How did the company get started and how has it evolved over the years?
FEDERICO SERRANO C. Our company goes back 25 years. We were the first food service company in the country and the region. The owners had been in the agro-industrial business for more than 40 years, so they decided to diversify and go into the food service industry. The market and company have grown continuously since day one. The key reason for that is the focus we have in the market. We do strictly food service, nothing else. We base our services on the satisfaction of our customers, which is why we have such large and important customers in Costa Rica. In addition, we have regional contracts, namely in Honduras and Guatemala. We have our own distribution center, warehouses, and trucks, so we have control over the most important parts of the business. We have quality assurance and certifications at every step, and we will be certified ISO 22000 and 9000 no later than 2018
JOSE MAROTO We are a 22-year old company that initially focused on supply and logistics for fast food chains such as KFC, Taco Bell, Hardee's, and Subway. From there, we went into hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, and caterers. In 2014, we secured a joint venture with Sysco where we sold 50% of the company. Since then, we have been focused on innovating and bringing more items to the Costa Rican market and, as part of our broader strategy, expanding to Latin America. We opened a facility in Panama with Sysco in 2016. Our joint venture with a Fortune 500 company like Sysco provides many opportunities to learn and acquire know-how in terms of procedures and methodology, even when it comes to negotiating based on volume.
Where do you see the local food service sector heading in the future?
FSC A lot can happen in 20 years. Over the years, imported beef has gotten a lot more popular than it used to be. We now bring in American beef. Imported seafood is also popular, particularly octopus, squid, calamari, and salmon. Tastes have changed in the market and the country as well, after all. About half our products are imported, and we import from all over the world, but mainly from China, Italy, Spain, Canada, the US, and Chile. In terms of exports, we will be looking at entering a couple of new Central American markets in 2018, such as El Salvador. In Honduras and Guatemala, we found the right partners in the right markets, so there we are moving forward. The Honduran market is not as big as Costa Rica, but Guatemala is bigger overall, except in tourism. Beyond those two and El Salvador, we will explore other possibilities in 2018 in the Americas. Every country is different and they all have unique pro and cons. It is important to find the right partner, someone who shares our values and vision, and it is also important to do our research on each country.
JM Currently, 60% of our products are local while 40% are imported. We focus more on the domestic side. One of the strengths of Costa Rica as a small country with a small population is that we have a strong manufacturing and industrial sector that is active in the export business. That is part of the model that Costa Rica chose to have in the 1990s when we shifted from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. The difference is obvious compared to other markets in the region. There are many opportunities in Costa Rica and Latin America. We look to expand beyond our operations in Panama, which is growing rapidly. It is a market that is similar to Costa Rica. We sell about 5,000 items to our customers, and this is growing rapidly. However, in Panama the largest food service distributor sells 700 items. In terms of the value proposition, we are working on making it possible for operators to buy everything they need from one place. The number of customers that will have five to 10 stores is growing in Panama, and that does not include national or international chains. We have seen many customers with three to six stores that have volumes that are large.