Aller Aqua: 60 years of development, sharing-knowledge, and strong partnerships

From local feed business to international pioneer in aquaculture feed. In 60 years, the Danish company Aller Aqua has evolved from a traditional production company to a unifying knowledge center with research and innovation while taking social responsibility for sharing-knowledge and development in several countries.

From the outside, it may look like a factory making feed for aquaculture. But there's much more happening at the Danish company, Aller Aqua, just outside the UNESCO town of Christiansfeld. Behind the grey granite shards and red bricks is an insatiable curiosity and an unusual pioneering spirit that will celebrate a milestone anniversary in 2024.

It will be 60 years since the first aquaculture feed was ordered from the miller Hans Jørgen Bylling. The feed he made back in 1964 was dust-free, which was nothing short of a groundbreaking innovation then.

That same inherent curiosity still exists in the Bylling family today. This curiosity led to many equally innovative products but has also taken Aller Aqua to places in the world that only an adventurer would discover. Here, the company has gained new knowledge, which, in combination with experience, has been used to develop, create, and secure local growth and regional food supply. Aller Aqua has - in short - taken responsibility for supporting and developing wherever they can.

For the company in 2024, it is not just about producing new products and making a profit. It is just as much about bringing together leading specialists and technicians, facilitating workshops for farmers, and exchanging knowledge with leading training centres at home and abroad.

A wild idea turned into an international adventure

Today, Aller Aqua is run by the fourth generation of the Bylling family. In 2023, the company made its latest generational change, with long-time owner and CEO Hans Erik Bylling handing over the day-to-day management to his son, Anders Bylling.

But the fairytale of Aller's fish feed goes back to 1963. Anders' grandfather, the miller Hans Jørgen Bylling, was contacted by Swedes. They had noted the Danish miller's success in developing a dust-free pig feed in pellets, a concept the Swedes saw potential for their domestic fish farming. A friendly inquiry was, therefore, sent to Hans Jørgen, who immediately took up the challenge and got to work.

The following year - in 1964 - the first feed was on its way to customers, and the foundation for another chapter in the family's adventure was laid.

Constantly seeking knowledge, development, and new technology.

On March 1, 1979, his son Hans Erik took over managing the family mill business with his brother Povl. The two of them successfully ran both the mill and the production of feed for aquaculture for many years. But by 1996, the aquaculture business had gained so much momentum that the brothers decided to split the company into two parts - a traditional mill business and a factory to produce aquaculture feed. Aller Aqua was born!

With the usual Bylling curiosity and drive, the two brothers ran both companies until 2006, when Hans Erik entirely devoted himself to Aller Aqua's development.

In an interview in 2023, he described an inherited irresistibility to new challenges. The curiosity has also spread to the employees and is today a central cornerstone of Aller Aqua's culture.

"In our family, we've probably always had a hard time saying 'no' when a challenge presents itself," Hans Erik said. "Sometimes it doesn't go as expected. But usually, it works out well. You just have to try."

This attitude is most evident in the company's research and development centre. Here, marine biologists and a range of other experts study and research everything from the metabolism and development of different fish species to how to optimize feed mixtures for changing aquatic environments and seasons.

"Besides the fact that we've managed to bring together so many talented people in our company, I think I'm most proud of our research and development centre," says Hans Erik Bylling. "That place just gives us so much new knowledge about fish and how to give them the best feed composition while minimizing waste."

Together in research and development

However, if Byllings and Aller Aqua's philosophy is anything to go by, helpful knowledge must be shared to create value in the world. Therefore, over the years, the company has entered into collaborations with several higher education institutions, such as the University of Copenhagen, Danish-based DTU Aqua, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Nord University, and the Norwegian Institute for Water Research - all three in Norway - as well as Università di Bologna in Italy and Wageningen University in the Netherlands - something that, according to Hans Erik's son, Anders Bylling, adds an extra dimension to working at the company.

"It's not just about us having the latest knowledge about species and feed," he explains. "For us, it's just as much about sharing and contributing to help develop and educate people - not just in DenmarkTherefore, we actively participate wherever we are present and are more than happy to share knowledge."

In 2018, Aller Aqua, DTU Aqua, and the Danish Technological Institute participated in a research project to map the possibility of using insect protein meal in feed. In 2023, the Norwegian Research Council granted NOK 10 million for a 3-year development project on feed based on protein from domestic grass and clover instead of imported soy. With the project, Norway wants to shape national goals for sustainable farming, and Aller Aqua plays an active role in this.

Responsibility for learning and sharing knowledge - at home and abroad.

With these educational activities, the company, according to Aller Aqua's CPO/CCO, Henrik T. Halken, is trying to focus on fish as a healthy food and show how to run and develop more sustainable aquaculture farming to reduce the impact on the surrounding aquatic and marine environment.

"Many facets are at play here - not just the feed ingredients. We have developed production methods and value chains that minimize waste and impact on the surrounding environment, as well as increase the nutrient availability of the feed," he explains and continues: "In short, it's better for the fish, the farmer, and the environment."

Training activities take place all over the world. The specialists travel regularly to educate local farmers, share the latest knowledge, and raise awareness of more sustainable farming practices.

In 2011, Aller Aqua started up in Egypt, and in 2014, they inaugurated brand new production facilities in Cairo, which were built on already-known principles. Since then, several activities have developed on the African continent. From Egypt and Algeria in the north to Malawi and Zambia in the south, the group's 5th factory was built in 2016, and in 2017, the Egyptian production had to be expanded further.

Aller Aqua has been running workshops for aquaculture farmers worldwide for many years. In 2023, the company partnered with the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative to provide technical training for fish farmers at Lake Victoria in Kenya.

Similarly, in 2017, Aller Aqua opened a factory in Qingdao, China, where the primary focus is on cold-water fish. Here, too, the engagement spread to other parts of the region, for example, to Myanmar, where Aller Aqua launched new initiatives for local farmers. Similar activities are expected to be implemented in other countries in the same region soon.

Growth through partnerships creates both jobs and development

Collaboration, communities, and partnerships have been a central pillar of Aller Aqua's vision since its foundation. Therefore, the slogan "Let's grow together" is much more than just fancy words. It is a philosophy that embraces the company's employees and the many distributors and farmers who distribute and buy Aller's feed.

"Our knowledge and research activities are one thing. Another is our engagement with end users. This is often just as important," explains Group CEO Anders Bylling. "That's why we are also happy to help develop the businesses of others in markets where there is an obvious need but too few opportunities."

One example of this is Malawi, an African country. Despite the fact that the nation has fishing authorization for several of the continent's major lakes, including most of Lake Malawi, the government has to import around $9 million worth of fish every year to meet its needs. Here, fish farming, which only has a market share of 6% today, can play a crucial role in the future.

Therefore, Aller Aqua is entering into more and more local partnerships, where the company not only sells feed to aquaculture farmers but also contributes to their education and training. With continuous updates on developments, farmers can gradually increase their market share and thereby reduce imports from outside. This, in turn, increases the possibility of being self-sufficient.

"As with the activities both on the African continent and in Asia, it has been important for us that people themselves are allowed to influence the process and do things in ways that fit the local culture," emphasizes Anders Bylling. "Then you get people to feel ownership and commitment to things. Without that, you can't accomplish anything."

Sustainability is a keyword - now and in the future.

2017, something happened again, pushing the old family business another step up the development ladder. In front of 800 business people and politicians, CEO Hans Erik Bylling receives Ernest & Young's prestigious 'Entrepreneur of the Year' award and is honoured at EY's gala show at the Forum in Copenhagen. However, the award, which no one at Aller Aqua had seen coming, brings great joy to everyone in and around the company.

"The award has definitely done something for our self-esteem - not just here at the head office. We received a lot of congratulations from our people around the world, who expressed great pride that we could bring it home. Everyone gave us an extra pat on the back in the aftermath," said Hans Erik Bylling in a later interview.

The award was given for the company's success on the global stage and for its active efforts to incorporate the UN's Sustainable Development Goals in all parts of the company - work already underway long before the goals were defined in 2015.

Perhaps less surprising when Anders Bylling and Henrik T. Halken had to retake the stage when Aller Aqua won Business Kolding's significant SDG award in 2021. The award was officially given for the company's work on CO2 labelling its feed. But in reality, it was the culmination of a wide range of activities that, perhaps more than anything else, illustrated that social responsibility at Aller Aqua is all about active actions.

In particular, the stories about the company's school project in Zambia captured public attention. With some local partners, Aller Aqua established a primary school in 2019 in the area where a new factory had recently been established. In one fell swoop, the children in the area were offered a school, and their parents were given an excellent reason to work, develop, and settle in the area.

"Who knows? Maybe we can help create the next generation of Aller Aqua colleagues here," Hans Erik Bylling said with a wry smile at the time. At the same time, however, he also pointed out that commitment to Aller is about the entire local area.

"Local responsibility can also mean that we support local farmers and buy their corn and soy for our production in the area. This is also working for sustainability."

For him, there is a common thread between the school project in Zambia and Aller Aqua's domestic efforts toCO2-label its feed.

A steady hand in an uncertain world

Even though the first name of the next generation of the Bylling family is now Anders, Aller Aqua will continue to be driven by curiosity and a clear focus on the interaction between people and the environment. This approach will continue characterizing the company's development, initiatives, and collaborations worldwide.

But Anders Bylling also knows that it often takes more than just curiosity. It also requires courage. In many places where Aller Aqua has chosen to engage, the conditions are far from as safe and infrastructurally well-organized as they are on its home turf in Europe. Poverty and lack of supply security can be challenges to overcome.

"Aller Aqua has always gone its own way - and sometimes that means taking the lead," says CEO Anders Bylling. "We take a chance when it feels right and are not afraid to be in challenging markets. Whether it's in Myanmar or Ukraine, our good partners need to be able to count on us. That's why we stick around and do what we can."

Aller Aqua will not celebrate the 60th anniversary of Hans Jørgen Bylling's first fish feed in 1964.

However, a number of internal activities will be carried out throughout the year to mark the event.