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“I realized pretty quickly that everything was fine”

“I have a thing for data”, laughs Ben Kleisterlee. The former buyer knows exactly how long he worked with Vetipak on behalf of Mars: from 20 January 2003 to 26 March 2014. “That last day was my retirement day. I was still really enjoying my work, and that was partly due to the partnership with Vetipak.”

 

At Mars, Ben was responsible for sourcing co-packing. “Or as they put it at Mars, I was the Strategic Sourcing Manager. I maintained contact with the companies throughout Europe that packed our products. We were already working with Vetipak when I came on board. I can still clearly remember being introduced to Arno by my predecessor. My first impression of Arno was that he was an open, approachable guy, and a dyed-in-the-wool technician. And when I looked around the factory, I realized pretty quickly that everything was fine, and that the people ‘over there in Oss’ were very thorough in their work.”

 

Accurate work

Ben wasn’t concerned that Vetipak was still a rather modestly sized company in 2003. “The size of a company has never really mattered to me. The most important thing is delivering good work. In our case, that meant working in accordance with our hygiene and safety rules, as economically as possible. And that’s how they worked at Vetipak. Their work is very accurate, and the people are committed and put in a great effort.”

 

To and from Germany

Ben remembers a tendering process in which Vetipak was competing against co-packers from the Czech Republic and France. He smiles when he recalls that day. “You could really see that Arno and Johan, the manager at the time, were just normal, everyday guys. The tender took place in Viersen, Germany. Arno and Johan wanted to be absolutely sure that they would take the right route on the day and arrive on time, so they went for a test drive the day before. An expensive exercise, but they wanted to err on the side of caution.”

 

Picture Ben Kleisterlee

“Arno has never been ‘the director
who lays down the law’”

Ben Kleisterlee

There’s always a plan

The tender assignment was to devise the most efficient way of filling Mars champagne bottles with ‘miniatures’. Ben: “We were doing that in the Czech Republic at the time, with dozens of employees working on the production line. We knew there had to be a better way. The thing that put Vetipak ahead of the rest was that they thought in terms of solutions. And because of his technical background, Arno always has a plan in mind. He drove to Italy to buy a machine that could fill the champagne bottles with much less human labor involved. In the end, we only needed a handful of people.”

 

Always equal

All that remained was the distance between Oss and Veghel. Ben was there like a shot when Vetipak was thinking about establishing a new factory. “Why not build it in Veghel?” was his rhetorical question, and so it came to be. After around 25 years of partnership, Mars and Vetipak are still collaborating closely in 2022 (Mars was one of Vetipak’s very first customers). According to Ben, the secret of their relationship is good communication. “Arno has never been ‘the director who lays down the law’ – he’s always been very down-to-earth and normal. Similarly, I’ve never been the big man from Mars; I was just Ben. That was the great thing about collaborating with Vetipak: we always tackled things together on an equal footing.”

 

Time for a cup of coffee

Ben has been enjoying his retirement for eight years now, but he still visits Vetipak regularly. “Every now and again, Arno sends me a text message: ‘Isn’t it time for a cup of coffee?’ The same goes for Mark van der Burgt, who I have lunch with from time to time. It’s nice to catch up for a chat, or take a look around the factory. A lot has changed, of course. For example, there are more robots now, and they’re working on new and different packaging. But I still recognize some of the machines from my time. Vetipak has undoubtedly grown, and has become larger than I initially expected it would. However, the atmosphere is the same as it always was: friendly and approachable. I can’t see that ever changing.”