It was born in a stand of the municipal market of Vilafranca del Penedès (Barcelona) in 2001 and since then Casa Ametler hasn’t stopped growing. Today, this grocery chain has 78 of its own stores across Catalonia and will open 12 new stores in 2015. With their success, they have not even recognized the crisis. “My goal is to turn the family business into the farmhouse of the 21st century. An entrepreneur must have illusions and dreams, but he must also make sacrifices,” he stresses. Joseph AmetlerFounder and CEO.
“My brother Jordi and I started this business. We leave our skin,” says Josep. He and his brother Jordi started with a starting capital of 30,000 euros plus another 60,000, which they received through a bank loan. Some time later, they applied for a second loan, which was turned down. “It was there that we realized we needed to redefine our strategy in order to grow smoothly and we chose to reinvest all our profits year after year. Good management requires strict control of the income statement,” says Josep Ametller.
The initial effort was inhuman. The two brothers worked 16 hours a day. Today they appreciate having started their entrepreneurial adventure with little capital. “There is nothing worse than a motivated fool. If you have a lot of money but haven’t tested your business model, you risk losing it all and we didn’t want to let that happen. I make that clear in the conversations I have with future entrepreneurs,” he emphasizes.
In 2007 a partner joined who owns 4% of the capital and this new scenario allowed Josep to take a step back from the day-to-day work to deal with the global management of a company that was already growing fast, so fast that there was an urgent need to create a well-defined spinal cord with a team up to the challenge.
Immediacy: essential value
At Casa Ametller, they believe quality products are made in the field, not in a warehouse. In Catalonia, Murcia and Almería they farm 1,500 hectares directly and many more through affiliated farmers willing to follow their cultivation protocols. 85% of the vegetables sold at the points of sale come from the Maresme wineries.
The speed with which this freshly harvested product arrives at the farms is one of the key points of the project.
Regarding processed products such as gazpachos or vegetable creams, not only is the product made from a good raw material, but it is also not subjected to long-term heat treatment, so its shelf life is reduced to a maximum of five or six days. The same happens with tortillas. Since natural eggs are used in their manufacture, they must be consumed as soon as possible. And not everything that is made ends up in their stores. In fact, Casa Ametller’s goal is to sell half of its production through agreements with other commercial distribution networks.
The company is also looking to Europe. With the creams they have entered markets such as Germany or Switzerland and foresee that in the next two years 60% of the cream production will be sold abroad with the intention of reaching Austria, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.
Casa Ametller grow vegetables, work with suppliers to stock legumes in their stores and produce chilled products in their factory in Sant Pere de Molanta. Two million euros were invested in this system. Now Josep is very determined to come up with some sort of well-designed label that allows offering a large amount of data with as little symbology as possible.
“All the farmers who work for Casa Ametller use the same computer system, where they indicate the place of cultivation, the date of product collection…” emphasizes Josep.
In addition to information transparency, another project is being worked on for 2016, which consists in achieving eco-sustainable agriculture using biodynamic techniques such as treating pests with natural biological enemies – that is, other insects – or through the use of bioinsecticides. This initiative is being developed jointly by the Institute for Agro-Food Research and Technology of the Government of Catalonia (IRTA) and Casa Ametller.
“In the first store we opened, we only sold fruit and vegetables in an area of no more than 100 mtwo. Today we have a very wide range, from cereals to nuts, wines, cavas, etc.,” explains Josep with a firm voice.
At the beginning of March this year, they opened a new business model in Barcelona called Ametller Origen. Here the products are classified according to their origin and also according to the categories of the Mediterranean diet and the food pyramid. And the customer will find another novelty. In addition to the usual fruit and vegetable departments, you will discover other new areas such as delicatessen and butchers. The new kitchen area offers a wide range of ready meals and they also prepare salads and juices which can currently be consumed on a small dedicated terrace. This shop, 300 mtwois number 79 and marks a turning point, because the new openings planned for 2015 will follow this pattern from now on.
The company has around 150,000 customers who shop regularly. Josep Ametller is even considering opening a shopping route for restaurant owners. There is also a team working in an online store. At Casa Ametller, they look at the shopping experience offered by Amazon Fresh and find it an inspiring model with great utility. In addition to product offers, they are thinking of a system that allows the à la carte reservation of products through a mobile application or through the website.
As far as future expansion is concerned, Casa Ametller’s philosophy is to carry out operations with peace of mind. They always settle in cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants. The first goal is to consolidate the market in Catalonia and then they would think of expanding their business to the rest of Spain. The last destination remains Europe, but it would be a very long-term expansion. “I’m a climber, I never look down to avoid dizziness,” explains Josep Ametller, looking up at the sky out of the corner of his eye. Surely he was thinking of the top of a mountain at that moment.
R&D that comes through the mouth
Have you tried putting oil on the bread instead of butter? Well, the logic of creating the Yoligur is the same. I wanted a yoghurt in which the olive oil would replace the saturated fat in the milk,” says Josep Ametller. And this form of wholesome simplicity brought Casa Ametller to Paris, where it received the Sial Innovation Paris 2014 award in the dairy and cheese category.
Yoligur won the winner’s trophy among more than 1,700 entries submitted to the competition. “This company is growing so fast that we haven’t had time to enjoy Yoligur’s success. When I think about it, it seems impressive to me,” explains Josep Ametller with a smile.
Since November 3rd last year, the day it was put up for sale, it has become an important part of the company’s success. On the other hand, the company has invested 200,000 euros in the development of a native tomato variety and this project is being carried out with the Barcelona Higher School of Agriculture (UPC).