A company dedicated to producing and selling oil in a place with as little oil pedigree as Ourense? The story becomes interesting when you know that the company, founded in 1962, has managed to consolidate a considerable market position with a turnover of almost 200 million euros. And interest goes up another notch when we say that the promoter of the project got into the world of oil through rebound.
José Manuel Perez Canal, CEO of Aceites Abril and visible head of the second generation of this family business, remembers where it all began. “My grandfather, who was dedicated to the wine business, sent my father to the La Mancha area in the late 1950s to buy some facilities where he could make more wine. I assume that the order was due to the shortage of wine at the time.” His father eventually acquired some facilities in Mora de Toledo. In the first year he bought grapes from local winemakers and made the wine as planned. But in the second year the unexpected happened.
“The land in the area was mixed, combining olive groves and vineyards, which the farmers used to tell them that they also wanted to sell the olives. The facility had a stone mill where the grapes were crushed and where the olives were also processed. In a way, my father got into the oil business.” From Mora de Toledo, the oil was transported in tankers to the A Ponte district of Ourense. There they decided to set up a bottling plant. “Wine was distributed in large quantities, but in the case of oil, my father thought it better to bottle it and then distribute it.”
Family with an industrial surname
We’re going to jump back in time. We are in the 90’s when the company takes a step forward hand in hand with the new generation of family that has been at the helm of the company since 1994, growing in the old factory in the A Ponte district, so we bought land in the Polígono de San Cibrao das Viñas on the outskirts of the city, built new plants and bought machines. Even then we started to acquire the adjoining property with a view to future expansion. The truth is that we had moved before and didn’t want to move again. The facilities gradually grew until they now have an area of around 30,000 square meters. This industrialization process, crucial for the development of the project, reached another milestone in 2015 with the construction of an oil refinery with an area of 4,713 square meters and 20 tanks with a storage capacity of 8,000 tons, in which an investment of 20 million euros.
“Until then, we hadn’t dedicated ourselves to the finishing, just the packaging and marketing.” And why did you decide to take on this task? “With this new plant, we have gone backwards in the production chain and have also secured a certain amount of oil for our sales. We used to be heavily dependent on the suppliers responsible for finishing and sometimes had delivery problems. Currently 100% of the refined oil we sell comes from here.”
The strategy of controlling the production process means that the company has its own laboratory where all the necessary controls are carried out, to which is added a factory with nine packaging lines and its own machines to make the bottles.
And where does the oil they work with come from? “We buy the olives mainly in Spain, a little in Portugal and sometimes we bring something from the Mediterranean. We buy the sunflower both in Spain and in the Black Sea area, which comes by ship and we unload it in the port of Vilagarcía de Arousa, where we have five storage tanks of our own. Here we receive it and bring it to be processed”.
Expansion in the form of an… oil slick
Along with this industrial strengthening, the exit they undertook in 2014 from their territorial comfort zone (mainly Galicia) is another key to growth.
The interesting thing is figuring out the strategy to grow in a market where there are well-known brands that are deeply rooted in their areas of origin. “We are expanding bit by bit, always using the oil spill tactic. Margins are very tight on these staples, especially oil, which is often used in supermarkets to attract customers. In this scenario, we cannot run large marketing and advertising campaigns because they are very expensive, so we would not get a quick return on investment. We prefer to keep making small advertising investments, special promotions and sports sponsorships, so that little by little we become known. The most important effort is already made at the point of sale via price, so that housewives appreciate this differentiation and start consuming our products. Once he has consumed them and become familiar with them, we have another asset that we can invest in creating and strengthening the brand,” explains Pérez Canal.
Which markets will you focus your efforts on? “We are growing in Asturias, Castilla y León, Cantabria and Madrid, our strongest expansion areas. In the rest of the market we will do it with less intensity. And the competition is tough,” he adds.
So far and yet so close
With such intense competition in the domestic market, it seems logical to go abroad. In its recent history, Aceites Abril has opted for internationalization and today sells in 42 countries. The first were China, the United States and Portugal. “We have been in the Chinese market for five or six years, we are the fifth or sixth largest operator and we are growing every year with a volume of around three million liters per year. The most important product there is olive oil, both in our brand and in others that we produce for customers.” And in the United States? “We move 1.5 million liters a year in a market that is the world’s leading destination for olive oil exports The product has a focus gourmet, but it is also necessary to deal with bulk consumers and supermarket chains, without forgetting that there are many bulk sales to local packers. We’ve been there four years and have opened an office in New York. Perhaps that first phase was one of exploration and we think the best is yet to come.”
In creating the roadmap around the world, Pérez Canal identified France, England, Germany, the rest of Central Europe and Russia as markets with potential. “Our presence there is rare and we want to promote it. We also grow quite a bit in South and Central America, in countries like Brazil, Mexico and Colombia where olive oil is consumed a lot. At the same time, we want to boost sales in the Middle East, Japan and Australia.”
As surprising as it may seem, disembarking to countries so far away is more convenient –a priori– to do so in certain local markets. “Ourense is not an olive oil producing area and in that sense we have a small logistical handicap. A company from Jaén, for example, is in a better position to “attack” the Spanish market since we have to transport the olive oil from Jaén to Ourense, bottle it and then distribute it. But by positioning a container 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers away, we can dilute over long distances the additional transport costs we have over small distances,” says the CEO of Aceites Abril.
Innovation to return to the origins
With around 250 references in its catalog where there is room for oils gourmet, organic or special references for the hotel industry, innovation – always seasoned with quality – also plays a role in the project. Pérez Canal explains that 95% of the oil sold is olive and sunflower oil, which they sell in equal parts, while the remaining 5% comes from seeds. “In any case, when we talk about a natural product, legislation and food safety itself severely limit innovation because of the nature of the product Packagingpackaging or through the required production technique itself. From then on, we have the most modern refinery in Spain and we are constantly innovating to improve product labeling and presentation.” The latter, for example, led to the launch of olive oil sprays that respond to new consumption habits.
In this scenario of innovation, Aceites Abril has been promoting, since the beginning of this decade, a project to restore the cultivation of the Galician olive grove, which was once a common feature of this country’s landscape and has a variety of olives that are “known, already in Portugal and in areas of Extremadura and Andalusia present”. This has led them to present successive limited and small editions of 100% Galician oil.
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