ALFREDO ZELLER

Ecuador 2020 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

To stand out and remain competitive internationally, Provefrut continues to invest in technology.

Alfredo Zeller
BIOGRAPHY

Alfredo Zeller graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. He also holds an international business administration degree from Schule Fuer Kaufmann in Gross und Ausenhandel, Hamburg. He started his career at Empresa Técnica Comercial C.A. ETECO, a trading and representational company, eventually becoming CEO for 25 years. From 2002 onward, he became president of Provefrut S. A. He has also been involved in various construction projects with different governmental agencies of Ecuador in fields such as water treatment plants, hospitals, oil and water pipelines, and urban development.

How would you assess the performance of Provefrut as the company turns 30 in 2020?

Provefrut is Ecuador's largest exporter of frozen vegetables. In the past five years, we have effectively grown at an annual rate of 8-10%; specifically, in 2018, we had the best year in the company's history. 2019 was also great, as our plans of continued growth succeeded. For that reason, in the last few years we have made considerable investments in installed capacity in our different plants as well as in agricultural land. We currently have an installed annual capacity of about 55,000 tons of finished products ready to be exported. Additionally, the company has successfully added organic products as well, with at least 25% of its total volume being completely organic; this has diversified our portfolio. We installed a plant in northern Ecuador to process highland grains under a company called ProQuinoa, as we wanted to differentiate ourselves from our core business since quinoa is a dry product. There are a few new products that we are heavily promoting, such as spinach, cauliflower, and niche-market products, such as multicolored cauliflower and carrots. We are working to develop an Andean product called chocho, a vegetable with the highest vegetable protein value in the world.

What role does technology play in the growth of Provefrut and in Ecuador's ambitions to become a leader in the global agricultural sector?

Ecuador is an operationally expensive country, and in order to be competitive internationally, companies have to not only be ingenious or have different products, but also keep up with technological trends. In the end, technology equates to savings on expenditures; basically it is only to our advantage in order to compensate for the high costs within the country. In Provefrut, we believe and invest in technology.

How can processes be matched with consumer demands in terms of socially and environmentally friendly production?

There are audits for social responsibility, which is part of our core values that we defend as a company. Throughout the year, we have audits from the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Energy, as well as audits from the final clients and internationally recognized audit companies. Furthermore, the regulations in the countries we mainly export to, such as these in the EU, Asia, and North America, are becoming stricter, so we need to have the highest level of compliance. We have a traceability system in our product, where if the customer finds something in the final product, such as an insect or a piece of plastic, referring to the number on the packaging we can track the day, the field, and the sector that harvested the product, the day it was processed in the plant, the container it was sent via, and so on. We have a plant dedicated to the Japanese market, which produces a special product called Ready to Eat, and the production lines at the plant have additional controls.

How will the new trade deals that the government is working on promote agricultural exports?

Ecuador took an important first step in 2017 with the agreement with the EU. In our case, the agreement did not generate additional business since the tariff rate was already zero. However, the assessment of this trade agreement for Provefrut is positive, as it has helped us maintain a market where we export 30-35% of our total volume. With the new trade philosophy of Ecuador, there has been a revival of important relations, such as with the US. I am optimistic about the US-Ecuador trade agreement. The process will not be easy, though it could potentially waive the 14.9% tariff on frozen vegetables exported to the US. It is the right move for Ecuador to enter the Pacific Alliance. It will open up the Mexican market to Ecuadorian exports and potentially serve as a re-export hub toward North America. In general, I am in favor of free and international trade.