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Feeding sustainability

Article - April 24, 2012
Leader in Colombian foods industry is ready to expand

Grupo Nutresa (Nutresa) is Colombia’s leading processed foods conglomerate with a solid domestic market share of 61.1% and a strong international presence in over 74 export destinations. The group comprises 44 different companies specialized in meats, biscuits, chocolates, coffee, ice cream and pastas. 

The company has plants in eight countries, and distributes in 12. It is globally renowned for its driving principle of corporate sustainability, which it infuses throughout the group’s strategic objectives and processes. “We understand sustainability as something that is equally important economically, socially and environmentally,” says Nutresa’s President Carlos Enrique Piedrahita. “We have been convinced for many years now that we have to be responsible in our actions, not only economically with our stockholders but also with all the other interested parties.”

Nutresa’s high achievements in corporate sustainability were globally recognized when it was listed as one of the eight companies in the 2011 Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, alongside American and European giants Kraft, Nestle, Danone, Campbell and Heinz. In this annual revision of over 2,500 international companies in 57 sectors, Nutresa figured in the listing as the only food sector company from an emerging country.

When we see young Colombian businessmen today, we can see they have a very global vision from the beginning, and they think of their businesses as connected to the rest of the world in the most natural way.

Carlos Enrique Piedrahita,
President of Nutresa

Moreover, the company is a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and for three years running has been invited to participate in the annual Sustainable Asset Management (SAM) assessment, one of the world’s largest independent sustainable asset management companies specialized in the development of sustainable financial indices.

Nutresa was included in SAM’s 2011 Sustainability Yearbook and honored as the “Sector Mover” of the food industry, granted to a company for its achievements of sustainability.


One of Nutresa’s pillars pulling the company forward through the times is based on a model Mr. Piedrahita labels “Magic,” which is a method of operation geared toward innovation in products, processes and business programs, and awards the successful implementation of initiatives through its Innovative Success program. “Last year, there were almost 2,000 innovative successes in the 12 countries where we work,” says Mr. Piedrahita.

This culture of innovation is present in all of Grupo Nutresa’s companies, and is promoted through its Vidarium Center of Research into Nutrition, Health and Wellness. “Vidarium coordinates our research with that of other research centers and universities in Colombia and abroad,” explains Mr. Piedrahita.

In its tendency toward expansion and internationalization, Grupo Nutresa works beyond traditional marketing techniques to identify its consumers’ needs. “What we really have to do is to understand the dreams of our consumers so that we can offer them things that will surprise them, things that they hadn’t even imagined or ever wanted. That is where real innovation comes from,” explains Mr. Piedrahita. 

The Nutresa workforce

Stimulating its workforce and preparing its teams for international expansion is an element the company has nurtured for almost two decades. “Since the 90s, at the beginning of what in Colombia was called the economic aperture (the opening up of the economy to international competition), our companies were very proactive and seized the opportunity to go global. We started building international teams, which are ideal for entering other markets and understanding the foreign consumer,” says Mr. Piedrahita.

The company’s contribution to local agricultural farmers’ skills and productivity entrepreneurship, particularly in the cocoa and coffee sectors, is strongly felt within the local communities. Since the establishment of Nutresa’s promotion department in the 60s, its agronomists have worked hand in hand with local farmers in cocoa cultivation, sharing training and cultivation techniques so that they can become suppliers for the company. Similar programs also exist for coffee, nuts and other produce.
The workforce now totals 30,000 people, some 7,000 of which are outside Colombia. The group’s international branch directors rose through the ranks within the company, growing with it and then making international careers for themselves.
The new Colombian generation represents the future of the country and the changes it has gone through in the two decades since opening up its economy to the world.
“When we see young Colombian businessmen today, we can see they have a very global vision from the beginning, and they think of their businesses as connected to the rest of the world in the most natural way,” says Mr. Piedrahita.

FTA ratification

Nutresa’s presence in the American market continues to expand with business moves such as the 2010 acquisition of 100% of the stock of Fehr Holdings LLC, an American cookie producer and merchandiser, helping solidify its presence in the country and contributing to increasing competitiveness in the market.

Regarding the recently ratified free trade agreement (FTA) between Colombia and the United States, a hot topic in all business sectors of the country, Mr. Piedrahita is confident it will bring positive competitive benefits to the market that will boost the standard of services provided.

“A good part of the products that Colombia sells to the United States are already duty free, for example, coffee, cookies and some chocolates. On the other hand, the FTA will give us a clearer access and equal conditions with the rest of the competitors that supply the U.S., which has a stable market, the biggest one in the world,” he says. “But the effect that will benefit us the most is that we will be able to buy raw material from the U.S. – the most efficient raw material producers in the world – under the same international price conditions as our competitors: before the FTA we paid a surcharge.”