Agrana Fruit is a world leader in the production and transformation of high quality fruit preparations and concentrates for the food industry. Using a triple strategy of innovation, quality control and human resources, Agrana designs and produces fruit and vegetable solutions for dairy products, baked goods and even pharmaceutical items. Bob Cavallo reports.
Agrana Fruit Mexico S.A. de C.V. has had a rather agitated company history in its 27 years of operations. The company was founded in 1981 as Siasport in the city of Zamora and was originally part of a French group. In the 1990s it opened its own facilities in Jacona, Michoacan under the name Siasmex. In 2002 Siasport and Siasmex were acquired by Butler Capital Partners and were renamed ATYS Mexico S.A. Finally in 2004 ATYS was taken over by Agrana, an Austrian group and renamed Agrana Fruit Mexico S.A. de C.V.
Today the company’s headquarters and main production facilities are located in Jacona, Michoacan in the southwest of Mexico. Agrana Group employs over 8,140 people and had an annual turnover of $1,915.8 million euros in the last financial year. Agrana Fruit Division sold 435,229 tons of fruit preparations in 2007. In Mexico, the company sold 58,284 tons of fruit preparation and frozen fruit and had a turnover of about US$80 million. Recently, the company has invested over $16 million euros in its production plants in Jacona, Michoacan, Mexico to improve food safety, industrial safety, logistics, water treatment and refrigeration.
From its Mexican offices the company also coordinates operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Agrana Fruit Mexico’s CEO is responsible for the plants in Argentina and Brazil. Whereas the Latin American region as a whole experienced growth of 10 percent last year, Mexico has experienced tremendous growth at a rate of about 12 percent for the past 14 years. South America has been targeted as a very attractive, yet underdeveloped market. The company plans to invest in this market heavily in Latin America in the coming years counting on increased consumption of fruit products in the growing local Latin American urban markets. Recently the company expanded operations in Brazil with a new plant for fruit preparations for the Brazilian market. In addition, in the next five years Agrana plans to double the size of its business in Mexico and plans to open new operations in Latin-America.
HELPING TO CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS
Over time Agrana has evolved into a world-class service provider, seeing its clients as true business partners and adapting its products and services to the client’s specific requirements and individual needs. Strategic quality processes, complete control of manufacturing procedures and punctual delivery times provide the added value to help farmers, suppliers and final clients grow and develop as businesses. The company stands for excellence, discipline and team work in every aspect of its operations.
Agrana Fruit Mexico offers agricultural counseling, financial support programs and distribution programs to help producers improve the quality of their lives, the local community and society at large. For example, local farmers receive support in drip irrigation methods, plastic covering techniques, and macro tunneling planting. Seed varieties are developed at the University of California Davis. Normally the strawberry season runs from January to May. This agricultural support has been able to extend normal crop to eight months of productions and today strawberries are produced from November to July.
In support of the farmers, Agrana Fruit Mexico has a team of field inspectors who patrol the fields on trail bikes with hand held portable computers everyday. The information they gather is then sent to the factory so that fruit will be harvested at the moment of exact ripeness and the number of tons of produce can be accurately estimated.
Since food safety has become a growing concern, Agrana is able to document all aspects of production. There are records for the purity of the water used, the type of agricultural aids applied to the plant as well as specific information on soil and weather conditions and productivity per acre. This way Agrana can assure final users that only the top quality and safest fruit is admitted to the plant. Juan Sarracino, general director for Mexico and Latin America,
says, “We promote the development of the growers because the product must be perfect in every way for the export market. We cannot risk contamination by bacteria or unapproved chemicals.” The company also advises local growers about how to market fresh fruit products through other distribution channels at fair prices to prevent the exploitation of agricultural workers.
Agrana’s core business is transformation of natural fruit into fruit preparations and frozen fruit products. Upon arrival at the plant, fresh fruit undergoes a two-stage transformation process: packing and fruit preparation. Every piece of fruit arriving at the plant is carefully sorted by size, ripeness, and cleanliness. After stems, leaves and debris have been removed from the fruit, all fruit is washed, scrubbed, and inspected before it’s frozen. During this process physical, chemical, microbiological and organoleptic tests are conducted according to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points Master Plan (HACCP) and FDA standards to absolutely guarantee the product’s quality. Agrana also has qualified for the ISO: 9001-2000, American Institute of Baking (AIB) and Kosher certificates of quality. Currently the company is working to obtain ISO: 22,000 for food safety policies and procedures.
The transformation process then continues with the production of fruit preparations. After different varieties of fruit are cooked and pasteurized, other ingredients are then added to meet the specifications of the client. The most common additives are vitamins and minerals, fiber, artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavor enhancers. Each client’s fruit preparation has its own requirements for density, concentration of fruit, texture and sweetness. Strawberry is by far the most popular fruit flavor and accounts for nearly 50 percent of production. Mango, peach and apple are other favorite flavors for fruit preparations and concentrates. When the fruit preparation
meets the clients’ requirements for the finished product such as color, flavor, aroma, body, density and functionality, it is shipped in one-ton stainless steel containers to local clients; customers in the United States or in the Caribbean as well as small local customers, are supplied in smaller sized plastic buckets, bag in box, etc.
Major yogurt manufacturers produce only plain yogurt and then add fruit preparations according to market specifications. Multinational producers such as Danone, Yoplait and Nestle as well as Mexican producers Lala or Sigma use Agrana Fruit Mexico preparations. In the world market today one third of all yogurt sold uses an Agrana fruit preparation.
A more viscous and eye pleasing fruit pulp is also used in baked goods such as health snacks and fruit bars for major manufacturers like Kraft foods and Pepsico. The filling preparations are ready to use and are stable in different oven conditions. These fillings come in different varieties of fruit mixtures, Bavarian cream, yogurt filling, caramel and candy, and cheesecake and are usually sold in specific markets according to local tastes.
WORKING CLOSELY WITH THE CUSTOMER
One of Agrana Fruit’s highest priorities is focusing on the success of its clients. The company actively works to increase its clients’ market share to enhance their competitiveness. Agrana’s team of research and development experts joins in the creation of new products and every year the company celebrates a week long retreat with a multidisciplinary team from finance, sales, production and marketing to identify market trends and develop appropriate strategies.
Agrana hires only the best trained researchers, agricultural technicians, factory workers and professionals of all trades. The company workers are competitive, enthusiastic and service oriented and display a passion for their work. It’s clear that Agrana’s employees are one of its major assets. As Juan Sarracino said, “We want to guarantee employment and employability for life.”
For its efforts, in 2008, Agrana was awarded Michoacan’s state prize for total quality. In July 2008 the company was named one of Mexico’s 50 most innovative companies by Information Week Magazine and in August 2008 obtained the Clean Industry Certification.
Moreover, Agrana is one of a growing number of innovative companies that believes that sustainable growth has to do with fulfilling its responsibilities in economic, social, and environmental areas, and ultimately, enhancing the wealth of society.