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Transforming the Food Value Chain

In Focus
NAME:Arni Oddur Thordarson
LOCATION:Reykjavik, Iceland
After four decades, food processing company Marel and its CEO, Arni Oddur Thordarson, believe never standing still and putting customers first are the keys to continued growth.

As global food processing expert Marel celebrates 40 years since its inception, the company is using the anniversary as an opportunity to pause, reflect on its legacy and make plans for how it will continue to transform its industry long into the future.

“We are reminding ourselves that there is so much more that needs to be done to the food value chain and in innovating solutions, services and software,” CEO Arni Oddur Thordarson tells The CEO Magazine.

“One-third of food is wasted, and our goal is to be the key enabler for our customers to create more sustainable food processing. We are in a luxury position that there is so much more that can be done, so we are changing the food industry into a demand-driven one instead of supply-driven one.”

“Our values are unity, innovation and excellence. And excellence is not being perfect, it’s being better today than yesterday.”

In terms of the tangible steps that Marel is taking in order to make this happen, the primary factor is a focus on technology.

“We have been investing systematically in our digital capabilities, and we are now at the tipping point to use those digital tools to create more efficient and more demand-driven value chains in the world,” Thordarson explains.

“It’s even more important in the food value chain than other value chains. Fresh, high-nutrition food is a sensitive material that has a limited time span.

“So we are using all those digital data points throughout the seamless flow, because we are the only ones who have a full array of solutions from post-farm to dispatch in poultry, meat, fish and now into the interesting and high-potential plant-based industry.”

Focus on Technology

Marel is proud to have partnered with TOMRA, a 50-year-old company from Norway that is currently a world leader in sensor-based sorting and grading technology.

“What we’ve created is a solution to make sure that our food is free of soft contamination and plastic-free. It’s called Marel Spectra,” Thordarson reveals.

“It’s riding on the success of our SensorX machine, ensuring that chicken nuggets are bone-free, but it originally innovated in the fish segment within Marel. So we cascade technology between industries. We did that originally within Marel, now we do it with our peers.”


Establishing great relationships with suppliers and customers alike is vital for Marel, something partners such as TOMRA, B&R and Virtual Arts have attested to. Thordarson reveals he has learned one particularly interesting lesson as a result of spending as much time with suppliers as he does with customers.

“When you have a strong belief that your customers should be relationships or partnerships, then the same applies to your key suppliers,” he explains. “We are obsessed in Marel with reducing waste, and we need to work in a way that openly shares information throughout the value chain.

“There is so much that you can do when you are sharing and cooperating with suppliers and giving them your insights into your growth plans. You can then co-create and innovate together.”

Rock-solid connections, paired with an unwavering quest for innovation, have been particularly vital in the past 24 months while the industry coped with global supply chain constraints.

“To get economical scale within your business, you cannot do everything yourself,” Thordarson insists. “You have to have speed and agility. Overarching software is a critical component to our success and our differentiating factor. So we cascade technology between industries and with our suppliers.”

He points to a recent deal as an example.

“Recently we invested in Soft Robotics with Tyson, our customer, and other investors to accelerate the robotic journey in the food industry,” he says.

“This is becoming an open ecosystem, looking at how to accelerate the work, take the next leapfrog investment at a faster speed and solve customer needs. I simply don’t understand how you can stay relevant if you don’t have those partnerships.”

Global Growth

Thordarson adds that Marel also prides itself on being a truly global company.

“We give people opportunities around the globe,” he says, noting that 40 percent of the company’s revenue comes out of the Americas and that the company has achieved 20 percent annual revenue growth year-on-year.

“We are very relevant in Latin America, with 700 people there. We are very relevant in Asia, with 114 people working in China,” he points out.

“This is why people want to join Marel. Continuous learning and co-creation, that is what I believe excites people, and that we are not afraid to change. That we will continue to transform Marel as we have transformed the food industry.”

“Marel is building on a very good foundation, a very clear vision, and has truly been growing by expanding the playing field.”

Marel has always prioritized a people-first attitude with an emphasis on creating a strong company culture, maintaining its values in everything that it does. This has, according to Thordarson, given the company an excellent reputation.

“It is our vision, unity and purpose that attract attention – to make a better life for people and leave the planet better than before.”

United Vision

Thordarson believes what makes Marel an industry leader ultimately comes down to how united the entire team is in its vision.

“Marel is building on a very good foundation, a very clear vision, and has truly been growing by expanding the playing field,” he confirms. “Not overnight, but step by step, in line with a long-term vision of sustainable food processing and making food affordable. The team members that are here – 8,000 pioneers around the globe, as we call them – are working in unity.

“We are co-creating the journey with our customers. We call it transforming, in partnership with customers, the food value chain. So it is what we think, how we act and how we show up against each other and our partners who are customers, suppliers and other co-creation partners, who are taking on challenges and opportunities.”

“It is our vision, unity and purpose that attract attention – to make a better life for people and leave the planet better than before.”

When it comes to precisely how the company does it, Thordarson says it’s thanks largely to its high-touch, customer-centric model.

“We touch lives daily. We are behind the scenes in the food industry. We are ourselves consumers. We have diverse global workers, with local teams around the globe in six customer centers across all continents. We make solutions for the protein industries. We are no longer just solutions or equipment providers. We have transformed into keeping the food value chain running.”

Customers First

To accomplish this, Thordarson believes it all comes down to customers.

“We do it by customer-centricity, being close to the customers, a high-touch, high-stickiness operating model with more and more digital capabilities,” he says.

“Forty percent of our revenue comes from that as perpetual recurring service and software revenues, and our goal is to increase this to 50 percent. And we truly believe that the service needs to change from reactive to proactive and into a preventative one.”

Now, as Marel looks to the next chapter, leaders are again revisiting its four-decade legacy, taking stock of its wins and reflecting on the values that have made it a force to be reckoned with.

“Our values are unity, innovation and excellence. And excellence is not being perfect, it’s being better today than yesterday,” Thordarson explains.

“It is our people and it’s the partnership throughout the value chain that is the most important. We are very much focused now on continuing as pioneers, continuing to have the customer proximity and being an effortless business.”

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