Interview by Sigma Biotech to Antonio Caro
We will know with this interview the insights of a company with a high degree of specialization, and professionalization in all its processes, which take care of every detail in both production as well as distribution of natural casings, in order to be a world leader within the sector.
Antonio Caro, director of United Caro (previously called Ecotrip), explains how a family business created more than seven decades ago has had such a spectacular growth in recent years that has made them reinvent the structure and operation to adapt to a business model that should respond to much more extensive market where the fight for the price is one of the competitive weapons in the sector without losing the traditional origin and artisan.
In fact, its main strategic objective in short term is internationalization, for which the opening of United Caro headquarters in foreign countries is foreseen.
Antonio Caro concludes that one of the keys to his company growth is the commitment to R & D. In fact, he has been working for several months on a project with Sigma Biotech for development of a totally innovative new product that will impact the casing market.
“Innovation is the only certain bet to gain competitiveness and distinction for longer period”
United Caro is a company dedicated to production and distribution of natural casings. Explain us in more details how the casings are made, what they are used for and, furthermore, what type of clients they target.
Intestines are natural casings used for centuries to fill in meat stuffing. Actually, an intestine is a digestive tube originated from a pig, a cow or a sheep. Not only do they act as a container for better preservation, they are also the true creators of the great taste of sausages, helping in the curing process and enhancing the organoleptic characteristics of this type of products. The guts have many advantages because they are edible, very elastic, resistant and do not provide unwanted flavors, so they are an essential complement to improve the quality of the meat.
Although stuffing with casings is nothing new, there are different types of calibers, brines and spices that make latent the differences between the qualities of one casing from another. Starting with ECOTRIP, we bet to differentiate ourselves with a line of products based on quality the way that sausage manufacturers/processors have the best possible addition to their meat and, together, make the perfect sausage.
Almost 70 years of experience guarantee Grupo Caro.
Q: Tell us how ECOTRIP appeared, where were the origins?
A: Until reaching what nowadays is United Caro, the company has gone through a very important transformation process. In fact, the great creator of our business was my father, Antonio Caro Valero, in 1970 he decided to embark on commercialization of casings and agricultural products for the meat sector. He was in charge of casing distribution to different slaughterhouses that were situated in our town, Ferreira, as well as throughout Baza; the distribution to other areas was limited a lot because of lack of means.
As it happened in many businesses that started at that time, the beginnings were always made with very traditional processes due to the low level of industrialization existing in those years, although in reality the current treatment of casings throughout the world has not gone very far from what was done in its origins then.
My father was the one who put the first stone in the history of our company and a new dawn of the second generation we were those who continue working and betting on a valued product for the meat industry.
I always look back and remember where the origins of our company took place; that helps me to value much more what ECOTRIP is today. It is necessary to know where we come from in order to know into what we want to turn our business.
Q: Challenges, overcoming, achievements, problems have been raised throughout these years…
A: Of course, the professionalization of a company raises from the moment you decide to implement, new goals, challenges, achievements and daily overcoming but it also entails many problems.
There are always aspects that you do not count on at the beginning. Although it seems an incongruity, one of the most complicated moments have been experienced with the growth of the company. In the last three years, the company has grown at rates of over 40% per year, in financial as well as in human resources; it has forced to carry out a restructuring and a very important professionalization in the company. This process, which is still ongoing, is being much more complicated to manage than expected, especially, in terms of changes in personnel, departments and staff restructuring; but despite the difficulties, we are very happy because the fruits of this hard work are already coming. We like challenges and nobody said it was going to be easy.
Despite this, I highlight much more positive things than negative ones. For example, one of the most important achievements for our company has been the creation of the brand ECOTRIP, which embraces 100% of casing products, since for the rest of agro-alimentary products intended to butchers, like machines, saws, spices, onion, cutlery, commercialize under the brand Grupo Caro. The creation of this new brand has been extremely delicate, where our slogan ‘Naturally healthy’ encompasses the naturalness of our product and its development process. I think the company has great value thanks to this new brand that differentiates us from the rest of competitors.
In addition, the creation of an effective commercial and manufacturing network has not been an easy task. In fact, it is a process that we continue to build today and that is basic to our future growth. And it is that ECOTRIP, as it is, went from being a retailing company to a manufacturer in a very short time, with its own distribution chain, and it has been one of the biggest challenges achieved up to this date.
Q: : It is often said that we learn better from mistakes than from the successes. In your case, is that also the case?
A: You always learn from mistakes rather than from successes and, moreover, you learn much better. In our case, such explosive growth we have had in recent years has forced us to make very important decisions to turn the company into a strong and robust structure, in order it would be prepared for new challenges that will arise in the future. And until that moment maybe we were not prepared to grow so brightly. This type of growth with a more appropriate organization at the time, would have been a much lighter process, but fortunately I think we have managed these changes in a very correct and sensible way, valuable experience that serves us for the future.
It is always nice to grow and be prepared for it, and ECOTRIP is ready to continue emerging in the sector.
Q: Tell us about the news of ECOTRIP. What business figure does the company represent? In how many countries are they present? Is there competition in this sector?
A: ECOTRIP is today the third national producer. For us it is quite an achievement to be in this position within the casing market and more if we take into account that in 2007, the year in which the company changed course and decided that it wanted to be what it is today, it did not have an extremely important weight within the sector to compete with large companies. Today we are a benchmark in the sector and we have the ability to compete with the big companies in the industry.
In fact, our figures are the best endorsement of our work. We closed 2015 with sales of 7.5 million euros and we have a forecast of 8.8 million for 2016, what should be a new year of growth and improvement within the sector.
The presence of our company in fifteen countries (Spain, Portugal, France, Morocco, Argentina, Brazil, China, Italy, Belgium or Germany, among others) is a strong asset to continue the path of growth achieved so far.
Although it seems hard to believe, it is a sector with a lot of competition. In fact, ECOTRIP has managed to make its suppliers its own competitors, which demonstrates the existing ferocity for privileged positions within this industry that has more and more agents.
Q: Where is ECOTRIP going strategically speaking?
A: The main strategic objective of our company is internationalization. Although we already have presence in fifteen countries, our goal is opening of new headquarters, canceling from the market some distributors and intermediaries. The idea is clear: to reach directly the producer having its own presence in different countries, which will allow us to guarantee the best possible product quality and the achievement of synergies with customers, reinforcing and strengthening trade relations with them through our brand in the first person. In fact, this year, we will open two new subsidiaries of ECOTRIP in Brazil and France, which will help us in this process of internationalization that is so important for us since the Spanish market has less movement today.
Q: And what does investment in R & D involve in this strategy?
The entry into new projects and markets is impossible if you do not bet on R & D. If in the end you do what all companies, without contributing anything new and that is not differentiating, you are one more in the market. Therefore, we must differentiate ourselves from competition, seeking a productive improvement for our clients and allowing them a greater profitability with new products. If you rely only on buying and selling, or on manufacturing what others already do but at a lower cost and without benefit to what already exists, you can never grow in a sustainable way. On the other hand, if you develop products with which you provide solutions to customers, within you see the value that your products have created and who entitle their own identity, success will come sooner or later.
I am very clear that ECOTRIP will never compete for price, but for quality and differentiation in its product portfolio and, for that, the only way to do it is to bet on R & D. This point is another key factor for us within the company’s strategy for the coming years. Recently they have inaugurated facilities that have the latest technology for the development of their activity.
Q: What impulse is going to assume this new plant and what are the objectives to achieve by betting on the development of these new facilities and their comprehensive reform?
A: With the new plant, we will double the current production and storage capacity, mainly, in addition to granting a new identity for the company. For the first year of operation, we want to lay the foundations for future growth, which will help us a lot in the process of internationalization of the company. As I have said before, in Spain we still have movement but not as much as we can grow in the foreign market. Therefore, we will have a cold room with a capacity for 4,000 barrels and a warehouse for 750 pallets. In addition, the new processing room or workshop has a capacity for 16 people working online with our products, with new calibration tables and taps for treating casings and tubing machines, which will give us greater flexibility and versatility in the processes of elaboration.
Q: In this sense, does a company like Sigma Biotech, enables to be more competitive?
A: No doubt. It is very important that the company in which you outsource part of your R & D has the same work philosophy that you have in mind and with Sigma Biotech it happens like this. The vocation of its structure is purely innovative and shares that same idiosyncrasy with the philosophy of improvement that we have in mind in ECOTRIP, so that your help and constant advice are very important for our clients to trust us. The improvement of the product is a key to remain competitive in the sector, always maintaining the highest quality standards and, with them, this aspect is guaranteed.
“ECOTRIP does not compete for price, but for quality and differentiation in its products. For that, we bet on R & D”
Q: You are currently developing a project with Sigma Biotech, what does this new project mean for ECOTRIP?
A: It is a project that will be over soon but the one that gives a very good news. It is a totally innovative product and our customers in the meat industry are already demanding us due to its highly differentiating character, as it will be a revolution within the casing industry. Undoubtedly, all the work carried out by the Sigma Biotech team is fundamental to achieve the intended objective, and their experience in the sector is key to complete successfully the development.
Q: Do you think the outsourcing of this type of services is important?
A: I think so. In the first place, it is easier and more professional to hire an external expert in agricultural business, in our case, since they have a different vision that allows them to see things with the perspective and elucidate different points of view that we within the company perhaps do not observe. When you have many projects in mind, with clear ideas, but you see that you cannot assume it because day to day consumes you all the time, it is better to make a way for experts to help you and contribute into your project. And this is what we have done in this case with Sigma Biotech, being convinced that it has been a great decision.
Q: So, Is it the commitment to competitiveness and innovation, which will mark the future of your company?
A: Without any doubt. Is that also, I cannot think of anything that allows us to continue so strong in our sector, without lowering the quality of the product. In addition, ECOTRIP is not willing to give up ever. Innovation is the only sure bet to gain competitiveness and differentiation for more time.