Based in Brazil’s southern state of Santa Catarina, Fricasa is a medium-sized producer of all things pork in a region where European immigrants (and tastes) run high. Michael Sommers discovers how the company has modernized its operations and outlook while continuing to appeal to the distinctly local appetites it knows best.
Brazil’s southernmost states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul (collectively known as “the South”) are a carnivores’ paradise. Gauchos (the inhabitants of Rio Grande do Sul) are internationally renowned for their prime beef, raised on the Pampas and served up in churrascarias (barbecue houses) throughout the hemisphere. Among Brazilians, however, the South is also known for the fact that much of its population is of German, Italian, Ukrainian, and Polish descent, which explains why spicy sausages, fragrant hams, and even eisbein (a German dish made of pig’s knees) are as popular as feijoada, Brazil’s national stew of beans and salted pork.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Brazil’s producers of pork, ham, sausage, and prepared meats have their origins in the South. Many started out as modest local butchers, delicatessens, and refrigeration plants. Some such as Sadia and Perdigão – whose frozen and packaged meat products are ubiquitous throughout Brazil – grew into industry giants. Others have chosen to consolidate their base, focusing on traditional preparation and regional flavors that appeal to the markets they know best. Fricasa, a medium-sized company that has been in business for half a century, is proud to be among this latter group. Located in Canoinhas, a small town in the interior of Santa Catarina that was colonized by Germans, Ukrainians, and Poles, Fricasa came into being in 1962. From its inception, the company’s founding partners decided to focus their efforts on producing high-quality, flavorful pork and pork-derived products. Proof of their success is that today the company enjoys national renown as a specialist in pork products in spite of the fact that its sales are limited to the South and neighboring São Paulo.
“Our participation in the national market is very small, perhaps 0.5 percent,” confirms Nelso Conte, Fricasa’s commercial director. “But regionally, we’re very well known. In terms of our frozen and prepared cuts, our products are quite similar to those of the majority of our competitors. However, when it comes to regional specialties, we really have a distinctive edge because we’re so attuned to local tastes and traditions.”
Over the years, Fricasa has built up an extensive array of products. Today, its mix includes over 150 items divided into various lines such as frozen and seasoned cuts of meat, smoked and prepared meats (including bacon and spare ribs), and cold cuts. Prepared sliced meats and sausages represent the largest and most profitable share of the business. “Our hams, mortadelas, smoked meats, sausages and salamis are particularly well known,” says Conte. “We spend a lot of time working with and refining flavors, seasonings, and aromas. We’re always striving to make products with a taste that consumers identify as caseiro (‘homemade’). Most of our recipes are based on local artisanal traditions, and maintaining these traditions is part of our company’s vision. It is also what differentiates us from our larger competitors whose enormous industrial production scale makes it difficult for them to specialize. Because we work on a smaller scale, we can differentiate flavors more, making items such as white German sausage, Italian salami, and eisbein that are very popular in the South.”
MODERN TECHNOLOGIES AND STRATEGIES
Meanwhile, there is nothing artisanal about the fully automated plant or state-of-the-art equipment that Fricasa uses to make its products. Within the last five years, in particular, the company has invested heavily in its 39,370-square-foot facility. Aside from purchasing top-of-the-line slicers, sausage makers, and seasoning injectors, it has also installed new warehouse facilities and stocking systems, all with the aim of maintaining the highest levels of quality control as well as improving productivity and reducing manufacturing costs. Already, annual growth rates are at around 8 percent. However, this figure is expected to rise in the near future as a result of Fricasa’s latest project; the renovation of its deboning sector. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2010, the new facility will be able to process 200 animals every hour, translating into a considerable increase in production levels.
Of course, when it comes to matters of pork, there’s nothing more important than the pig itself. “Investing in the raising of pigs is one of our main priorities,” says Conte. “We work with a select group of producers who supply us with animals that have been genetically bred to meet the highest industry standards. The resulting meat is of excellent quality and boasts low levels of fat.” Indeed, the company is all too aware of the fact that pork is a product that has traditionally raised a lot of health concerns. To quell any lingering doubts, Fricasa adheres to the strictest government legislation and industry regulations to ensure the quality and safety of its products from the moment the pigs arrive at the plant to the moment the prepared and packaged meat is shipped to clients. Indeed, as Conte proudly points out, the fact that the company has not only survived, but thrived for close to half a century is due to a winning combination of characteristics: taste and trustworthiness.