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"Top range "Solarelli" changes its name and look to approach Middle and Far East"

"Italy: With "Solemio" Mediterraneo Groups heads towards Asia"

If it's true that orange and its yellowish nuances mean good luck in Asian countries, it must be noted that the Mediterraneo Group couldn't have made a better choice for its line "Solemio", created purposely for the Middle and Far East markets. It can't be denied that, what was named MOC Mediterraneo in 1998, was born under a good star.

The proof is that today - fifteen years later and after its transformation into Mediterraneo Group in 2012 - the network remains the only active out of the seven MOCs created at the end of the 1990s. Which should make you think. In addition to the good star, there's a successful entrepreneurial path based on the "high quality and guarantee of supplied products, varietal innovation, publicity and communication", as Renzo Piraccini, CEO of the Aporfruit Group, explained.

This was discussed on 24th September 2013 during the "Mediterraneo Group: una rete d'imprese per l'ortofrutta italiana di qualità" (Mediterraneo Group: a network for high quality Italian produce) meeting held at the Grand Hotel in Cesenatico. A meeting with a double objective: presenting new future strategies and making an assessment on the situation so far.

Ilenio Bastioni, director of Mediterraneo Group, started off the evening by reminding everyone of the "tracks along which the strategy of the Group runs- brand policy and the development of new markets." And the turnover confirms these choices: from 26.7 million in 2011 to 29.5 in 2012, and it seems that this year will grow some more. If we look at volumes in 2012, carrots led the way with 35% of the total, strawberries followed with 21%, then melons with 9% and peaches/nectarines with 8%.

The top of the range is reserved for the "Solarelli" brand, and 
each partner has the exclusive use for the products of their range. The objective is to be at the very top of the supply and, by looking at the figures, things look pretty good, as Solarelli earned 2% of turnover in 2011, which became 4% in 2012 and 7% in August 2013. Volume-wise, the first four products are baby carrots, Sabrina strawberries, red chicory from Treviso and blood oranges.

Ilenio Bastoni, director of Mediterraneo Group.

Talking about export strategies, Bastoni explained how they went from Solarelli to "Solemio". "On the one hand, the Far East faced some difficulties pronouncing the letter r, on the other hand, there was a strong impulse in the Chinese market which made us want to be available there right from the start." In addition, the name Solemio reminds people of the chorus of a famous Neapolitan song, which is no small thing in commercial strategies. 

Among the objectives of the next three years, Bastoni talked about the entrance of other companies into the group leading to more than €50 million turnover, raising exports from 17 to 40% and increasing the share of Solarelli sales from 7 to 15% of the turnover.

His words were echoed by Pietro Paolo Ciardiello (director of Coop Sole) and Antonio Alfonsi (director of Cooperative COLT.OR.), both partners of Mediterraneo Group. Two different stories which are similar for their passion, awareness and sharing. 

A view of the hall.

Ciardiello, whose cooperative is active in a not-so-favourable territory (in Parete, in Lazio), reminisced the fifty years of the cooperative, celebrated in 2012 with the creation of a new plant. Figures followed: in 2010/2013, volumes increased by 23% and turnover by 25%. 450 hectares, 65% of which are in greenhouses, and 101 partners for a total of 200 employees and 1,000 operators.

If strawberries are the main product of Coop Sole with more than 8,000 tons, melons too achieved excellent results - 3,000 tons for a fruit that wasn't even cultivated in the area until 10/15 years ago - as well as stone fruit, which reached 4,000 tons with peaches, nectarines and Percoca peaches.

Pietro Paolo Ciardiello, director of Coop Sole.

Coop Sole is also the testimonial of brand policy, in line with the philosophy of Mediterraneo Group: the claim "Baciati dal Sole" (Sunkissed) and a delicate packaging were recently chosen for Percoca peaches from Campania. A strategy which had already been successful with Sabrina strawberries, currently the favourite variety together with Candonga ones.

As regards innovation, Ciardiello reminded that, during the current season, three new melon varieties were introduced and that, in order to widen the production and the supply of strawberries, Fortuna, Benicia, Antilla and Primoris will be introduced. Finally, Coop Sole is also interested in small fruits such as raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

The history of the Cooperative COLT.OR. is more recent, as it was founded in Avezzano (Abruzzo) in 2006 by 9 entrepreneurs from the Fucino Plain. From a turnover of €13.3 million in 2010, it should reach €20 million in 2013, a 20% increase with respect to 2012. Thanks to its 200 employees, COLT.OR. grows and sells carrots (20,000 tons/year), fennel, endive, chicory, vegetables and potatoes. A range of products made possible by the integration of different areas, which is essential to balance the length of the campaign, often penalised in Abruzzo because of weather conditions.

Antonio Alfonsi, director of COLT.OR.

Among the objectives reached on the organic front, Alfonsi mentioned Almaverde Bio, through which the carrot line was developed and new potato and onion lines were set up. In particular, Alfonsi stressed the 10-day shelf-life of potatoes without the need for preservatives. In addition, the challenge regarding increased yields and the improvement of organoleptic qualities will see the cooperative work together with Mediterraneo Group to experiment on new varieties. 

Renzo Piraccini then talked about the figures and the results achieved by the members of the Group. Despite the fact that collected quantities decreased by 16%, the turnover of Apofruit increased by 7% and exports are 42%, +17% with respect to 2012. Overall, the year was good and was not penalised by the bad trend of peaches and nectarines.

The performances of Canova were excellent, as the 2013 turnover should surpass €70 million. This result is due to the increase of exports and to the success of Canova France. As regards volumes, the increase is 4.7%.

Renzo Piraccini, CEO of the Apofruit group.

In June 2013, Almaverde Bio recorded +10% with respect to 2012. Piraccini also explained that, "there were increases that reached 20% depending on the area." This data confirms the importance of communication and of brand image. "In order for organic produce to sell, it must be clearly visible." 

And it is precisely from Almaverde Bio - which today counts more than 400 products - that Solarelli takes its inspiration. "It is a successful path that enabled partners to become leaders in the sector." The objective of Solarelli is in fact to develop a range of high quality Italian products within a single brand. A project linking PGI products to their territory of origin, connected by a single strategy.

The path also comprises of varietal innovation: Piraccini wanted to remind everyone of the partnership with the leading breeders for seedless grapes worldwide as well as the commitment towards confetti tomatoes. This are all tiles part of a wider mosaic to create value for the market, the Group and its producers.

As regards exports, two fronts were mentioned - the Persian Gulf and the Far East. On the latter in particular it was said that, "we are doing an enormously demanding job, especially from an organisational point of view, and we are placing our bets on kiwis." Things will be a little easier for the Middle East, because there are no producers in the area and therefore there won't be competition with local produce.

According to Piraccini, the experience of Mediterraneo Group is important because it is a testimony of a common path between cooperatives and private companies who share the same entrepreneurial line.

Tiberio Rabboni, Emilia-Romagna councillor for Agriculture, during his speech. 

Tiberio Rabboni, Emilia-Romagna councillor for Agriculture, praised Mediterraneo Group and mentioned its philosophy as something to think about, especially in a world - like the produce one - where things must be considered in general. He also defined the export expansion strategy as excellent but also invited everyone to keep the needs of the first market, the domestic one at the centre.

Author: Emanuele Mùrino

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