Usina Coruripe is considered the largest producer of sugar and alcohol in the north and northeast regions in Brazil. It is also among the top five major players in the segment nationwide. Gisele Ribeiro unveils the path taken by this “green” company to achieve success.
In the beginning of the 1940s, Usina Coruripe was given as payment for a debt due to the Wanderley family. It produced about 1,000 tons of sugar each year. Today, the company produces millions of tons of sugar and the Wanderley family still controls the company. “It doesn’t matter which decision is to be made, it is based on an agreement among family members. This avoids trouble,” says Vitor Montenegro, managing director.
Usina Coruripe’s headquarters located in Alagoas not only process over three million tons of sugar-cane each harvest time, but also produces tons of alcohol and is in constant expansion. The crescent demand in the segment opened room for the creation of Camaçari distillery in the 1980s, located in Alagoas as well.
Right in the midst of difficult times for the world economy, 1994 was a decisive year in the company’s history. Due to the lack of appropriate land to expand its business, Usina Coruripe looked somewhere else and found the perfect location in the southeast of Brazil. Minas Geais State offered abundant room for the development of branches and a strategic location for distribution in the south-center of the country. The first step started with the acquisition of Alexandre Balbo distillery in 1994. US$180 million was invested on the enterprise. State-of-the art modernization and infrastructure had a significant impact on increasing production. In 2007, over five million bags of sugar were produced – each bag contains 50 kg – and close to 110 million liters of alcohol was distilled at Iturama branch.
Between 2001 and 2002, Camaçari distillery was transferred to a city in Minas Gerais called Campo Florido. The plan was to expand the plant, situated just a little over 200 km from Iturama. Two years later, the plant added a sugar manufacturing unit. Campo Florido branch is now able to generate over four million bags of sugar and almost 160 million liters of alcohol. By 2010, it is expects to grow even more.
Only three years later, Usina Coruripe launched another branch. US$60 million were invested in Limeira do Oeste, 50 km from Iturama. Limeira do Oeste’s main focus is alcohol production, where ultra sophisticated technology is utilized. Last year, close to 100 million liters of alcohol were produced there. The result represented an increase of over 20 percent when compared to 2006. In 2015, it is expected to be grinding over four million tons of sugar cane.
Over 70 percent of Usina Coruripe’s sugar production is directed to foreign buyers and the shipping is made through Santos port. The remaining production is stored in Fernandópolis, which maintains an important railway and services countries such as Russia, Morocco, Canada, and the U.S., among others.
“Sugar and alcohol production is what we know how to do and expanding our business is a matter of survival in this business,” says Montenegro. By April 2008, one more branch is scheduled to start operations. Usina Carneirinho, 70 km away from Iturama, is expected to pack 3.5 million bags of sugar, grinding 1.5 million tons of sugar cane. Over 1,000 local jobs will be generated by an investment of over US$75 million on a top-notch quality industrial plant.
Usina Coruripe’s is one of the first alcohol and sugar manufacturers in the world to acquire ISO: 14001 certification. It owns over 36,000 hectares, setting aside about 20 percent of land for reseeding and keeping natural forest in the region. Industrial quality, safety and health are also big concerns. The company is also ISO: 9001 and OHSAS certified and employs over 5,000 people. It is known as a great place to work.
“The company has received a number of prizes, such as the Four Team, awarded by consultants in the segment of sugar and alcohol. It was considered to be among the 10 most efficient units in Brazil and the best in the segment in 2006,” says Montenegro. Usina Coruripe was also awarded important prizes regarding sustainable development, environmental protection and social responsibility. It now holds the title of Advanced Post for the Atlantic Forest, awarded by Unesco.
The company has designated almost 7500 hectares of natural forest into a landmark, including 400-year-old “Pau-Brasil” trees. Brazil was named after the abundance of these trees, which are now very scarce due to its high commercial value. Similar programs have been developed by the group that owns Usina Coruripe, also known as GTW – Tércio Wanderlay Group – such as preserving and replanting particular species of palm trees. “Ouricuri” and “taboa” are used by regional artisans to make beautiful art craft which is exported abroad. The group is also very active in social programs focused on children and adolescents.
In 2005, Usina Coruripe passed a tough test to acquire carbon credits, which need United Nations’ approval. This was in line with the Kyoto protocol, an international agreement that establishes goals for reduction of pollutant gas emission and allows companies that generate “clean” power sources to negotiate carbon credits in the international market. Carbon credits correspond to tons of C02 not dumped in the atmosphere.
All steps in alcohol and sugar production are automated, including sugar cane washing, transportation and packing. Usina Coruripe and its branches have partnerships with the best universities in the country, such as USP, Viçosa, CTC (Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira) and Unicamp, to develop the best sugar cane technology.
Sugar cane bagasse is used to generate energy. Usina Coruripe and its branches are now self-sufficient regarding electric power. It is capable of generating enough clean energy for its own needs besides selling it. One third of the energy is used for plant consumption and irrigation systems. The other two thirds is sold to NC Energia, CEMIG and also Eletrobrás, which is a major Brazilian company in the segment, through a program supporting alternative energetic power sources. Iturama and Campo Florido branches are capable of generating close to 200,000 megawatts in one year.
Usina Coruripe seems to have an unquestionable talent for expansion. The abundant fuel and self-sustained electric power supply have contributed to that, along with a more stable economy. Montenegro explains, “Financing is easier now. We put down 20 to 30 percent and finance the rest. Years ago, banks didn’t make available this kind of money. They seem to have more money available for borrowing now and we are taking good advantage of it.” There are plans of expansion not only for the recently created branch of Carneirinho, which is expected to double its production by 2015, but also operations at União Minas branch, to begin by 2010. All of this activity will no doubt sustain Usina Coruripe as a force in the industry for years to come.