Few companies have become truly global in pasta — but Barilla is on the journey. As the company’s Chairman,Guido Barilla, is quick to point out, “we are international in that we adapt our business to meet local preferences” (vs. a “global” company which treats every country the same).
The key enabler to Barilla’s international success is their approach to the unique local food tastes and traditions of each country, and often each locale, that it enters. Barilla studies and adopts. More importantly, they hire local talent and actively recruit people who “bring in different views,” recognizing this is the “only way to understand and serve the local markets.”
A second strategic difference ispatience — taking the time to learn how best to serve the local tastes. Mr. Barilla recognizes the advantage of being a private family company where there is less stakeholder pressure for short-term results. They can choose their target markets for expansion and then work carefully to, for example, develop products that are cooked in a wok instead of boiling water.
Barilla’s patience and long-termperspective characterizes a third strategy — executing sustainability. And to his company, their promise to be “Good for You, Good for the Planet” is a true commitment to action.
The commitment includes funding a Center (now a Foundation) where hundreds of scientists around the world are dedicated to addressing industry issues beyond just commercial concerns.
For Barilla itself, discoveries from the Center have led to reformulation of 170 products. In essence, this fits the multi-national approach of “product customization with strong brands.” the company has a “different finish line” than economics alone — striving for stability, safety and quality and “to be recognized for doing the right thingfor society.”
According to Mr. Barilla, “for a serious food player, without a commitment to sustainability, you cannot be inbusiness.” He sees the growing storm over palm oil and is acting now. He also foresees a crisis coming over waste — in two respects. First is literally disposing of waste as the world population grows, and second is his acute observation that while many in the world die of starvation each year, many others die from overeating.
He takes a similar, non-traditionalview of consumer research, recognizing that what worked in the ‘70s, ‘80s and‘90s does not work now. He cites the fact that the vast majority of new foodproduct launches fail within five years. Yet, managers still use the same type of research — perhaps to “unload responsibility — [relying on research is] a fantasticway to avoid responsibility and thinking.”This relatively small company issetting outsized goals for the industry and leading through its commitment and willingness to think independently.
Headquarters: Parma, Italy
Business: Global pasta manufacturer with distribution in over 100 countries
Annual revenues: €3.2 billion (US$3.6 billion)
Brands: Barilla, Mulino Bianco, Voiello, Pavesi, Academia Barilla, Wasa, Harry’s
(France and Russia), Misko (Greece), Filiz (Turkey), Yemina and Vesta (Mexico)