A pioneer in the introduction of grain selection technology, Cristal Alimentos is among Brazil's leading producers of rice. Reuben Ford discovers how careful commitments to quality and precision production have resulted in almost 60 years of success.
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As one of the most widely consumed foods in Brazil, rice is the base of many of the nation’s dishes and indispensable on tables throughout the country. However, according to Founder and President of Cristal Alimentos, Walterdan Fernandes Madalena, the fast food and restaurant generation are challenging domestic sales.
The company, which was founded in 1956, is a traditional rice producer that has successfully navigated the tumultuous seas of Brazil’s economy and maintained a hold on market leadership.
Perfecting quality, technology and even diversification of products to include other basic essential foodstuffs such as sugar, oil, flour and pasta have kept Cristal Alimentos on course.
For Madalena the secret is simple: “We do not compromise quality on any of our products – under any circumstances. Either we sell the best, or we don’t sell at all!”
Details and Determination
Cristal Alimentos’ history begins in 1956 in the city of Tesouro in Mato Grosso state. Walterdan Fernandes Madalena, who was raised helping in the family’s small grocery store, bought his first manual rice treatment machine at twelve years old. Already a budding entrepreneur, he produced one 60-kilogram bag of cleaned rice a day and sold it in his father’s store.
In 1957, Madalena moved to Goiânia, state capital of Goiás to pursue his education. His family sold up in Tesouro and followed, allowing their ambitious son to study in the mornings and continue working for the grocery business in the afternoon.
Madalena’s eye for opportunity and work with rice grew. In 1964, he took out a loan together with his brother to invest in machinery with the capacity to produce four 60-kilogram bags of rice an hour. Together the partners operated the machinery, sold and delivered the rice. It was the start of the rice company.
Over the next two years Madalena sold his share in the machine and stepped up production by investing in a new enterprise. By the end of 1966, he was producing eight bags an hour and supplying retailers and markets.
Military dictatorship which seized political power in Brazil in 1974 introduced legislation that forced progress on the company: goods could only be sold with full information of the producers clearly marked on the packaging. The brand Cristal was born. The brothers acquired more efficient machinery, increased output to 15 bags an hour and expanding the product portfolio to three different brands of rice – Mônica, Safra and Esmeralda.
The following decades are clearly defined by determination and ambition, with the business sense to successfully overcome obstacles and maintain constant growth. In 2007, the company began producing rice in new formats, as well as launching new products under the Cristal Alimentos brand, such as beans, sugar, oil, wheat flour, pasta and most recently disposable cups.
Present since the very beginning, Madalena summarizes the company’s success: “the Cristal brand has built a history on the grounds of sound investment in modern machinery, quality and immense respect for the consumer.”
The Right Recipe
The contributing factors to Cristal’s longevity continue to be the main reasons for sustained growth. “We are extremely demanding when it comes to the quality of our products and an essential part of guaranteeing superior results is constant investment in technology. With this approach, we are the pioneers in installing electronic selection technology, separating grains of rice by their translucency. This is what ensures that we offer the very best to the consumer,” Madalena elaborates.
Despite Cristal Rice undoubtedly remaining the company’s flagship product, the additions to the portfolio emulate the traditional excellence of the brand.
Alimentos Cristal also boasts a solid marketing strategy. Madalena explains: “We focus on our target customers, using the main communication media – especially television – to transmit our company values and differentials, which have been vital to our success.”
An essential ingredient in most Brazilian recipes, rice is a firm favorite throughout the vast country. Madalena reveals, however, that consumption has fallen in recent years “owing to new eating tendencies, including the rise in popularity of pasta, fast food and frozen food.” Expanding the product mix included some of these foods into Cristal’s range. Today, the mix accounts for 20 percent of revenue. “We don’t intend to increase our range at present. We want to consolidate and grow our market share for existing products,” he clarifies.
Right from the Start
Cristal’s focus on quality and in particular rice starts from the raw material. Careful criteria regarding the origins of the grains are an important contributing factor to Cristal Alimentos’ leadership.
“Cristal rice maintains its quality for years because of our raw materials – as well as being the best they are exclusive to us. Our grains are irrigated in Rio Grande do Sul state, cultivated in an area privileged with good soil and climate, known as the best rice-producing regions in the country,” Madalena says.
The rice is assessed in the company’s Research and Evaluation Center in Goiás. The center employs specialists in rice farming planting experts, whose know-how is applied from seed and soil to harvest, transport, storage and treatment.
Cultural and social diversity in Brazil creates regional differences in type and quality of rice. “In Goiás, processed, high-quality white rice is a best seller. In the south east partial boiled rice is more popular and in the north the accessible cost of lower quality, broken rice makes it more affordable,” Madalena says.
Cristal Alimentos’ 245,000-square-meter facility is located in Aperecida, Goiânia. The premises houses both factory and administrative offices and employs 800 staff.
Today, the company is Goiás’ leading rice producer and is ranked sixth in Brazil for rice production. Sales have increased steadily by 12 percent a year over the last five years – testament to the quality and concern for the consumer.
Over a long history Cristal Alimentos has followed a precise vision: providing the best for the consumer.
Madalena concludes: “We have not made acquisitions we remain focused – our expansion has been gradual and constant and it is for this reason that we look to continued growth in the future.”