President Alexandre Biagi explains to Michael Sommers how, in 2012, his beverage company grew more than any other Coca-Cola manufacturer in Brazil.
When discussing the beverage company he owns and operates, Alexandre Biagi makes frequent use of the word “love.” “I’m married to this company,” confesses Biagi. “I care about it as if it were my daughter, or my sister.”
It’s not surprising that Biagi feels such kinship with Uberlândia Refrescos, one of Brazil’s leading manufacturers and distributors of Coca-Cola and other soft drinks, beers, and beverages. The family- owned company was founded by his father, Maurílio Biagi, in 1971 and Alexandre rose through the ranks, taking over the reins, as president, in 1987.
“I’m not an heir, I’m an entrepreneur,” stresses Biagi. “I didn’t inherit this company; I bought out my mother and brothers and set to work creating a business that’s competitive, but also has art and class. The work we do here is beautiful. We’re not greedy and we’re not predators. We do everything correctly, with respect. After all, we’re working with one of the most respected brands in the world.”
Part of Coca-Cola History
When Coca-Cola came calling in 1971, it was because of Maurílio Biagi – a visionary entreprenuer. Headquartered in the thriving industrial town of Uberlândia – the second largest city in the state of Minas Gerais – the distribution center that Biagi started under the name Refrescos Ipiranga quickly transformed “Coca-Cola” into a household brand throughout the region known as the Triângulo Mineiro.
By 1976, business was so booming that Maurílio invested in infrastructure and equipment that allowed him to start manufacturing and bottling Coca-Cola as well. Under the name Uberlândia Refrescos, over the next several decades, the company continued to expand, widening its product portfolio with the addition of other soft drinks (Fanta, Sprite, Schweppes, and the Kuat brand of Brazil’s beloved Guaraná, a drink made from the energy-giving Amazonian guaraná berry) and beer (both domestic and imported brands such as Heineken). More recently, it also added lines of juices, iced teas, mineral waters, and energy drinks.
“Brazilians are increasingly concerned with health so we’re focusing a lot on our juices, isotonics and hydrotonics as well as our line of iced teas,” says Biagi. However, this doesn’t mean the company has forsaken Coca-Cola, which continues to be its mainstay as well as its principal source of revenue, comprising about 46 percent of total sales. For example, the company has high expectations for the expansion of REF PET (refillable Pet), a sustainable packaging.
“When it comes to Coca-Cola, there is an enormous brand love – 76 percent, in fact – with respect to the markets we serve” says Biagi. “And we’ve really built on this. Today, of the 16 Coca-Cola franchises in Brazil, we’re Number One in terms of sales. Furthermore, we’re the only beverage company in Brazil that has experienced double-digit growth over the last 8 years. For this reason we’re part of the history of Coca-Cola.
The Human Factor
Biagi is also determined that Uberlândia Refrescos will continue to play a major role in Coca-Cola’s future. Indeed, with this mission in mind, he is already taking steps to help the Coca-Cola company double its production output and triple its results until 2020. “These are audacious goals,” he admits. “But here at Uberlândia Refrescos we have a very special culture in which we emphasize the human factor. This results in high motivation and a desire to constantly meet – and surpass – established targets.”
Indeed, Biagi credits the company’s success to the enormous and all-encompassing focus on ensuring the satisfaction of both its in-house collaborators and its external clients. The company does a lot of work in terms of employee performance, with constant coaching, assertiveness training, and leadership seminars. Efforts, however, aren’t limited to employees’ jobs – instead, they impact their entire lives.
In addition to an in-house restaurant and leisure/recreation club,Uberlândia Refrescos offers food tickets, baby kits for newborns, and discounts on products commercialized by the company. It also provides health and dental insurance and contributes to continuing education of its employees. Whether an employee is bent on completing a high school degree or obtaining a doctorate diploma, Uberlândia Refrescos encourages such improvement efforts by funding everything from school supplies to tuition fees.
The company is equally concerned with the welfare of those beyond its doors. “A lot of our growth is a result of the way we’ve inserted ourselves into the community,” points out Biagi. “We have a very strong social and environmental policy that has gained attention both at the local and regional level.”
Small But Significant Details
Although Uberlândia Refrescos strives to have an impact that is large and lasting, Biagi feels that its main differentiating characteristic is the attention it pays to small details that are ultimately significant. “We invest in all the latest software and management programs so that every aspect of our operations is completely integrated,” he says. “The goal is to constantly improve day-to-day communications between our collaborators and clients.”
Biagi estimates that the company serves 22,000 clients in Minas Gerais – and they are all equally important, “whether they are multinational giants or a sole consumer purchasing a single can of Coke.” Indeed, the company places enormous emphasis on post-sales services and customer satisfaction. As a result, it boasts one of the lowest rates of post-sales complaints in the industry.
“We make and sell products that are of the utmost quality. They are an integral part of people’s moments of happiness, of relaxation, of celebration,” says Biagi. “This is the essence of our company and it’s the reason for our success. We love what we do and we love what we represent.”