`Acesur's Gonzalo Guillén: Spain is "Exporting the Wrong Image" - Olive Oil Times

Acesur's Gonzalo Guillén: Spain is "Exporting the Wrong Image"

Oct. 10, 2011
Julie Butler

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Spain’s Acesur Group is among the world’s top five of olive oil com­pa­nies, export­ing to 80 coun­tries and owner of pop­u­lar Spanish brands Coosur and La Española.

In an inter­view with Spain’s El Economista, its CEO, Gonzalo Guillén, spoke frankly of Spain’s olive oil image prob­lem and his com­pa­ny’s plans for inter­na­tional expan­sion.

Spanish Market

Acesur’s con­sol­i­dated rev­enue rose to more than 400 mil­lion euros ($537 mil­lion) in 2010. A decade ago, the Spanish mar­ket rep­re­sented 85 per­cent of its busi­ness, now it’s less than half. Last year was the first in which exports and pack­ag­ing out­side Spain accounted for the major­ity of its rev­enue.

The vol­ume of olive oil sales is declin­ing in gen­eral in Spain, not just the price, which sug­gests that peo­ple are now watch­ing their spend­ing more closely, accord­ing to Guillén. Acesur is hav­ing to do all kinds of jug­gling” yet in the Spanish mar­ket there’s not much room to move, due to com­pe­ti­tion with other name brands and the generic lines.”

The lat­ter have soared in pop­u­lar­ity in the last decade, partly thanks to very aggres­sive posi­tion­ing” and now account for more than 65 per­cent of olive oil sales in Spain, he said.

Given the domes­tic sit­u­a­tion, Acesur is plan­ning for increased diver­si­fi­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly by expand­ing glob­ally and increas­ing exports. Growth in Spain is com­pli­cated, it’s always at the cost of oth­ers,” he said. For that rea­son, we are focus­ing on the inter­na­tional mar­ket, where growth is not at some­one else’s cost, or at least not some­one from within Spain.”

One of the biggest prob­lems we have in this sec­tor, apart from low retail prices, is excess pro­duc­tion capac­ity. For exam­ple, just with our own pack­ag­ing plants we could alone cover the entire Spanish mar­ket. That makes invest­ment in new plants prob­lem­atic and is why we focus on mod­ern­iz­ing and adapt­ing exist­ing ones.”

Acesur’s prod­ucts Coosur and La Española are Spain’s mar­ket lead­ers in 1 liter EVOO sales. It also hold sec­ond place for refined oils and sun­flower oil, the later with Coosol, and has added new, related prod­ucts, such as vine­gar and sauces, to cre­ate a closer rela­tion­ship with cus­tomers and more sym­bio­sis, said Guillén.

Generic brands

About a third of the vol­ume of oil pack­aged by Acesur is des­tined for resale as a generic brand. Guillén con­trasts this with the fact that in Spain the mar­ket is two-thirds generic brands and the rest name brands.

We could expand a lot with generic brands but we don’t want to grow at any prices. We want to expand in that sec­tor in par­al­lel with the expan­sion of our own lines.”

Strengthening its own brand was impor­tant, because that was the key to ongo­ing inno­va­tion and improve­ments in pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing, but the real­ity was that there was fierce com­pe­ti­tion among dis­trib­u­tors in the generic brand sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly with sta­ples such as milk and cook­ing oil, Guillén said.

I meet many (for­eign) clients who’ve been to Spanish super­mar­kets and been sur­prised that most (olive oil) is sold in the generic for­mat. They think that they should do the same, because Spain, which sells the most olive oil, does it this way.”

Basically, we are export­ing a false image, that detracts from our exports, and that’s not good.”

Olive oil is one of the few things in which Spain is a world leader, yet peo­ple come here and see that it’s one of the cheap­est prod­ucts on super­mar­ket shelves.”

International Market

Acesur sells direct to 80 coun­tries and indi­rectly to more than 120 and is already in all the for­eign mar­kets it wants to be in, accord­ing to Guillén. But it would like to be a big­ger player in some and to rein­force its sales divi­sion with an office in Asia.

We have a strong pres­ence in Central and South America, Ireland, the U.K., Germany, Poland, Australia and New Zealand.”

Guillén said Acesur was so far a small player in the U.S., the biggest olive oil mar­ket out­side the E.U., but had poten­tial for growth and in the last year had been build­ing up its pres­ence there.

As for Europe, it sees a big­ger role for itself mostly in coun­tries with a pre-exist­ing cul­ture of olive oil con­sump­tion, such as France and Central Europe.

Italy

Guillén said that in Italian super­mar­kets, generic brands occu­pied less space and there was more vari­ety of name brands and sup­pli­ers. We can’t com­plain that the Italians are so strong in the export mar­ket because it starts at home, where they know how to pro­tect their brands. They are very care­ful of the image they project. For exam­ple, you’d be very unlikely to see EVOO in a plas­tic bot­tle there.”

While maybe 30 years ago there was a qual­ity dif­fer­ence, today Spanish olive oils were equal to or bet­ter than Italian ones and the issue came down to prod­uct pre­sen­ta­tion, he said.

Renewable Energy

Acesur has diver­si­fied with a renew­able energy divi­sion span­ning three branches: cogen­er­a­tion, bio­mass and biodiesel. That’s where we’ve focused the major­ity of our invest­ment in the last eight or nine years, It now accounts for 15 per cent of our total turnover, Guillén said.

With three bio­mass plants in Andalusia, Acesur can process 500,000 tons a year of waste from oil pro­duc­tion, known as alpe­rujo. However things are not going so well in biodiesel. Guillén said that due to unfair com­pe­ti­tion from Argentina and Malaysia” that whole sec­tor was in a del­i­cate state. He hoped that the Spanish gov­ern­ment would soon leg­is­late to address the sit­u­a­tion because after all the energy, hope and resources we’ve ded­i­cated to this, we’ve yet to see results.”

Click the image to view the inter­view (in Spanish)

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