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Barilla’s sustainable business strategy to support the wellness economy

Interview - May 19, 2016

Putting people and the planet over profits and corporate greed has helped Barilla become a world leader in the pasta industry, and an ambassador for ‘Made in Italy’. Luca Barilla, Vice-Chairman of the Barilla Group, discusses the expanding global pasta market and the ethical foundations underpinning the activities of family-owned business.

 

LUCA BARILLA, VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE BARILLA GROUP
LUCA BARILLA | VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE BARILLA GROUP

Can you please give us a snapshot of the pasta market in 2015 and what are the expectations for 2016?

In Italy, pasta consumption remains the highest in the world at around 25 kilos per capita a year, but it has been falling gradually over the past 15 years or so. Fortunately, abroad, people are discovering that pasta is a very tasty, healthy, affordable and sustainable choice.

Consumers are buying more and more of our products, as they know that the best pasta is Italian because of our tradition and the quality of our wheat. We harvest and select the best wheat in the world and we do so with our passion, know-how and technology.

Outside Italy, the pasta market is growing and export is what is really driving the growth of all pasta producers. Those general trends also apply for Barilla and we are in fact doing very well outside of Italy.

 

In terms of export, what are the markets with the highest growth potential and what is the role of the American market in Barillas’ future growth?

I would say that the most important market outside Italy for our pasta is the American market. We started to grow rapidly in the United States about 20 years ago. We invested significantly in that country and now we are by far the market leader. Our total turnover in the US is around $600 million per year and our market share is about 30%.

We can grow even further in the years to come because American consumers really appreciate our products and relate to our brand as a synonym of Italian history and culture – and a strong reputation.

 

The United States is also where Barilla launched its revolutionary strategy with the Barilla Restaurants. Can you tell us more about this initiative and how is it going in New York?

We, the three Barilla brothers – Guido, Paolo, and I – wanted to let the people outside of our traditional markets, like Italy, France and Germany, to experience the quality of the Mediterranean diet and also to show them the history of the Barilla Group, the top quality and leading pasta producer in the world. Barilla Restaurants are the perfect venue to discover our heritage values that are and will always be at the core of our business.

It is essential for us to promote and act as ambassadors of the Mediterranean diet in the US because Americans are increasingly interested in healthy food choices. The Mediterranean diet is the best in the world for two main reasons: it’s good for people and for the planet.

Pasta is made of just wheat and water. All we need are natural resources, namely rain and sun. Pasta is inexpensive, and very healthy. It is very popular also because it can be eaten in many different ways and it is a taste that everybody can love. We continuously invest in pasta because it’s healthy for both for people and the planet. .

“Good for You, Good for the Planet.” This tagline really represents what Barilla stands for, and what we have been doing since the foundation of our company. Pasta is good for you not only for nutritional values but also for its taste. Good for the planet means that we want to do our job in the best way, by taking care also of the interests of the planet. The whole business model of Barilla is now aligned with this philosophy.

 

Food security is one of the most compelling global challenges and Barilla plays an important role on this aspect. Can you please tell us more about the activities and origin of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation (BCFN)?

Barilla has always been ruled by the will to produce a wellness economy and not a finance economy. We must raise awareness about the world’s nutritional and environmental problems and cannot be driven only by profit maximization. We are a family-owned company. We are obviously a wealthy family but for us the most important thing is not money, but to be considered as good people, a good family running a respectable company.

The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) was born because we wanted to better understand and raise awareness around the big and complex food issues of our time. It’s a real paradox that so many people in the world still go to bed hungry, while so many others eat too much or waste food. 795 million people suffer from famine every year while 2.1 billion are obese or overweight. And think about all the fertile land used to feed cars and animals instead of people!

We feel the responsibility to work together with all stakeholders in the public and private sectors to collaborate and act to re-balance these paradoxes.

It is essential to spread awareness about these global issues. We have been working on it since 2009 and we’ll keep investing in BCFN. However, I’d like to underline that we invested in sustainability even before this concept became a major global trend. Pietro Barilla, my father, instilled these values in us. One of the messages we still base our philosophy and working ethics on is what my father used to say: “give people food that you would give your own children.”

There’s much more than merely profit. Everything related to sustainability, health, and nutrition comes first as those are all factors shaping the wellbeing of communities all around the world.

 

This message really comes across out of all the activities that you do in order to have an active role in terms of sustainable development. Recalling your philosophy of “Good for You, Good for the Planet,” could you please tell us more about the strategy you are pursuing and the achievements you would like to realize by 2020?

First of all, we are not interested in getting richer and richer, but rather better and better. We’re not a listed company, so we don’t have to worry about maximizing profits all the time to feed our share price. Of course we want to grow, but we have to do it responsibly and show that it is possible.

On the “Good for You” front, we want to help people live better by promoting healthy food choices in line with the food pyramid. On “Good for the Planet,” we want to reduce our impact on planet Earth by offering food products at the base of the environment pyramid.



What we truly believe will be a catalyst of our growth in the long-term is our commitment to people’s health and that of the environment. People around the world are more and more sensitive about global food issues and less interested about the money companies make.

 

This is a very interesting point to highlight for our American audience, as they are more accustomed to the corporate culture and public listed companies…

I really get astonished when I read some declarations from CEOs of big corporations from all over the world when they say, “My job is to add value to the shareholders.” The main objective of the company should be to do its job to the best of its capabilities, which doesn’t necessarily mean profit all the time.

I truly believe that one of the reasons why our world is in a bad shape, with huge rates of inequality and economic disparity, is because of greed and speculation. Since the inception of Barilla, part of our profits has always been redistributed to the communities where our factories are located.

 

Barilla is definitely one of Italy’s strongest ‘Made in Italy’ ambassadors. What does that mean to you personally?

I agree. I would say that Italian people are different from other people in other countries especially for the emotions they are able to express. At Barilla, one of the emotions we value the most is the passion we put in our job.

Many Italian companies are very successful abroad because they’re able to express very strongly the passion through their work. Barilla is one of those companies, I believe. Consumers want to feel those values in the products they purchase.

“Made in Italy” means beauty. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful country that has had an important role in history for centuries and will continue to attract people from every corner of the world to come and explore the amazing historic and artistic heritage, as well as our unique culinary culture and quality of life. 

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