BRING HOME THE BACON

Spain 2020 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Prodeca helps Catalan products find their way to the world, through fairs, connecting local producers to international buyers, and promoting the Mediterranean diet.

Ramon Sentmartí
BIOGRAPHY

Ramon Sentmartí has a master's from the London School of Economics and a master's in local and regional development from the University of Barcelona. Previously, Sentmartí was head of the agri-food commercialization program at the Department of Commerce in the government of Catalonia and director of a consultancy company in the agri-food sector. He has collaborated with different organizations related to agri-food and gastronomy and has also been commissioner of the Catalonia European Region of Gastronomy program, as well as managing director of a consortium of municipalities in Catalonia. In addition, he has worked at the Autonomous University of Barcelona together with other European research centers on international projects related to the agri-food sector.

Could you tell us about the origins of Prodeca?
Our history goes back to 1986. At that time, the agriculture sector was quite important in Catalonia; however, many companies did not export. Thus, Prodeca was established to help the agrifood industry to reach new markets in Europe and beyond. At present, Catalonia exports EUR10 billion worth of food, with our main market being Europe. For many years, Japan was our primary market outside Europe, but now China has replaced it. Our main exports are meat and fine food products such as premium snacks, chocolates, bakery, and coffee. Then comes fruit and vegetables, particularly peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, and citrus fruits. Olive oil, wine, and cava are other strong categories. If we take food production, the food industry and directly-related companies represent more than EUR30 billion in turnover per year. Having one of the leading ports in southern Europe further boosts the sector. The airport of Barcelona and the port of Tarragona also provide connectivity to Europe and the world. Above all, Barcelona is a strategic point through which we can reach the Mediterranean, Latin America, and Asia.

Can you give a breakdown of Prodeca's operations?
When I joined, Prodeca mostly went to international fairs in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. From 2016 onward, we focused on attending and organizing both international fairs as well as business forums related to different sectors. The first one we organized was related to meat in 2016. Our strategy is to scout our target markets and get in contact with buyers who have high purchasing power. We invite them, and we introduce them to local companies and arrange B2B meetings. We organize this for all our departments, namely meat, fruit and vegetables, fine foods, and wine and cava. We work also on some transversal departments such as the halal industry, the organic sector, and gastronomy, through which our chefs can act as 'ambassadors' of our products all over the world. Furthermore, Catalonia receives more than 23 million tourists every year who appreciate our gastronomy. The organic food market is growing fast, and we have recently organized an international business forum of organic companies in Copenhagen to promote Catalan companies in Nordic markets.

What is the potential impact of the new US tariffs, and what are you doing about it?
The new tariff policy will mainly affect our olive oil, wine, and meat industries. They were recently introduced, so it is hard to calculate the extent of their impact. In 2018, we exported EUR56 million worth of olive oil to the US, and under the new tariff regime the same amount of olive oil will cost EUR13 million more. Similarly, we exported EUR85 million worth of wine and cava in 2018, and the same quantity will now cost EUR7 million more. Some of these tariffs only apply to certain European countries. For example, the tariffs on wine and olive oil apply to Spain, not Italy, Portugal, and Greece, which are our direct competitors in the US market. We hope that negotiations between the EU and US delegations will end up with a solution for both sides: a tariff war in the end does not benefit anyone.

What are your main goals for 2020?
Internally, our goal is to keep improving the quality of our services and to have up-to-date quality information to make the best decisions in terms of food markets and trends for our food companies. We are working on evaluating the return of every euro invested in Prodeca and see how it adds value to Catalan companies and society. Externally, we want to consolidate the markets we are in and expand into new ones. We will also monitor and evaluate the effects of Brexit, trade wars, and currency fluctuations. The third objective is to use advantages such as the Mediterranean diet and Catalonia's gastronomy in a more ambitious way in order to promote our food and companies globally.