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Top honors raise profile of premium foods on international markets

Article - October 17, 2015

Despite its relatively small size, Uruguay is standing out as the new super high quality food producer. Wine, olive oil, milk powder, and blueberries are among the many fine products that Uruguay is exporting to the world

When it comes to food and agriculture, Uruguay holds a number of assets that make it a top priority for foreign investors. Its weather, lands, long-term commercial agreements, and stability make this country a small yet worthy player. Furthermore, Uruguayan minister Tabaré Aguerre has now consolidated and improved his Ministry of Stockbreeding, Agriculture, and Fisheries – the three sectors currently accounting for some two-thirds of Uruguayan exports and representing an exchange of around $6.2 billion. Reflecting rises in productivity and efficiency, Uruguay’s 3 million people have gone from producing food for 9 million people in 2005 to food for 28 million a decade later. And with the ultimate goal of being able to eventually feed 50 million people, it is clearly an industry worth investing in.

Agroland S.A., one of the leading food producers in Uruguay attracting international attentions, originally started as a family business in 1999 and now has more than 4,300 hectares focused mainly on the production of olive oil through its Colinas de Garzón brand, and wine from its Bodega Garzón and Bodega Brisas wineries. However, its portfolio is wide and includes other products such as dried fruits, honey, and olives, as well as other versatile programs such as the touristic Experiencias Garzón (Garzón Experiences) and sustainable energies such as wind power.

With more than 500 hectares of olive trees, the quality of Colinas de Garzón’s olive oil production earned the company 15th place in the 2014-2015 World’s Best Companies Producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil ranking (following several Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese producers, Agroland attained an outstanding global position as the best non-European oil mill), while Colinas de Garzón’s Italian Blend was ranked #40 in the 2014-2015 ranking of the 50 Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils Worldwide (being the only item from the New World included in this ranking). In 2014-2015 Colinas de Garzón won more than 50 of the top honors worldwide, resulting in the seventh consecutive year the Uruguayan brand of extra virgin olive oil was recognized at the highest international levels.

Without being a country with tradition in this type of product, Agroland has made olive oil a success by exporting it at lower prices than more established producers such as Spain and Italy. President of Agroland Alejandro Pedro Bulgheroni says, “The most well known olive oil is Italian, then Spanish, and then Uruguayan… nobody knows about it, people do not even realize that there is olive oil in Uruguay. So we are trying to develop and improve our image as olive oil and wine producers.”

Mr. Bulgheroni adds that he also saw entering wine production as a motivating challenge. “There were no vineyards in the area, after thorough studies we started to prepare the master plan in 2006,” he says, referring to what he calls “Uruguay’s little Tuscany.” Today, Garzón’s wines are sold and drank in 24 countries around the world, with the U.S. and Brazil being the main selling targets for Agroland.

“At Bodega Garzón we are pioneering a new wine region, a new winery, and a new concept in agriculture,” he explains. “When we first saw this magic place, we immediately set the goal of using sustainable farming practices and the most current technology to produce world-class wines that represent Garzon’s unique vineyard biodiversity, soil structure, sun exposure, and proximity to the ocean. This is our sixth harvest, and the first in the new winery. We are extremely delighted to celebrate this milestone.”

Uruguay’s rich soils and climate also enabled Agroland’s related company Gamorel S.A. to harvest 1,576 tons of blueberries last year from its “El Asombro” farm.

Aside from the development of olives, grapes, and blueberries, another related company, Estancias del Lago S.A., a milk powder business, will reach a production of 20,000 tons of milk powder every year, mainly bound for international markets. Thanks to this new branch of food production, Uruguay will benefit from a major increase in its exports, as well as the creation of more than 400 jobs. Instead of exporting cattle and grains, the company will export a final industrialized product of high quality.

Alejandro Bulgheroni, President of Agroland S.A.

Focusing on renewable energies is paramount to keep the agriculture industry of Uruguay healthy and strong. “It is important to have energy produced from bio-fuels, wind and sun, as well as having storage for the peak times of energy consumption, instead of depending on the networks,” explains Mr. Bulgheroni.

The key in this sense is developing a sustainable system that allows agro-industrial projects to become self-sufficient. As Mr. Bulgheroni highlights, “It is necessary to have an active connection with the national network of energy, so we can buy when we need to and sell energy when we have surplus.”

Another project is the reuse and recycling of animal waste, which is processed and transformed into organic fertilizers used in the growing fields. “This is a sustainable project”, points out Agroland’s president.

Likewise, Uruguay is constantly investing in research and development of new technologies in order to improve their energy and sustainability systems. What works best for the environment, works best for their precious food industry.

As Mr. Bulgheroni summarizes, “The good position achieved by each one of our products relies mainly on our commitment to the highest quality standards in everything we do.”

This, together with other important assets such as their drive for sustainable systems, innovation, and integrity, seem to have given Uruguay the formula for its success.

Slowly but steadily, this rather small country surrounded by South American giants such as Brazil and Argentina is becoming a trusted name internationally when it comes to quality food.