Pasta from Italy for the world - A profile of Barilla

Barilla has 1.7 million tons of pasta, bakery products and sauces transported every year. Most of the products are manufactured in Italy and then exported to foreign markets. But a basic rule still applies: to achieve high margins, you want the shortest transport distances possible.

Fresh basil leaves, crunchy nuts, creamy cheese and some oil, all seasoned with a little garlic and salt – these are the basic ingredients for what is probably the best-known pesto recipe ever: pesto alla genovese. The Italian word “pesto” comes from the verb “pestare”, which means to crush. And that is precisely how the herb paste is traditionally produced – by mixing together all the raw ingredients and crushing them in a mortar. And then it goes on top of not only pasta, but also vegetables, fish or meat.

Pesto, which traditionally comes from Liguria, was first documented in 1863, but it probably goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. And, even today, the green paste continues to be hugely popular. “Pesto alla genovese is one of our bestsellers worldwide in the sauce segment,” says Gianluigi Mason, Senior Manager International and Overseas Transportation at Barilla. Since December 2018, he has been responsible for the international transport of finished products.

“With our products, we are always interested in the latest trends in the food industry,” Mason continues. At present, a big trend is plant-based products – and this holds true not only for vegetarian or even vegan sauces, but also for pasta. “For example, we can offer a wide range of whole-grain pasta as well as gluten-free pasta and legume pasta, such as penne, fusilli and casarecce made from pulses.” These new creations are based on chickpeas or red lentils instead of wheat flour.
Barilla is the world’s market leader in the pasta segment. The food group comprises several food brands, although almost all of them are in the cereal products segment. For example, the company’s brand portfolio includes Wasa crispbreads, Harrys toast, and Pan di Stelle and Mulino Bianco biscuits.

Barilla has a total of 29 production sites, including numerous grain mills. “We have 10 plants in Italy alone,” Mason explains. “We manufacture a large part of our goods here, and Italy continues to be the largest market for pasta.” Barilla also produces in other European countries, such as France, Germany, Greece, Sweden and Turkey. “We prefer to have the shortest transport distances possible,” the 40-year-old continues. “This is how we get our products onto store shelves fresh, keep the sales price down, and have acceptable margins.” To make this possible, Barilla has its own production sites overseas for large sales markets, such as the United States, Mexico and Russia. “So we export our products over long distances to places where it isn’t worthwhile to have local manufacturing, or we export specific items that are only produced in Italy.”

Instead of using freight forwarders, Barilla – and thereby Gianluigi Mason – have been negotiating directly with liner shipping companies since 2017. This has clear advantages for both: more reliability when shipping the goods and better predictability in terms of planning. “We can plan our costs well in advance because we sign annual contracts,” Mason says. “On top of that, we can discuss our needs directly with shipping companies as well as see where there are holdups and how they can be solved.”

When asks about the future challenges facing the logistics industry, Mason says, “It’s very clear: digitalisation, automation and green logistics.” As he sees it, digitalisation will lead to significant improvements in communication and the exchange of information. “It would be nice if everyone involved in the process could work together even better and more efficiently,” he continues. “And, of course, that will pertain to us as a customer as well as to Hapag-Lloyd as a shipping company. We simply have to work together towards the same goal.”

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