Meet a leader in precision nutrition

When it comes to high-performance supplements, Jean Fontaine, president and founder of   Jefo Group is one of the most knowledgeable people in Canada. His entire career has centred around the development of products to replace such supplements, or growth promoters.

Jefo Group is based in St-Hyacinthe, just outside Montreal, and is a world leader in the field. For example, their nutritional solutions are sold to animal industries in over 80 countries.

The company began operations in 1982 when Jean had just completed his animal science degree and began importing micronutrients for animal feed. Once he had unearthed a phosphate supplier from Holland and a sodium bicarbonate supplier from Belgium, his list of suppliers grew rapidly.

By importing directly from Europe, Jefo quickly distinguished itself on the Canadian market as a supplier of quality products at very competitive prices. This approach is reflected in the Jefo Group slogan: Life, Made Easier.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Jefo initiated a major change and the company began adopting the new micronutrient protective technology - technology they had previously participated in developing.

“I use the image of the Trojan horse to describe this technology,” explains Fontaine. “What we want is for the nutrients to reach the intestines, where they balance the composition of microflora before they are metabolized. If they're not protected, they lose their effectiveness because the stomach breaks them down or absorbs them before they reach their intended target.”

Non-medicated growth promoters

In the space of only a few years, the company, which started as a modest distributor, became a manufacturer of nutritional solutions. Jefo had a unique mission: to help farmers achieve optimal livestock performance without using medicated feed as growth promoters.

At the time, systematically adding small doses of antibiotics into pig and poultry feed was standard practice. By controlling intestinal flora, these medications help the animal maintain good health and grow quickly. The downside, as we are increasingly aware, is that this preventative use of antibiotics may result in the creation of resistant micro-organisms.

Faced with such a threat, public authorities began adopting new regulations. For instance, in 2006 the European Union created new legislation that allows medicated feed additives to be used only with a prescription from a veterinarian. 

It took forward-thinking and vision to start proposing non-medicated growth promoters two decades ago. “At that time, no one was talking about antibiotic resistant micro-organisms,” Fontaine remembers. To convince clients, the company concentrated its efforts on research.

“To persuade a PhD in animal nutrition that your product works,” he says, “you have to show scientific results.” The Jefo Group developed partnerships with different universities across North America including Laval, Guelph, University of California and Cornell University. It then expanded its network into Europe, South America and Southeast Asia.

During this time, the company created its own infrastructure, investing in and building swine and poultry research farms. Visitors are welcome at the Jefo Campus where over 60 researchers, animal science specialists and veterinarians are at work. 

Multiple product lines

The Jefo team has developed a wide range of products. For example, they offer a progressive-release zinc supplement.

“In pigs, an effective way to fight diarrhea is to add zinc to the feed,” explains Fontaine. “The problem is that when zinc is used in its traditional form, the majority ends up in the manure rather than being metabolized by the animal. This means there is a lot of waste, and at the same time it creates a potential source of pollution because when this manure is spread in the fields, there is a risk of raising zinc levels to a point where it is harmful to the crops. Our product allows farmers to use one-tenth the amount of zinc previously recommended while maintaining livestock performance.”

The company founder is particularly proud of the vitamin solution for dairy cows developed by his team. “This product is given to dairy cows during the three weeks prior to calving,” he explains. “It significantly reduces the occurrence of retained placenta, acetonemia and udder edema. The farmer thus keeps his cull rate lower.”

Reinvesting – a success model

Jefo is on a roll. “Our total revenue was $100 million in 2010, $250 million in 2015 and it should pass half a billion in 2020,” he says, adding, “That’s largely the result of having over the years reinvested the majority of our profits back into the company, just as farmers do on their farms.”

Jean just turned sixty and has begun passing on the reins to his children. “We can count on a solid team during this transition,” he says.

“Another challenge is anticipating the benefits new fields of knowledge like intestinal microbiome research and artificial intelligence will have for agriculture." "We want to imagine what’s next and redefine the boundaries of animal nutrition."

From an AgriSuccess article (November 2018) by André Piette.