When Daniel Hirota’s grandfather, Motoichi Oki, arrived as a young man in Brazil from his native Japan, he dreamt of continuing his family’s sake-making tradition. But, as with so many things in life, his dreams took another turn.
The company he founded in 1945 in the town Presidente Prudente in the state of São Paulo began as a distillery of flavored wines and would go on to become one of the best-known producers in the country. Over 63 years, and across three generations, always guided by a strong commitment to meet consumer demand for quality, flavor, health and practicality, this family business has grown and transformed. In an effort to promote more healthful products, Wilson has diminished its participation in the beverage market and has an ever increasing focus on food products.
Hirota, who essentially grew up in the family business, has been working in an official capacity at the company since 2006, and is now the chief financial officer. His father, Domigos Hirota is the company president. In response to changing times and changing customer demand, the business has passed through various phases over time and, “in the 1970s we saw that the demand for alcoholic beverages was not as great as it had been so we began moving away from beverages, especially alcoholic and concentrating on more healthful products. We are always seeking to increase our activity in the food sector.”
With an eye on attracting customers and providing them with quality and convenience, Wilson makes a point of keeping abreast of market trends and demand. In fact, the company has recently undergone a renovation of sorts that included updating brands, product lines and packaging designs. Hirota says, “We are always coming out with new products and have launched new package designs, logos, and presentations over the last two years.” He says all brands and products were evaluated and that the company examined market standards and strategies, presentation and sometimes even questioned established concepts in order to be more effective. “We have re-launched nearly all our products,” Hirota notes. As an example he cites Wilson’s Mitusa brand soy sauce, which until recently was still in line with a concept from the company’s early days. He points out, “It wasn’t clear what the consumer could do with the soy sauce. So we now specify which one is best for salads, sushi, grilling, etc., facilitating consumer understanding of uses of product.” The stand-up pouch, which is rapidly becoming very popular in Brazil, is among the manifestations of the new face of Wilson on store shelves. The restructuring also included company management and, while Wilson remains a family business, some positions were filled by professionals from the market.
Not only products, packaging and management were touched by the wave of renewal. Between the years 2007 and 2008, the company invested around R20 million (or approximately US$10 million) in equipment and improvements in its facilities. These physical improvements at the company’s two factories, both in the state of São Paulo, have resulted in increased quality and production. The special tomato processing machines purchased directly from Italy have enabled the company to nearly double its capacity to process fresh tomatoes into pulp. This pulp is just one product in the approximately 10,000 tons of product a month that comes out of Wilson’s plants.
ON SHELVES ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Wilson’s products are mainly aimed at the rapidly growing Brazilian middle class. The company sells its products mostly to regional retail stores, especially small and medium-size stores. Wholesalers and distributors also account for a significant amount of Wilson’s sales. Hirota boasts that Wilson’s products are on the shelves “throughout nearly all of Brazil, except for some of the hard to reach areas like Amazonas.” Given the impressive size of the country, that’s no small feat. Business is concentrated in the South and Southeast of the country. Keeping its focus on food stuffs, Wilson outsources shipping and delivery.
Wilson, which now has 600 employees, has an extensive range of products and product lines. The company’s transformation from its original incarnation as a distillery is evidenced in the fact that food now accounts for 95 percent of production. Hirota reports that powdered drinks, soy sauce and condiments, including ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, mayonnaise, and tomato sauce, are among Wilson’s best sellers. In 2008, Wilson launched a line of microwave popcorn with licensed images of The Simpsons on the label. He says this effort to connect with the public seems to be working and that sales are good. We can expect new items and new lines in 2009, but Hiroto says he can’t give specifics.
Inspired by a sense of concern for the environment, Hirota says that “we are always trying to improve our practices and seek out renewable energy sources. This year we bought a wood-fired boiler which burns renewable wood.” He adds that all waste is treated in accordance with environmental law and norms. Wilson’s commitment to decency is seen in its socially responsible activity too. Hirota explains that Wilson contributes to a group which supports local institutions such as public health clinics and hospitals. The company is proud to display on its labels the stamp that certifies the business as a contributor to this important cause, mainly in the two cities in which its employees live. Wilson follows trends for practicality but Hirota says that the company is always searching for ways to become more environmentally friendly. It is even studying ways to recycle the stand-up pouch packaging and exploring biodegradable packing materials.
Currently, Hirota points out, around 5 percent of sales comes from exports. He notes that sales in Brazil are the company’s main focus but it does sell in Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay in South America and on occasion in Eastern Europe and Africa. Looking ahead, he foresees some expansion in the company’s range, especially to nearby South American countries, and he also sees a lot of room for growth within Brazil.
CONTINUED QUALITY LEADS TO STEADY GROWTH
Hirota reports that the company has been in a growing phase for the past five years with an 8 to 10 percent rise in annual sales during each of the past three years. He is proud to announce hearty growth of nearly 20 percent in 2008. Hirota says that Wilson will probably move a bit more slowly and cautiously in 2009, in response to the current difficult economic situation worldwide. Yet he remains positive: “We’re hoping to maintain 8 to 10 percent growth for this year.”
Hirota is proud of Wilson’s continued success and recognizes that the family’s philosophy has been a contributing factor. He explains that the company has always been based on a philosophy of ethics, respect, and valuing people and strategic partnerships with suppliers and shippers for example. He says, “We try to work with our suppliers/strategic partners to find the best solutions.” And he cites Wilson’s relationship with Duas Rodas, a large supplier of flavorings, in place since the company’s founding. He reports that the two companies work together for mutual benefit whenever possible. And he reminds us that Wilson always “aims to make flavorful, healthy, practical, high quality products.”