“People are eating more fruit and vegetables these days, and that gives us a good opportunity to expand the business,” points out CEO Matteo Falzi. “However, it is also important that we retain a focus on growing good-quality food. The production of fruit and vegetables has become something of an industry in recent times, but those who concentrate on producing ever-increasing quantities of perfectly shaped fruit cannot possibly deliver the best quality. For premium taste, fruit must ripen on the trees and in fields, and this means you will always find little imperfections.”
Villafrut specializes in the supply of fruit for the European market, with a broad range of produce including peaches, nectarines, melons, apricots, cherries, grapes, strawberries, pears and kiwis. The company also supplies vegetables, such as lettuce, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, asparagus and cauliflower.
“We are particularly proud of our fruits,” says Mr. Falzi. “We partner with growers who we have known for many years. Our goods are produced in such diverse locations as Italy, Spain and Morocco. The farmers grow the produce for us, but we work very closely with them. From my perspective, they are my strawberries that I see in the fields, my nectarines that I pick, quality control and deliver.”
Villafrut also works hand in hand with laboratories, selected in collaboration with its customers, to have its fruit analyzed. The company holds a number of certifications, and product traceability is guaranteed. Villafrut has also established its own brand, Jolife, which represents much more than just the company itself. “We are convinced that our producers also identify with our brand,” stresses Mr. Falzi.
The company’s fruit and vegetables are sold through wholesalers. “We believe that wholesalers are critical,” Mr. Falzi underlines. “We have to reach the end customer, and only through wholesalers can we achieve this. It is easy to reach the big distribution organizations, and they give us stability. Through them, although we are unlikely to increase our turnover by 20%, it is also not likely to fall by 20% either.”
Up to 85% of Villafrut’s 50 million EUR annual turnover is achieved through export sales, in particular to the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Poland and Romania. Villafrut’s history dates back to the 1930s, when Dino and Adele Iseppi-Biancotti began selling produce from their farm in the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland. They quickly recognized the strong demand and purchased land in the Valtellina valley in Italy to grow apples.
The firm continued to grow, and the next generation – three sons – joined the business. “They expanded Iseppi’s activities across Italy and entered into a partnership with Giacomo Falzi, my grandfather,” notes the CEO. Villafrut in its present form was founded in 1984 and quickly became a recognized and renowned supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to the European market.
“The year 2000 was a milestone,” Mr. Falzi adds. “We reduced the amount of pesticides used on our products by 30% and at the same time began to focus on production quality and product analysis.”
The third generation comprising Mr. Falzi, together with Roberto and Andrea Iseppi, now lead the company, which also includes subsidiaries Villagrow in Spain and Villatrans, a logistics firm. “We didn’t set this up because we wanted to go into the transport business,” points out Mr. Falzi. “We wanted to be able to control deliveries to our customers. Villatrans operates a variety of vehicles for different purposes and specializes in transport for fruit and vegetables. The company also undertakes transport work for third parties, and we also use other transport companies for some of our deliveries.These companies work exclusively for Villafrut.”
Mr. Falzi believes the company’s ongoing success can be explained by its long experience in the business. “We have all learnt our trade and have never done anything else,” he says. “We understand the details. We don’t want our customers to have to solve problems. We are a good team; the firm still has a family feeling. Our 56 employees are enthusiastic and motivated.”
With demand for fruit and vegetables continuing to increase, the potential for Villafrut to expand its business is enormous, and the next steps are already in progress. “We are focusing on Spain at the moment,” reveals Mr. Falzi. “We also want to increase our market penetration in Eastern Europe. Above all though, quality and taste are paramount. People want to know what they are eating and where their food comes from. Our labelling gives them this information, but we want to do more than just the legal minimum. We want to remind consumers that farming and natural production is a wonderful thing.”