(originally written by Peter Bosch for DE REGENBOOG Magazine – September 2016)
Translated from Dutch to English by Vita Vermeulen.
Foreword by Vita Vermeulen
Grootopa (Great Grandfather) is imaginary or real. These series of stories are excellent, written by Peter Bosch and enjoyed by us all. In Dutch of course. Peter has the gift of being able to capture the atmosphere of those long gone and also more recent times.
Translation is not so easy as the Dutch language has a special charm, belonging and known only to them. Pity this language will die out in the colonies, with the passing generations. The Dutch like to move around, they are living and buried all over the world. The Dutch adapt very easily to immigration. Once arrived in their new home they will hang up lace curtains, pictures, Delft Blue and many other Dutch “this and that” … set coffee with a piece of pie and they are feeling home, and work hard to build up in their new country.
Grootopa in his raincoat and hat was sheltering under the small roof of the bus stop, from the soft rain which had caught him unawares, while on his morning stroll.
He was feeling a little lost and lonely. The world seems so small now. Due to the misty rain he cannot see the horizon. The pasture looks very swampy and wet. A couple of cows stand quietly with their heads lowered.
A big milk tank truck drives past with VIA LACTEA (Milky Way) printed on its side. Several days ago he met such a milk tanker with DE BOER (The Farmer) printed on it. Nice names. The best milk from Brazil, suggests Grootopa. But is this milk from our farmers or does it come from Santa Catarina State or some other place? This is possible as most of the milk from the colony is delivered to the dairy factory of Castrolanda or Frisia, to be concentrated and then sold to Nestle for instance or to be turned into products for third persons. No! The dairy factory in Carambei does not belong to us anymore and nor does the brand BATAVO.
In his mind he remembers again the small dairy factory where the pioneers in the twenties delivered their milk, to be made into cheese, which in 1928 was sold under the brand name BATAVO. This name BATAVO originated from the ancient tribe “Batavieren”, who in Roman times lived in South Holland, where our first pioneers came from: Verschoor, De Geus, Voorsluys and Los. The Vriesman family came from North Holland.
Over the years, this brand name BATAVO, with its numerous dairy products, grew to be well known alongside brands like Nestle and Danone.
In 1954, the Central Cooperative set up by the single cooperatives of Carambei and Castrolanda, soon began to build a new modern dairy factory together, to industrialize their products. It was at that time – 1957 – the most modern dairy factory in this country. In 1960, the Arapoti Colony was set up by new immigrants from Holland, along with young people from Castrolanda and Carambei. The Cooperative of Arapoti, CAPAL, became a member of the Central right away.
In those years, the sixties, seventies and eighties, many Dutch people from the colonies worked in the factory and in administrative areas. At that time the Central (CCLPL) had a lot of contact with the Dutch Dairy Cooperatives, thanks to Dim and Biesheuvel’s connections, and all the technology was acquired from there via study-tours of our technical personnel. There was also a steady flow of university students from the Netherlands to the Central, bringing along new ideas and the latest in technology.
Hereby, the BATAVO products became well known for good quality, taste and freshness. This high-quality milk, which farmers delivered, evidently was an essential factor.
Grootopa tucks his legs deeper under his seat as the rain has become heavier and is wetting his shoes and trouser legs. He finds himself a sorry figure sitting there, so he transfers his thoughts back to the past. Yes! Due to high quality milk, that is why the brand BATAVO was so strong.
Thinking back, the pioneers had to milk their cows under very trying circumstances. Actually, the high quality at that time was a true wonder. No, then the farmers were not so clean and orderly. When you walked around the farm you had to be careful not to trip over some old rusty machine hidden in high grass. The milking stable would be in a dubious situation where order and hygiene were concerned. Grootopa pictures the farmer sitting on his small milking stool, which sinks up to his seat in the muddy manure. Milking was done by hand and, quite often, when the farmer was milking, rain would run over the cow down into the milk bucket, or even worse, if the cow was a wild one and began to jump around, she would put her muddy foot into the bucket with milk. Observing this, the farmer thought that once it had been passed through the strainer it would be clean. “I cannot afford to throw away ten liters of milk”, he thought.
But, in fact, the biggest problem of that period was water in the milk. It was a common practice as the factory did not have a proper laboratory analysis to be able to detect this fraud. Grootopa remembers that, around 1978, a cryoscope was bought for the laboratory. . This was the beginning of the end of the water stream coming to the factory, needless to say. This cryoscope soon registered how much water was in the milk. After one month of inspection, farmers were advised that maybe by mistake water was detected in their delivered milk. Well, the analysts had a busy time writing letters to them. After one or two months, farmers knew that the milk was really controlled, and fines started to be applied to offenders.
Grootopa goes back in time remembering the milk stable of one such farmer who used to have a so called “last cow” … that was the water-tap. This farmer filled all the milk cans to the top so that the cans were all the same level, with water. With the new control and after many fines the farmer decided to put this last cow dry.
In spite of his wet shoes Grootopa laughed at these thoughts. In just two months’ time the production yield of cheese had increased two or three percent due to the milk being richer in protein and fat. If you calculate that in money, quite a large sum had been paid for water. Due also to these controls the milk from the “Holandeses das Colônias do Paraná” became famous and an example all over Brazil.
One of the great leaders who pushed this upgrade of quality was Dim Vermeulen. At that time, he was Executive Director of the Central Cooperative. He was a leader accepted by the three colonies. Besides his natural leadership capacity, his success was mainly because he was not related to any family. So he was seen as a neutral person. Dim’s achievement was in being able to keep the colonies working together avoiding big disagreements among them. He retired in 1987.
In the early nineties there were still many “Hollanders” from the colony working for the Central (CCLPL). Grootopa knew many of them and could name them all. Then a period of problems started. The political and economic situation in Brazil was chaotic and inflation higher than ever, causing tension among the cooperatives. It was thought that maybe it was time to change the Central. Grootopa remembers that once an excited farmer shouted to another – “Tá tudo uma merda… tirar leite é uma bosta, o preço do leite é uma merda e a Central é uma desgraça!!”. So, that was that, then. No condition to keep a normal conversation against such arguments. Another old farmer remarked – “Man, those directors have at least two legs and not four hooves and a tail… let them use their brains”.
Next, two new guys joined the cooperative, Bonilha and Clodoaldo, whose responsibility was to run the Central. That was a pitiful period!! Grootopa shakes his head in sympathy. He had followed closely this adventure. For the period that this “couple” administrated the Central a book could be written. It crossed Grootopa’s mind that over two short years time, practically all the “Hollanders” who worked there left the Central. Only one or two remained. Grootopa also recalls that one day all those that had leading positions, mostly Hollanders, were interviewed by a certain man called Morana. In turns they were called to a room where the man with his caju-dyed (red color) hair sat behind his desk and they were impressionably put through their paces.
Grootopa heard one of the men ask another who had just left the room, what actually the outcome of this was and what this Morana wanted. “Man”, was the answer, and waving his hand in the air, “this fellow only knows that milk is white and never saw a cow in his life”.
The best part is that those who left the Central to work for other companies had all, one by one, become directors.
When in 1994 the economic plan “Plano Real” was introduced in Brazil it was too late for the Central. The Directors from the colonies were unable to keep it sound. Carambei and Castrolanda could not agree on any situation. Who is right? Grootopa knew naturally that both were right about some points but they could not reach an agreement. They could not find the right path. Arapoti (CAPAL) was in between and fairly strong as they had the deciding voice.
During the Plano Real, the government launched a monetary measure and had the inflation under control, but this at the expense of agri-business for the coming two or three years. When there was no more inflation and the Central and the single Cooperatives had suddenly a much clearer overview of their financial situation, they understood they were in trouble. Their decision was to sell the Central Cooperative’s dairy factory.
The first step was to change the Cooperative in a public limited company. So the Company BATAVIA S.A. was created. In 1996, the Italian multinational Parmalat bought 51% of the Company. The other 49% stayed with the cooperatives.
Working together did not always go so smoothly. It worked out until 2003 when Parmalat, overnight, went bankrupt. The single cooperatives succeeded in saving the factory in Carambeí, via a court action.
Then BATAVIA hired José Antonio do Prado Fay as Executive Director, and finally there were some years of good leadership. Dairy products got profitable again and contact with the members of the board of directors was first class.
But the pressure to sell remained … which came into effect in 2006. Everything was sold to PERDIGÃO. Some years later, SADIA went bankrupt due to financial difficulties and PERDIGÃO took SADIA over, actually it was a merger, starting a brand-new business named Brasil Foods S.A., later shortened to BRF.
BRF became a gigantic Brazilian Multinational Meat Processing Company, so the dairy branch became the black sheep of the deal. It did not belong to the core business of this new company. BRF soon realized this. Technically seen, the dairy part was working perfectly, but commercially it was a hopeless chaos. It seemed they detested the milk and had no interest in selling the products. Once Grootopa heard a commercial guy saying – “dairy is a cancer in our business”. Grootopa could easily understand this, knowing that the center of the problem was that by having 90% of meat sales, they should worry about 10% of milk, cheese and yogurt sales. To the sales staff from the commercial sector of BRF this felt like a stone in their shoes. It became a big mistake. Again, it became evident that ham and cheese were different products.
So BRF decided to sell the dairy section and threw it on the market, assuming it would be difficult to sell. They were perplexed by the many potential buyers who appeared from all over the world, USA, Canada, Mexico, China, France, Holland and else. In the end it was LACTALIS from France which bought the whole business, not only from BRF but also some other dairy factories from LBR and from Balkis, which made some special cheeses and whose brand was quite well known in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.
LACTALIS is a French family owned company and the biggest dairy concern in the world. They have over 240 factories worldwide, spread over more than 40 countries. They process almost 17 billion liters of milk per year, with a yearly turnover of 18 billion Euros.
LACTALIS has an intense hunger to grow and branch out over the whole world. In Brazil alone, there are17 factories, including our factory in Carambei. So LACTALIS acquired, in one move, some of the best dairy brands of Brazil: Batavo, Elegê, Parmalat, Poços de Caldas, Boa Nata, Balkis, Cotochés …
One of the strategies from LACTALIS is to keep the local brand names and invest in these brands to make them even bigger. That will happen with our brand BATAVO. (Remark from Vita Vermeulen – “The investment in the brand is really happening. Very delicious milk and yoghurt in blue and white containers with the Dutch figures and branded Batavo, just like the good years gone by”).
It crosses Grootopa’s mind that the brand BATAVO is not ours anymore. It is a pity, of course, that it has turned out this way. The question whether, at that time, it was really necessary to sell out will never be answered. It is not possible to say now, that this was a wrong decision. If we see the current situation of the single Cooperatives, we must accept that selling out was the right decision in the past. Meanwhile the cooperatives have built their brand new factories in Castro, Ponta Grossa and Itapetininga, and do together the way they best… that is “production”. By having a strong milk production on farms and a perfect updated production process in the factories they are almost unbeatable. Besides, it is not necessary for the Cooperatives, via marketing to build up a new brand and a complicated commercial and logistic system to administrate the sales of milk, cheese, yogurt, puddings, etc… Grootopa thinks about it and comes to the conclusion that there is nothing more difficult than to bring a product on the market at the right time, in the right quantity, to the right place and then sell it for a reasonable price. No, there isn’t! Now the Cooperatives keep themselves busy with what they are masters at… to produce.
Yes, after 20 years, there are still doubts whether it was necessary to sell BATAVO. Do they have a good reason to believe this? Grootopa wrinkles his forehead and remains wisely quiet.
It has stopped raining. Here comes a lady with an umbrella and sits next to him under the bus stop roof. They acknowledge each other with a nod. Grootopa concludes now that the weather is dry, he can almost go back home. But his thoughts go back to the big question, “What is it like today, on a daily basis, to work together as colonies?”
Grootopa remembers the year 1996, when the first farmers stepped out of the Cooperative and delivered their milk to the competitors. People in the colony were shocked and could not understand how this was possible. It did not take long before more farmers followed the example. In Arapoti the sales were even organized by the competitors via CAPAL cooperative. The community was astonished and they thought it would become a chaos, the end of Cooperativism in the colonies for which the pioneers had fought so hard for and had rescued. All would now be abandoned. It seemed a big crash in the communities was unavoidable… the end of the world.
Now, years later, Grootopa smiles for the world has not disappeared nor has the cooperative system. No, just the opposite. It seems both have become stronger. The system for sure has become more modern and professional. Grootopa now remembers a photo he had seen some months ago in local magazines, where the three chairmen of Carambei, Castrolanda and Arapoti, Renato, Frans and Erik together exchanged handshakes. Terrific!!! This handshake shall go into history as a milestone of the three Dutch Colonies working together. This took place in 2016, twenty years after the first farmer stepped out of the cooperative.
All of this has taken place not so long ago so it has not had time to become history yet. What is 20 years? This shall only become real history in 45 years’ time when the colony Carambei turns 150 years old and new books come out.
It is a pity that most people only get interested in their family histories or property when they are over 50 years old. Children in general are not interested at all and, on top of this, what is now written in Dutch is actually lost work, just one more generation and around here no one will be speaking Dutch anymore.
Grootopa awakes from his memories and notices that the rain has gone. He stands up stiffly and looks to both sides, nods to the lady sitting next to him and crosses the street on his way home. He is looking forward to getting home as on the kitchen table a tray with fresh set coffee and homemade cookies awaits him. He seems to be moving more swiftly…