Look to Brazilian cuisine. One of Brazil's leading food companies invests in promoting delicacies for export, proving that the nation's favorites appeal to taste buds worldwide. Reuben Ford reports.
Maricota Alimentos offers a wide menu of Brazilian-style frozen savory foods, ranging from finger-food to ready-made meals. It is one of the most recognized national food brands, marketing 180 products and producing more than 50 for private labels.
The company is also responsible for taking Brazilian tastes to tables around the world – the United States, Europe, South America, Asia and Africa – prioritizing international and cultural trading standards.
The world’s largest producer of cheese rolls (bread rolls made with cheese), Maricota has introduced new options to the growing industry for pre-prepared food.
In the last four years the company has focused not only on domestic sales, but on expanding its overseas markets, adapting its recipes and ingredients and incorporating new products into its eclectic lines. Producing 20,000 tons of products every year, Maricota aims to offer quality food at competitive prices on a global scale.
“Our factory is in Minas Gerais (a state known for its cuisine), and we take our name from the regional colloquialism for a good cook – Maricota. It is a name that, despite our size, characterizes the quality and style of our products,” begins International Business Manager, Camila Ozório.
Maricota Alimentos was founded in 1991, in Luz (Minas Gerais). From the outset, the company differentiated itself through the quality of its ingredients and service. Holding on to these roots has been vital in Maricota’s development, which aligns tradition with modern technology.
The company began by producing one type of cheese roll by hand. Still the bestseller, and representative of the brand, Maricota cheese rolls is now available in a range of gluten-free varieties; snack size, cocktail size, sticks, different flavors such as provolone, onion and garlic and low-fat options.
“Cheese Rolls are our flagship product. We are a reference in the market, thanks to a home-baked, fresh taste, high-quality ingredients and distinctive packaging,” Ozório says.
The success of Maricota’s recipes has grown to include other Brazilian specialties such as cod fish balls, cheese rolls and coxinhas (chicken croquette). The company also produces readymade international dishes, prepared to Brazilian tastes: variations of lasagne, pizzas, pancakes, tarts and kibe (Arabian style meat balls).
“As well as for our own brand we produce food for private labels. All of our fish products, with the exception of cod fish balls, are made for clients’ brands. We currently have 53 private label contracts, which represent an important part of our business,” Ozório affirms.
Part of the success of these contracts is Maricota’s ability to adapt and create specific products according to demand. This national and international flexibility is an important differential leading to new products and variations.
Appealing to an International Palate
“Promoting our products abroad is done primarily through international trade fairs. We have participated in the Fancy Food Show in the United States for the last two years – an excellent opportunity to showcase food that many foreigners don’t know, or haven’t tried,” Ozório explains.
The Maricota stand is supported by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Drink Association. Samples of the food are available to visitors, which Ozório emphasizes as the best way to attract new business. “We’re working to promote and introduce the tradition of consuming cheese rolls – a mix of cheese and traditional bread dough – let alone all the variations we make.”
Maricota attends exhibitions around the world; the world’s leading food fair for retail and food services, ANUGA in Germany; SIAL international food innovation market place in Paris and Gulfood Food and Hospitality Show in Dubai. The fairs expose Maricota to international hotels, restaurants and retailers.
Particular interest in the United Arab Emirates has inspired interesting new investment. In order to sell food to the seven emirates, Maricota became halal certified. “We contracted new halal suppliers for chicken, meat and cheese and production and packing of our halal range is overseen by a Muslim at our factory, in accordance with the faith,” Ozório says.
Other developments were brought by the US market, where the standard 35 to 40 minute baking time for cheese rolls, was considered too long. Ozório explains Maricota’s solution: “Pre-baked cheese rolls, ready in eight minutes!” Suggestions such as filled cheese rolls originated in Miami and also expanded the company’s range.
In addition to the United Arab Emirates and the United States, Maricota exports 37 different products to South Africa, Angola, Spain, France and Saudi Arabia among others.
Locations & Logistics
The food is all produced in the 30,000-square-meter factory, located in Luz (Minas Gerais), strategically located close to the ports in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Over $2.5 million has been invested in new machinery at the fully automated facility, including fast-freezing technology and imported Italian cooking equipment.
Fresh raw ingredients are received by the factory and distributed to the divisions responsible for the lines (cheese rolls, ready-made meals etc). All products are monitored throughout preparation and packed in-house in sealed packaging, preserving quality and freshness. Packaging itself is country-specific – showing Maricota’s flexibility and international market awareness.
With representative offices in industrial capital São Paulo and state capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Maricota has a staff of 500.
The company has its own fleet of refrigerated trucks, transporting goods at -12 degrees Celsius to the distributors and exporters.
Preparing one million cheese rolls a month, Maricota makes more of this Brazilian specialty than any other company. It is also one of the country’s largest producers of ready-made meals (including those for private labels).
No surprise therefore, that revenue is estimated to rise from $60 million in 2012 to $70 million in 2013 and exports are set to increase by 20 percent; from 5 to 6 percent of total sales. “Annual growth is between 12 and 15 percent and our factory works flat out,” Ozório says.
More and more consumers are turning to frozen foods and fast, practical meal options and Maricota meets demand. However, there are other factors to be considered: Fluctuations in exchange rates influence market regions and the types of products sold. “The deceleration of the Brazilian economy leads to a decrease in frozen food sales. In these cases we have adjusted portions, such as in the “Meu Menu” line which caters for one person, and focused on other markets,” Ozório explains.
Flexibility with portions and packaging is also an advantage abroad where consumers are accustomed to specific sizes and presentation. As sales abroad rise, Maricota is proving that its management, marketing and quality meet the mark. Ozório says; “the secret of our success is that we make food with a Brazilian touch. The market is looking for a something new, and typical Brazilian tastes make that difference,”
The future looks even more promising, with all the necessary trading certificates and more than 20 international contracts currently under negotiation, Maricota Alimentos aims to increase exports to 20 percent of total sales by 2015.
Impressive results and projections – and a sample of fresh new culinary delights on the world’s tables.