ACTING GLOCAL

Portugal 2019 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Sovena Group's well-thought-out strategies have made it one of the largest olive oil companies in the world and the largest packer of oils and olive oils in Iberia.

Jorge de Melo
BIOGRAPHY
Jorge de Melo has a degree in management and business administration from Universidade Católica Portuguesa and has attended several postgraduate courses in the same field. He has a strong experience in business, consulting, and management in the consumer sector both in Portugal and the US. He assumed his current role as CEO of Sovena Group at the beginning of 2018.

What have been the company's milestones and achievements in the last few years?

We are part of a family business group that has concentrated its efforts in the edible oil sector in the last few years and become one of the largest olive oil companies in the world. At present, we have direct operations in seven countries across four continents, and we export to more than 70 others. We employ more than 1,300 people and own the largest private olive grove at more than 15,000ha. Our mission is to bring olive oil to everyone, and for that we execute different strategies in different markets.

How have you expanded your presence internationally?

The international expansion of Sovena began in 2002 with the acquisition of an company in Spain, a market that made perfect sense because it was the world's leading producer of olive oil. From there we began to develop the export business. We acquired an olive oil brand with a strong reputation in Brazil—Andorinha—and today we are one of the biggest companies to operate in the olive oil business in the country. The US market represents about 10% of global consumption of olive oil, so we considered being strategic there with a local physical presence. Thus, in 2005, we acquired a position in a company—East Coast Olive Oil—and we are currently working with major US-based retail and full-service chains. In order to achieve greater control over the olive oil value chain, in 2007 we took an important step in our strategy with a focus on olive groves. At present, we have 15,000ha divided between Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Sovena has become one of the largest companies in the world in the olive oil business and is the largest packer of oils and olive oils in Iberia. To accomplish this, the company's industrial units in Portugal, Spain, the US, and Tunisia played decisive roles.

Do you plan to enter other new markets?

50% of our revenue comes from Portugal and Spain, while the other half comes from around the world. 2018 will be a successful year, with group turnover of around EUR1.5 billion. Our base is in Portugal, but we view ourselves more as an international company. For example, we are the largest player in the French market and are growing our presence in important markets like Germany. Other countries that do not traditionally have high olive oil consumption levels, like China, are also our targets. We have a JV with an important local group in China, and in the midterm, China will be an important market for the consumption of olive oil.

Can you tell us more about your strategy of combining your global scope and local presence?

In Portugal, we are extremely focused on our brands, Fula (vegetable oil) and Oliveira da Serra (olive oil). The same goes for the Brazilian market, where we are present with our olive oil brand Andorinha. In Spain, we are developing other brands, like Soleada and Fontasol, while in the US, we have a local presence with our brand Olivari. The consumers in these various regions have different expectations, which is why we tailor our operations to each specific market.

What measures does the company consider to be eco-friendlier in its operations?

In 2019, we will have one more annual sustainability report, and as we are a diverse company in terms of operations, we have had different projects in different areas. We are in the process of developing more recycling and reuse processes. The agricultural project of the firm is an important project in terms of its eco-friendly strategy. The amount of CO2 that we capture from the atmosphere via our 15 million trees is extremely significant. This is the main driver of our work to reduce our footprint, though we have operations in many other areas.