Global Perspective and Business Acumen Form Recipe for Brothers’ Sweet Success

Brinker BrothersAlumni Gerard (Beer) Brinkers (BA ’04, MA ’07) and Hubert (Geert) Brinkers (BBA ’06) grew up in the Netherlands where their great-great grandfather started a wholesale margarine company in 1878. Over the decades, the company has grown to include an assortment of bakery products.

Before joining the family business, the brothers earned business degrees at Webster University’s campus in Leiden, the Netherlands. They said their experience at Webster shaped their global perspective on commerce. “At Webster, we had the opportunity to see and travel the world,” Beer Brinkers recalled, reflecting on the semester the brothers spent studying at Webster University’s campus in Shanghai, China.

“In addition to learning languages, we were able to meet and work with students from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures,” Geert Brinkers said. “Together, this helped position us to do business around the world.”

In 2011, the brothers purchased two brands from their father’s portfolio, and they have been business partners and bakers ever since. They jointly own Beuk, the largest apple pie brand in the Netherlands, and Goutier, a line of frozen cakes, strudels, Bavarian cream cakes, tiramisu and other pastry products, that are distributed throughout Europe.

While their success has not been without challenges, they have developed a strategy for ensuring that they are successful as business partners. “Before a decision is made, we both have to agree or we won’t move forward,” Geert Brinkers said. “When you work with family, you don’t have to be political. You can just be open with each other, and that’s the best part.”

The brothers admit that their first year in business was tough, and the stress was compounded because the factories where they purchased their products increased prices significantly. “We knew we had to act,” Geert Brinkers said. “So we decided to find our own production facility.” After months of research, they purchased a former Unilever ice cream factory and began developing plans to convert it into a facility that would meet their business needs.

In setting up their production facility, the brothers had to account for the tough market and low margins. “We had to have an edge,” Beer Brinkers said. So rather than anchor their production on economies of scale, they targeted economics of scope. “Our design is built around having bakers on the line. This model enables us to optimize production and it gives us the flexibility to make changes in flavors and products faster than our competitors.”

Today, their company operates under the name Four Foodservice, and they have expanded their business to include new products under the Beuk and Goutier brands. They have also acquired contracts to produce private label brands for wholesalers and retailers, including Starbucks cafés in Spain and France. In addition, they have teamed up with another company to optimize its production of dairy and dairy-based desserts for distribution in New Zealand. “It’s exciting for us to put our ‘know-how’ into that company,” Beer Brinkers said. “This partnership definitely opens doors to the future.”

Check out the 2014 edition of Notabene for more stories from the Walker School.