination and also binding factor for future collaboration”. 

The next challenge was to put the Smicon-Ningbo Kaseen deal in writing, in a contract that would suit both parties. “It was long and intensive process, that resulted in the signing a contract which we think we have a good base for further expansion in the Chinese market”. 

Expectations 

Over the past years, five machines have been shipped to Ningbo Kaseen and its customers. Tonnie Smits, director of Smicon: “The future will show what is possible, but looking at the actual developments in China, combined with the priority that is being given to recycling by the Chinese Government, we foresee a growing market. In principle, the Chinese market is now covered by Kaseen. However, also other parties already inquire about our machines. Therefore, thinking about the right strategy is a continuous process that keeps us busy. And we know China is big.”  

Sharing information and remote support 

Furthermore, the language challenge is still there, when training the technicians of Ningbo Kaseen in the practicalities of Smicon’s machines and systems. Fabiaan Hendricks admits that certain aspects of the cooperation need attention. “With our distributors in Europe and the U.S., it is common to exchange information about practical issues in operating and maintaining the machines. While we are used to exchange photos of wear and tear and of damaged parts I notice that the Chinese have a different approach. Given my education in the field of intercultural communication, I understand that being more restrained is a cultural matter. However, I trust that issues like this will eventually get ironed out, as there will be more trust as we work together longer.” 

Future market approach 

Fabiaan is pleased that Smicon has found its market partner. “It is interesting to see that other companies from different regions in China have expressed their interest in our machines as well. As for the future, we are thinking about what approach to choose. We are willing to further open up the market because we are aware China is a huge country. More and more, recycling becomes a hot topic. The future will show whether we can serve all different markets in the entire country. It is all in the future – fortunately we are continuously continually optimizing our existing machines and we invest in new technologies to stay ahead, able to tackle important challenges that come across.” 

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