Lee Weingast speaks with Carlos Fabio Nogueira Rivelli about how two young brothers and their piggy bank full of change has grown into Rivelli Alimentos, a major producer of poultry products in Brazil and beyond.
Once upon a time – in 1979 to be exact – two young brothers decided to raise chickens in their backyard in the city of Barbacena in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the story of the 400 chicks purchased with spare change savings would become an entrepreneurial fairy tale.
Carlos Fabio Nogueira Rivelli, one of the then teenaged brothers, now owner/partner, admits that he and his brothers didn’t know what they would do with the full grown chickens. “We ended up slaughtering the chickens in our homemade way, with our mom’s kitchen utensils and sold them at the Sunday market,” recalls Rivelli. The boys, who were only 14 and 15 years old, stayed in school and fit the weekend chicken sales into their routine. It quickly became apparent that this whimsical endeavor was fast becoming a viable business. And it was serious business, so serious in fact that because the boys were still minors, their father actually emancipated the older brother so that he could legitimize their poultry commerce.
By 1985 the budding company was officially in both brothers’ names but was based in their parents’ backyard until 1990. As the boys grew so did the business. Rivelli Alimentos moved its operations to a commercial location and rapidly expanded until it had five retail stores. These stores went on to become employee-owned cooperatives but as supermarkets gained popularity in Brazil, these stores closed down.
In 1991, Rivelli Alimentos built the slaughterhouse in Barbacena, Minas Gerais, where it is headquartered today. Rivelli boasts, “We comply with federal health and sanitation norms and specifications and are certified to sell in other regions and even to export.”
The Rivelli Alimentos poultry business has a special cooperative arrangement with local farmers. Rural producers agree to follow all norms and maintain high standards in raising chickens for poultry. Nogueira Rivelli explains, “We have contracts with rural farmers: we give them the chicks, feed, and tech assistance (including veterinary, etc.) and they raise the animals on their land in accordance with our norms. We then receive the chickens for slaughter and pay the farmers a pre-established amount. There is no risk for the farmers because the pricing is not pegged to the market. They have the guarantee of sale with their profit margin and we have the guarantee that our chickens are raised according to our standards.”
Rivelli Alimentos’ slaughterhouse and cold/freezer storage facilities in Barbacena now cover 10,000 square meters. Over time, not only has the company’s core poultry line grown but it has branched out into the dairy business and to accommodate the expansion, purchased a handful of farms, all in its home state of Minas Gerais. In these facilities, qualified personnel oversee laying hens and the incubation and hatching of their eggs. A portion of these chicks will go on to become layers themselves while others are destined for consumption. The company also produces feed for its chickens. Nuggets and burgers – made of chicken of course – are in the works to be joining the line of Rivelli products.
CHICKENS AND COWS
The Rivelli label graces a wide range of frozen poultry products. A total of 180 tons per day of whole chickens and chicken parts, both bones and deboned, come out of the Rivelli facilities. That includes 2,500 kilos of chicken sausage, including a new product, Tuscan sausage, and 10 tons of processed foods daily. While the company does not sell eggs for human consumption, it does sell eggs for hatching and incubation for chick production.
The company’s herd of 200 cows is part of a newer, smaller dairy branch of Rivelli Alimentos. The 3,000 liters yielded by the company’s 80 milking cows are supplemented by another 2,000 liters which Rivelli Alimentos purchases for use in its line of quality dairy products. Minas cheese, a soft, white cheese that is very popular throughout Brazil, is one of the main products. The company also makes ricotta, American style cheese, mozzarella and dulce de leche.
With 2,500 registered clients, mainly major supermarket chains, throughout the country, Rivelli Alimentos is a known and trusted name in Brazil. When its own fleet of 80 delivery trucks isn’t enough to meet client demand, the company outsources some delivery. The state of Rio de Janeiro accounts for 60 percent of domestic sales with Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, Bahia and São Paulo following behind.
Rivelli Alimentos’ carefully raised chickens find their way into supermarket freezers in Asia, Africa and Europe. The company began selling its products outside Brazil’s borders in 2003, and now exports around 40 percent of production. This move not only opened new horizons for the company, but also helped boost Brazil’s agribusiness to the point of becoming the number one exporter of poultry in the world. Custom orders don’t upset Rivelli and special cuts of poultry are provided for its clients in Japan. Specialized facilities and procedures are used by Rivelli Alimentos for halal slaughter to meet the needs and standards for export to Islamic countries. Rivelli explains, “There are companies in Brazil who work with us to manage and oversee the slaughter with prayers and other rituals and requirements, from the beginning of the process when the chicken arrives to when it is ready to sell.”
The company takes great pains to care for the health not only of its workers and customers, but also of the environment on which it depends. Rivelli boasts, “We have partnerships with a day care center, fund IT classes for needy students and sponsor sports teams in all the cities where we work, especially Barbacena.” Rivelli Alimentos provides its staff with physical education, physical therapy and dental care in addition to meals, uniforms and transportation. In the area of environmental control, water used in processing is carefully monitored and treated to make sure it is safe and clean before being returned to the ground. Because of poultry’s short lifespan, no growth hormones are needed and Rivelli Alimentos makes a point of keeping pharmaceuticals out of its birds, using only probiotics when needed to control intestinal bacteria in its flocks.
It is no wonder that a company like Rivelli Alimentos that began with two brothers and a piggy bank full of change has continued to expand in a healthy manner. With partnerships built on integrity and respect, high standards of health and safety and an eye toward anticipating customer demand, the Rivelli Alimentos label will continue to mark popular and high quality poultry and dairy products.