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Ecor and Baule Volante: two Italian wholesalers

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Industry Leader Ecor: Dynamic Growth


Ecor has become the market leader in the specialist wholesale trade in just a few years. Its strategy can be summarised in two key words: quality and efficiency.  The tactic seems to be paying off: in contrast to the market trend - a clear slowing down of growth in the organic sector or even stagnation - the joint stock company Ecor is managing to produce growth rates in double figures.


Picture: logo of the Ecor marketing system "b'io"

“We are a part of the organic movement and we have grown with the market,” acknowledges Fabio Brescacin. The managing director of Ecor started a small cooperative called Ariele in 1987 in Conegliano to the north of Treviso. In 2005, Italy’s biggest organic distributor will achieve a turnover of 60 million Euros. With its 3 000 articles, Ecor offers the most extensive range among whole food distributors in Italy, including frozen foods, fresh produce and cosmetics. The headquarters and central warehouse are in San Vendemiano (Treviso province), with offices in Rolo (Reggio Emilia province) and Pomezia near Rome.


In Conegliano/Vendemiano, a number of initiatives have been brought together under the umbrella organisation Free Anthroposophic Association Rudolf Steiner (picture): the whole food wholesaler Ecor and the association of B’io stores, the Demeter farm San Michele (65 ha), a Waldorf Kindergarten and school, and Aurora, a facility for the disabled. 60 % of the share capital of the joint stock company Ecor (two million Euros is held by the Free Anthroposophic Association Rudolf Steiner in Conegliano; the other 40 % is in the hands of private individuals.


The joint stock company Ecor S.p.A. was created in 1998 from the merger of four smaller distributors: Farina (Rolo), Pro Natura (Gargazzone/Bolzano), Tam (Vicenza) and Gea (Conegliano). Gea (Free Anthroposophic Association Rudolf Steiner) is the majority shareholder. Since the merger, according to Fabio Brescacin, the range, product quality, service and marketing have improved decisively. Today the enterprise has 130 employees. The industry leader supplies about 800 stores all over Italy, with 260 stores in the Northern provinces accounting for almost half of the turnover. In 2004, turnover reached approximately 54.9 million Euros. Ecor is anticipating growth of 10 % in 2005. Ecor continues to be committed to the bio-dynamic idea, which is reflected in a Demeter proportion of 20 % in its product range. Quite apart from that, the managing director explained that they had always been oriented towards fresh produce.


Professionalism in logistics, the right product quality and good ideas in marketing are fully recognised by the specialist businesses. By today, 220 stores are involved in the marketing system B’io that was introduced in 2002. In addition, roughly 550 other stores make some use of the materials. For Ecor, the aim of the project is to embrace all the players in the whole value-added chain in order to raise the efficiency of the trade, to ensure greater transparency and ultimately more trust on the part of customers. Using the slogan “b’io parla con te” (play on words: bio/I am speaking to you), emphasises the further benefits and the value added of organic products. The marketing strategy consists of supplying information material ranging from ceiling banners, end-of-shelf signs, brochures and flyers to aprons, signs, material for attaching to the outside of the building and regular price campaigns. B’io stores pay 1,500 Euros a year for materials, advertising and service. Consumers, too, can get information on the benefits of organic food and current price offers on the internet:


The current campaign by B’io is dedicated to transparency. The campaign was introduced at the Sana Fair and started in the B’io stores on the first of October with a “Day of Transparency”. “In the run-up to the launch, the campaign met with a very positive response from the media,” Fabio Brescacin was delighted to report, adding that the point was to create more awareness among consumers and maximum transparency. Even price policy is closely examined. Information on origin, quality and price is available for about 130 products. Product history, a kind of biography of the food item (from the selection of seed to processing and then to the check-out) is intended to demonstrate to the consumer the advantages of organic agriculture and of organic manufacture. To these are linked the topics health and holistic nutrition as well as careful processing and quality assurance.


The third corner stone is to illuminate the pricing process: this shows that the producer and processor account for 50 % of the end price, the wholesale trade adds 20 % and the retailer 30 %. In the price analysis, the expensive production of organic goods is explicitly compared with the production of conventional products. German manufacturers like Allos, Ecofinia, Naturata Spielberger, Life Food Taifun, Rapunzel and Lavera that are on Ecor’s list are also taking part in the “Progetto Trasparenza”. The objective of the campaign is to ensure just rewards for all players in the production chain.

The transparency campaign is in keeping with the standard that Ecor imposes. “It is our mission to establish unity between reviving agriculture, high product quality and a culture of fair trade. Ideals come before profit; all stages in the value added process must receive their just rewards,” explains Fabio Brescacin.


Baule Volante


The fairytale of the flying suitcase (Baule Volante) was the inspiration for the name of one of the five big whole food distributors in Italy.  But at the beginning there was also the combination of the passion of the founders Elisabeth Kroess and Lorenzo Saredo (picture) for whole foods and the growing demand for them at the end of the 1980s. At the outset, mainly Rapunzel products were imported from Germany and distributed to a continually increasing number of small shops.


From these modest beginnings an enterprise with 35 employees and a turnover of 10 million Euros developed. Today Baule Volante has 2,800 addresses all over Italy in its client list. Contact with clients is maintained by some 20 agents, and transport is in the hands of a logistics company. Despite the growing supply costs, Baule Volante intends to retain one warehouse in Bologna. This is especially justified in as far as 70 % of turnover is generated in northern and central Italy. The company has recently increased its turnover by 2-3 % a year. “We are happy with our steady, organic growth,” says Lorenzo Saredo. On the other hand, he finds the cost of bureaucracy compared with other EU countries a burden that puts up prices for the consumer. So the margin in the wholesale trade is 35 %, as he explains, and the retail trade adds an average of 40 – 45 %, plus a varying value added tax (4 %, 10 %, 20 %).


Baule Volante offers its clients a whole range of services. Little recipe books published by the wholesaler on various themes (for example, Breakfast, Indian Cuisine, Rice dishes) have been a success over the last five years. Shops can acquire them at a favourable price and sell them to their customers for one Euro. Baule Volante also keeps producing free information leaflets on various products. The roughly 20 representatives in the field provide marketing advice and information on new products when they visit the stores. Special wholesale price offers and rebates graded according to the size of orders enables the retail trade to make its own special offers.


In 2003, Baule Volante initiated the franchise network Terra d’Incanto (picture) which at the moment encompasses 10 stores. These stores, with a floor space of 100 - 150 m², operate under the name Terra d’Incanto and receive at least 50 % of supplies from Baule Volante. As the franchiser, the wholesaler offers special prices, favourable supply conditions, assistance with fitting out, ordering and marketing. Saredo is confident that a further 30 stores will join the scheme.


Baule Volante has involved itself in the campaign against genetically modified food (OGM-No Grazie) and provides all its clients with a manifesto poster.  Working together with partners from the wholesale and retail trade and from associations and manufacturers, the company has produced materials like stickers, badges and bags that are sold to customers in specialist shops. To reinforce the message, local press conferences on GM food are organised.







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