Topping and tailing shrimps for over 25 years, Vivenda do Camarão is one of Brazil’s fastest growing restaurant chains and the company’s top chefs are using their heads to maintain outstanding taste and quality and expand product lines. In the all-important decision about where to dine, if a Brazilian has a taste for shrimp he thinks Vivenda. Reuben Ford finds out why.
In a country better known for beef and barbecues, a total ban on shrimp imports affords Brazilian producers the luxury of a thriving market. One of the leading shrimp and seafood restaurants, Vivenda do Camarão, serves an average of 750 thousand customers nationwide and is growing to meet increasing demand. With 150 stores throughout Brazil and Paraguay the chain has maintained 25 percent annual growth over the last five years, putting high quality shrimp and seafood on plates at affordable prices.
IDEAS AND INAUGURATION
When Vivenda do Camarão opened its first restaurant in the Moema district of São Paulo in 1984, its concept was clear and straight forward; based on the simple idea of serving shrimp at a fair price. If ever there was a doubt about the success of a shrimp restaurant, Vivenda made up the restaurant-goers mind. The success of the approach led to the opening of more and more restaurants, and so the Vivenda chain was founded.
To date all of the stores function on the same principle: dishes are designed and produced at a 5,000-square-meter central processing center (CPA – Central Processadora de Alimentos), which uses state-of-the-art equipment and technology that produces efficient, high quality meals. “Our seafood is all prepared at the center, frozen and dispatched to the restaurants, where it is heated and served. This idea allows, not only uniform products in all of our outlets, but also affords greater quality control as the food is only handled at one central location, and simply ‘served’ at the point of sale,” explains Rodrigo Perri Co-Owner and Partner of the company.
As domestic consumption of shrimp and seafood rises, Vivenda is innovating to stay ahead of the game. With the number of restaurants all over Brazil increasing year after year, the company has taken the positive response of clients one step further. “We received many corporate requests for our meals – companies who wanted Vivenda dishes served at functions and in the work place,” says Perri. The result of growing interest in serving shrimp outside the restaurants resulted in the Food Service division of the company. Supplying frozen seafood dishes, prepared to the same high standards as the meals in the restaurants, the Food Service line satisfied a new gap in the market. “We applied our technology and know-how to a new market and increased sales,” confirms Perri. The ultra-efficient and almost instantaneous preparation of the food in the Vivenda restaurants made the dishes ideal for providing catering services for bars, hotels, motels, industrial kitchens and conference centers.
This year, Vivenda has developed this idea even further and launched the Vivenda em Casa (Vivenda at Home) line. The meals are packaged and sold for domestic consumption. “Our sales approach is one of the many differentials in our new lines. The products are sold through a network of door-to-door representatives who organize sales presentations in residential buildings, apartment complexes and hotels. The presentations include tastings and nutritional information and the customer can order straight away, online or via Vivenda’s freephone customer service center,” Perri explains.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU?
With the addition of these two new lines to Vivenda’s portfolio, more and more diners throughout Brazil are getting a taste of the company’s ready-made meals. The menu features starters, snacks, entrées, salads, pastas, risotto and a broad range of grilled and fried fish and seafood as well as traditional and specialized dishes. “We maintain a constant menu, guaranteeing our customers’ favorites and making any changes according to research and customer feedback,” Perri says.
Working closely with its consumers is important to Vivenda. Dishes can be developed for large scale production, however the company’s pricing strategy, which makes high quality and traditionally exclusive products more readily available, requires a certain volume in order to remain cost effective. Favorites such as Shrimp Stroganoff, Paella (based on the traditional Spanish dish with shrimp, mussels, squid and vegetables) and Shrimp in Four Cheese Sauce all served with rice are permanent fixtures on the menu. “Depending on the product line, packaging and seasoning of the essential dishes can vary, but all work from the same menu and are prepared to the same standards,” Perri continues. Although 80 percent of the items on the menu are shrimp dishes, Vivenda also offers salmon, cod fish, trout, tuna and other fish prepared in tradition Brazilian, Chinese and Thai style flavorings.
The recipes are formulated by top chefs at the Processing Center, which is located in Cotia, São Paulo. Vivenda employs a total staff of 1,500 at its main facility and in the restaurants located in cities and shopping malls throughout Brazil.
To maintain standards and accompany the market, growth and the increasing demand for Vivenda meals, considerable investment has been made in infrastructure. A $1.5 million nitrogen freezing tunnel was recently imported from Germany, making Vivenda the only company of its type in Latin America to possess such technology. “The new tunnel freezes the shrimp in just 10 minutes, guaranteeing maximum freshness, high productivity and efficiency,” Perri says. The technology is a catalyst in the Cook Chill system at the CPA, which cooks seafood, packages it in especially designed pouches and then flash freezes it in the tunnel. The company has also invested in updated machinery for peeling shrimp and other processing equipment that reduces preparation time and increases quality and freshness.
“From the start we prioritized quality control and the same rigorous standards are still firmly in place,” Perri remembers. The differences lie in the advanced technology that is constantly updated. Vivenda applies the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) to all stages of production, which regulate hygiene and quality control at specific stages of preparation through testing. “None of our products is dried – everything is fresh and we pride ourselves on the recognition we receive for unbeatable taste and quality,” he continues. The modern equipment at the plant maintains the texture and flavor, without allowing water or impurities to permeate the fish.
The fact that Vivenda products are approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US and in Europe is testament to the international quality standards achieved by the company. The certification is another factor that distinguishes the company from its competitors. In fact, Vivenda is well prepared for more exports in the future. Having opened its first restaurant outside Brazil in Paraguay a second international store in the Dominican Republic is scheduled to open later in 2011.
“We have complete control over our business. We have secure partnerships with five seafood suppliers and we are the exclusive suppliers of meals to our restaurants, food service and Vivenda em Casa lines. Our products and recipes are all prepared in-house,” says Perri. The vertical integration of Vivenda has been a key factor in its considerable growth which was unaffected by economic difficulties in 2009. In fact, it was in 2009 that the company invested in refurbishing the factory and machinery as well as increasing the number of self-owned and franchised restaurants in Brazil.
Bringing quality to the table is second nature for Vivenda. Despite its success, the company has kept the orders coming in through extending its know-how in the restaurant to the commercial and domestic kitchen. With exciting developments year after year, what started as a modest effort to serve shrimp to a growing public, has become a household name with plans to increase markets in Brazil and abroad. As more and more people think shrimp, Vivenda do Camarão is thinking big.