Brasfrigo is the leading food company in Brazil in the production of canned sweet corn. It occupies the second position in tomato sauce related products nationwide. Gisele Ribeiro reports on how this company has been improving the art of keeping everything fresh in the preserved food business.
In the beginning, the refrigerating chambers used to keep frozen juice and ice cream. Twenty years after its founding in mid 1970s, Brasfrigo intensified corn and pea production, along with its industrial market share on partially industrialized frozen products. The opportunities for this branch of BMG group, originally from Minas Gerais, didn’t stop blossoming. In 1994, Brasfrigo started to produce canned sweet corn and commercialize its Twist brand, among other private retail labels. Just one year later, the company launched tomato related products.
It was in Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, where the company initiated tomato production, taking advantage of the agricultural specialties in the region. “Tomatino was then the first brand created by Brasfrigo for tomato related products,” explained Carlos Brito, general director. And in 1998, the company acquired a new plant in Goiás, allowing it to expand production capacity. Brasfrigo’s move made an important social impact in the surrounding area, including technical support and technological improvements regarding re-hydrated vegetables. The new location also favored market expansion of new products.
Luziânia, the city chosen to be home to Brasfrigo’s plant, is located just 70Km apart from Brasília, the capital of Brazil. Heavy investments in agriculture, industrial production, construction, and packaging, were important to the impressive vertical growth it had. In 2003, it inaugurated another plant, expanding the variety of canned vegetables and tomato related products offered to the public.
“New combinations were successfully placed into the market, such as carrot, potato and peas or carrot, potato and corn,” says Brito. “Another significant improvement was the installation of a state-of-the-art effluent station and water treatment, which cleans about 300,000 liters of water each hour, used by the plants and sent back to the springs. Dejects are also reutilized as fertilizers.”
The acquisition of Jurema and Jussara brands from Unilever in 2004 represented a big jump for the company. Brasfrigo Foods spent R$50 million to buy the two brands. One year later, Brasfrigo decided to invest in the already well known Jurema brand, adding new tomato related products, such as sauces and pulps. Before that, Tomatino was the brand Brasfrigo used for its share in the tomato related segment. Selling tomato products under the famous Jurema brand was an important strategic move for Brasfrigo. Today, besides a large variety of tomato based sauces, tomato extract, tomato pulp and ketchup, the company markets mayonnaise, broths in cubes and soups under Jurema. Brasfrigo also decided to package sweets such as canned plum, peach and fig under the Jussara label, due to its longer history in this market segment.
Fifteen years after its founding, more than half of the business was private labeling for companies such as Carrefour, Extra, Pão de Açúcar, Wal-Mart, and Makro, among others. Today, that has changed dramatically, with the inclusion of the company’s own brands, which now represent over 83 percent of the business.
As the only company in South America to use steam in corn production, Brasfrigo keeps focused on research and product development, forming partnerships with companies such as Sygenta to assure quality. Grain presentation, flavor, texture, production techniques, cost reduction, best seasons to produce and harvest, and ways to increase productivity, are under constant evaluation. “We now have the tropical corn, RB corn, named after Rogers and Brasfrigo, and we are working on launching a third one,” details Brito. “It is true that we have an advantage to be below the equator. We can plant year round, despite our partners in the northern hemisphere.”
In order to produce 100,000 to 120,000 tons of corn and about 100,000 tons of tomato related products each year, the canned products division at Brasfrigo is very attentive to detail, beginning at the seed development, agriculture production follow-up, including agronomic support for productivity and storage, and it ends with processing and packaging. “Our annual growth of 6 to 7 percent is due to lots of investment, quality, marketing and good work,” says Brito. “It helps to own our agricultural lands. In less than eight hours, we are able to harvest, produce and package our products. The cultivated areas are just 30Km radius from the plant. Our products couldn’t be fresher.”
Packaging and sterilization are key factors to ensure safe and quality products. And Brasfrigo successfully accomplishes this task with extra equipped support. It has one of the largest and modern infrastructures for tomato processing in the world. The Swedish Tetra-Pak, one of the most respected companies in aseptic packaging, is Brasfigo’s partner in the project. “Another differential we have is grain classification machinery, which electronically selects the best grains for packaging. No other manufacturer in Brazil has this equipment. The grain is rejected if it is below the yellow color quality we specify for our standard product,” adds Brito. Brasfrigo’s plant has FDA (Food and Drug Administration), SGS and Bureau Veritas certifications, among others.
Says Brito, “Our plan is to grow both in the domestic and in the international market. The investment of about $10 million within two years will improve our industrial parks and personnel. We will focus on our 7000 hectares to generate quality tomato products, reinforcing our Jurema and Tomatino brands.”
The majority of exports, besides Russia and Africa, go to South American countries, including Mercosul and Central America. Argentina is one of the main importers. Today the exports represent 10 percent of total production. “Our goal is to expand our presence in Latin America,” Brito explains, through logistics measures and just-in-time delivery.
Market growth, he adds, may come in the areas of broths and soups, as well as in the Terra Bela line of organic products, including vegetables canned without tomato-based sauce.
As a major tax payer to the state and city, and generating close to R$400 million each year, Brasfrigo does not run from its role of social responsibility. It has supported local communities with specialized education, and has generated more than 1,300 jobs. “Instead of giving fish, it’s important to teach how to fish,” concludes Brito.