SUSTAINABLE PROFITS

Colombia 2017 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ernesto Fajardo, CEO of Alpina, on the need to focus on innovation, opportunities in agriculture, and challenges with infrastructure.

Ernesto Fajardo
BIOGRAPHY
Ernesto Fajardo has been the CEO of Alpina since 2013 and has over 25 years of senior management experience in the sector. Before Alpina, he was the CEO of Grupo Mundial (now Grupo Orbis) and held various executive positions at Monsanto. He is a graduate of Universidad del Rosario de Bogotá and holds an MBA from the University of Washington and a degree in advanced marketing studies from the Kellog School of Management.

What is Alpina's strategy for navigating the current macroeconomic climate?

Obviously, it is difficult to control macroeconomic factors, and we are looking more inside Alpina to see what we can do for our consumers and continue growing. One of these steps is continued innovation. We have 25 launches planned for 2017, including both brand extensions and new products. We have started with the launch of four or five products in January-February 2017. We knew the start of 2017 would be challenging with the tax reforms, and one way to face that was to be more aggressive with our new product launches. This sent a message of confidence to consumers that we are continuing to invest in giving them more product choice. This strategy works well and we believe 2017 should be another good year for Alpina.

Alpina significantly increased its exports in 2016. How do you see this continuing?

Our exports should continue to grow. We have made efforts to continue expanding our operations into more countries. Our exports grew in 2016, and we can grow from that base again because many of the countries we sold to last year were new markets for us, for example Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Aruba. All those countries have potential for growth, and as we go into those markets, we seek different opportunities to sell our products in additional countries. Therefore, our expansion comes from both our increased penetration of areas where we are already present, in addition to new countries with different opportunities. The favor of our products has proven to be successful in a variety of countries, although we also alter some products to suit particular markets.

What opportunities are there for the agricultural and agri-food sectors to grow in the post-conflict era in Colombia?

When we think about post conflict, we think about agriculture and productivity. The conflict in Colombia took place in rural areas where agricultural activity is based. Therefore, the only way to ensure the peace process is sustainable is through investment and development in Colombia's agricultural sector. This is the sector Alpina has been in for the last 70 years in Colombia. We have been purchasing from farmers and the dairy industry, and there has also been the development of the fruit industry. We have helped those farmers and other producers who have been caught up in this conflict and given them options to develop their businesses' sustainability and profitably. Therefore, Alpina is perfectly positioned to seize the opportunities in the post-conflict perfect. We operate in some of the regions that have experienced significant conflict and by sourcing from those places, such as in the far south; we are giving people the opportunity to make a life and have an income through their agricultural profession.

What is keeping the agricultural sector and agri-industry from reaching their true potential?

The country has significant challenges in infrastructure, which is still basic, especially in rural areas. It is difficult to transport products from place to place. Many companies like us have had to develop our own logistics. There is also the issue of government support for the growers, for example being able to get credit to improve their processes and productivity. As a company, we can help those producers, but it is difficult for us to have an impact on a wider scale. The government has to help the agricultural sector in general. We can do our part with the people we work with. For example, we have helped farmers create associations and taught them how to work together and purchase and share equipment as a group. This has helped develop not only the farmers' businesses as suppliers, but also their communities and problem-solving skills. This is a model we have been using for a long time in various communities with smaller farmers that do not have the individual capacity to sell to Alpina.