Interview Wouter Lox, AIJN Secretary General

Interview Wouter Lox, Secretary General of AIJN by ASOZUMOS (original text here)

1. Recently you have been named as Secretary-General at AIJN, what does it mean for you to hold this position? 

Having worked over the last 25 years in Public Affairs and lobby for both European associations as well as international companies, we have always recognized AIJN as a trustworthy partner and a center of expertise in the Brussels bubble. Brussels is the host to more than 11.000 associations and stakeholders figuring in the EU-transparency register, hence being recognized as the representative of the sector interests by the institutions is an indication of being a well established representative body. Therefore joining the association was for me an honor to be able to lead such a well recognized and established European association. Moreover as the association was lead by the same Secretary-General over the last 30 years, stepping into such a legacy provided my switch from EUsalt, the European Salt producers Association, which I lead for over 12 years, towards AIJN, a very interesting opportunity to match this legacy. 

2. What are your objectives for the performance of your activity? 

My objective for the association is to continue to be regarded as the sole representative of the Fruit Juice and Nectar industry in Europe. The new incoming European Commission provides again an opportunity to help shaping the European agenda and have the priorities identified as essential to our sector being recognised. The objectives would also entail the shaping of the association into one that will be fit to respond to the increasing demands imposed on associations, being it from a basic association work delivering the value proposition to its membership, coping with the digitalisation quest as well as to the more complex challenges of the new era of lobbying involving a more outspoken citizens voice and initiatives. Being able to direct the association to maintain delivering its misión mission is maybe the ultimate objective and measurement tool of my activity. 

 3. What are the most important issues currently facing European associations? 

There are different issues in common to the many European associations which are representing specific interests in the Brussels area. One of the issues might be the versatility of membership. In many sectors companies are reviewing their strategic goals or scope of activities. These revisions some times interfere with maintaining membership in certain sector associations. Furthermore consolidations of companies in sectors not only may be leading to reduced membership fees but also to a reshaping of the competitive environment for the members. An association depends on the willingness of the members and the companies to provide an overarching sector perspective to collaborate in common. In assuring a value proposition, the technical expertise an association can provide is clearly an essential tool. There seems to be a trend and a need in companies to rely on technical expertise being provided by the association, whilst at the same time, the time constraints of the technical experts within the companies make it impossible to assure the knowledge transition from members to the association. Hence a gap and a deficit into the practical analytical insight of the technical implications of the legislation are created within the association, whilst the request to provide more hands-on insights and expertise is increasing. The last but not least is the digitalization aspects of the working of the association. This does not only entails the modernisation of common IT-tools but more specifically the applications of digital tools and AI in stakeholder mapping and PA-activities. 

 4. How would you describe the situation of the fruit juice industry in Europe? 

There are some challenges the sector faces influencing the overall economic performance of the sector. Being it the discussions on sugar reductions, but also the shifting consumer demands and preferences to focus on less processed foods, organic and sustainability aspects. Although volume-wise the sector seems to be in decline over the last years, we also see an increase in the value aspect. It means consumers have changing preferences from fruits juices from concentrates to juices not from concentrate, but also look at many other aspects of importance in the fruit and vegetable juices offered to the consumers. Overall the future still looks juicy, and the new introductions in the fruit and vegetable juice, as well as the nectar sector, show good perspectives. 

5. What measures are being taken by AIJN to improve this situation? 

 As a sector association we are committed to the Fruit Juice Matters- programme helping to rebalance the conversation on in the nutritional benefits of juice consumption and ultimately curbing the consumption of fruit juices and nectars in Europe. The AIJN also help assure qualitative products in accordance with the directive by promoting the application and updating of the criteria of conformity and quality listed in the AIJN Code of practice. We also support the working of the EJCS, the European Juice Control System, assuring the quality measures are implemented and cross-checks of products are undertaken. Last but not least, the support of the CSR-platform, a multistakeholder platform having the contribution of the value chain of fruit juices and nectars assures the commitment to sustainability aspects in the production of juices and nectars.