As the world's biggest producer of beef, Brazil is home to many specialists in the industry. One of the market leaders is setting the standards in investment and strategy to ensure constant improvement and evolution. Reuben Ford analyzes a unique approach.
Click here to read the complete illustrated article as originally published or scroll down to read the text article.
Plena Alimentos is consolidating itself in the slaughterhouse and processing meat industry as one of the largest in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. The company makes steady investments in imported production machinery, staff and logistics and is one of the most prominent in the sector.
Producing two lines of beef products and derivatives for food services and retail, Plena focuses on the small to midsized markets and professionalizing operations to meet their growing demands.
As the industry looks to increase technology in beef production and processing, Plena’s aim is to remain at the forefront, adding value to their products and constantly increasing know-how. “What creates a difference is quality and team strategy,” affirms Managing Director Cássio Silva.
Plena has supplied high-standard meat products for the entire country and abroad for more than 20 years. The company was founded by three partners – three butchers – who began with the simple intention of selling good meat in the state capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte. It was an intention that led to commitment to quality and to the industry. The partners quickly realized the advantages of expanding beyond retail and purchased their own slaughterhouse in nearby Pará de Minas.
“In the beginning, Plena worked with beef and pork,” Silva explains. Based in Belo Horizonte, the company expanded business to include processing and distribution, supplying local stores and gaining experience.
The simple strategy was effective. As time passed, knowhow grew and Plena stepped out of the state towards the north of the country, acquiring a plant in Paraíso (Tocantins state). Moving north was the logical step, due to the abundance of high quality cattle in the region.
In 2013, Plena made its most recent acquisition – a complete processing facility in Porongatu, Goiás state.
“Our expansion was always driven by the desire to achieve a unique structure and outlook towards the industry. Plena created the company concept ‘one of a kind’ and focused investment on research and infrastructure projects that serve its customers in a distinct manner,” Silva says.
Today, Plena’s headquarters is located in industrial capital, São Paulo, but the company has facilities in Minas Gerais, Tocantins e Goiás, including three bovine slaughterhouses, a processing center for beef products, storage facility and distribution center. “For the last five years, we have been investing in reinforcing our presence outside Minas Gerais,” Silva adds.
To achieve the best results at every stage of the production process, Plena has renovated its industrial parks with the newest technologies and a modern logistics system with a large fleet of vehicles for more efficient transport. “The industry is going through a phase of modernization and professionalization – either you step up or you lose out,” Silva comments.
Consolidating markets outside Minas Gerais and an eye for competition have also led to exportation. Plena currently exports around 15 percent of production to Africa, Hong Kong, and the Middle East. Silva explains: “Overseas markets are an important part of our business. To maintain our position in the industry, recognition of our quality outside Brazil shows our competence and adds value to our products.” Some cuts and meat products are made exclusively for export.
It is clear that constant reinvention is the key to Plena’s growth and success. “We invest heavily in remodeling our infrastructure and our products, and pride ourselves on having some of the best professionals in the area,” Silva says. The company has brought qualified staff from across the country and abroad to continue adding value to service and products. Currently employing 1,300 staff, Plena has its own sales team specializing both in food services and retail.
The company markets two product lines: Bonne for food services and Chef for retail. Silva explains that “Bonne is a brand that is well known among restaurants (Brazilian barbecue chains), steakhouses, industrial kitchens, hotels, and schools.” The Chef range, targets the end consumer through large supermarket chains and butchers. “We operate in huge markets, but unlike the majority of our competitors, we focus on the small to mid-size customers,” he adds.
In its large portfolio of food products, Plena includes beef cuts and industrialized products, such as hamburgers and meatballs of its own production plus lines of importer fish, vegetables and meat. “We want to offer a full and professional service to our clients, which has led to distribution agreements with other products that are not made by us,” Silva justifies. The company imports some added-value products from Belgium, China and Vietnam.
The Secret of Sustained Growth
In the abattoirs (unlike the pork and chicken industries) beef production allows little space for technological innovation. Silva points out “the size of the animals involves more labor and slaughter takes on a different scale.” Plena has imported some automated equipment, which has allowed greater speed and efficiency but essentially achieves differentials through other means.
“The quality of raw material – the animals themselves – makes the difference,” Silva says. Plena invests in genetic research and animals of the highest standard.
The company’s recently opened processing center is the focus of technological investment. Here, machines imported from the Netherlands enable the facility to produce 600 tons of hamburgers and meatballs a month equating to 50 percent of its capacity. Hamburgers, meatballs and other reconstituted beef products (made of pieces of meat) can be made efficiently and packaged for delivery. “In the next six months we will hit 100 percent of our production capacity,” Silva affirms.
Plena has also invested in its fleet of 50 refrigerated trucks designed to transport frozen products. “Success is not only a question of quality but also a complete chain of service, including safe and timely delivery,” Silva assures.
Quality is treated with the utmost rigor and seriousness. Plena develops its activities by following high standards of process control and microbiological analyses. All products are prepared within GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) standards and are controlled by the HACCP system (Hazard Analysis and Critical Points), meeting stringent national and international standards.
In the last five years, Plena has averaged 20 percent growth; reporting 28 percent growth in 2013. Silva predicts figures in the region of 32 percent ($400 million annual revenue) in 2014, thanks to increased production, growing markets and “sheer hard work!”
Plena has created its own expertise in the market. A modern structure, state-of-the-art equipment, and technical team in constant training, always place the company one step ahead. Professionalism, research and technology make Plena one of the only beef producers among 1,500 in Brazil to have professionalized the industry and strategically managed growth.
“Our competitors are waking up now,” Silva concludes, “but we have been actively improving and investing for years.”