AgroAguiar is the company known for supplying the best Portuguese grown and processed fruit according to the most demanding certifications of origin and quality. Founded in 2007 at Saboroso de Aguiar, in the heart of Trás-os-Montes, this countryside company grows, processes and distributes nuts and frozen fruit to the national and international market. Nowadays, it’s proud of purchasing over 90% of its fruit in Portugal through a close relationship with local farmers and cooperatives. Rodrigo Reis, business manager, tells us a bit about this successful journey.
How was AgroAguiar born?
It was founded in 2007 and aimed, most of all, at distributing the nuts produced in the region where it is located, Trás-os-Montes. Meantime, we soon noticed that this seasonal investment should be extended, and invested in facilities to increase the installed capacity, because we could work with other products.
Which other products did you decide to implement in the business?
Products which weren’t only cultivated in the region, but which also came from the south of Portugal. We then started to develop our strategy based on the supply of frozen products to the industry and to retail. We are specialised in the processing of frozen products, we establish the connection between the fields and the industry, we acquire all our products while they are fresh and then we have two processing plants, one dedicated only to processing nuts and to the transformation of chestnuts to produce frozen chestnuts, and the other created specifically to process and freeze other types of fruit.
You are specialists in frozen red fruits, how would you assess this niche?
Red fruits have seen a growing consumption trend in our society, both in Portugal and abroad. Thus being, our strategy has been to increase the number of specialists in the processing of frozen red fruits, which then go to the industry as finished products, such as juices, jams, yogurts or ice cream. But we are also working for the wholesale market with the private label of Makro, where we have a very large offer of Portuguese frozen fruits.
What’s your best seller?
The red fruits mix, made for Makro, has shown an impressive growth.
How important is your relationship with Makro Portugal?
Makro is our main customer in frozen fruits wholesale trade, and being a small company located in the countryside of Portugal and, sometimes, forgotten by public entities, it has a very large impact on our sales. Makro ends up being a customer-partner, and we have been studying the introduction of new fruits whenever there are new industrial processing opportunities. And Makro has embraced many of those innovations, thus contributing to further help the economy of national producers.
Is the issue of wasted fruit taken into account?
Of course, we work based on a sustainable and circular economy logic and we end up giving life to products which in the past would have been discarded despite their great quality. We take advantage of the excess of production farmers often have, with high quality products, and steer the industrial processing of that fruit to be sold in retail.
Is innovation something that differentiates you?
In our company innovation is fundamental, and we have a very strong momentum. We are the ones who search for and try to find new fruits, with different solutions to be applied to new products.
How would you describe the selection and distribution of your products?
It’s very thorough. From a very early phase we start working on the certification files, both in terms of the production systems and in terms of the product quality system. We are certified, at a very early phase, to be able to reach customers such as Makro and exporting customers, which are quite important. The connection of Portuguese companies with the saudade (longing) market is strong, and there we end up competing with big companies of the sector worldwide, so we try, according to our capacity and size, to compete on certain items. Regarding exports, the main market is Switzerland, which has a recognised quality rigour.
Is the pathway that AgroAguiar has been following one of sustainability?
Completely, we always try to look into our business following that logic. Just recently, we started investing in a water treatment plant for industrial reuse, which means we are very worried about the issues of waste management and of the environmental footprint of our process. Our by-products will not be marketed, they are being delivered to a composting centre of the region, so that they will remain alive as organic fertiliser for agriculture. We try to perform a very rigorous management of all our products, we always try to give new life to waste, adding value, following an environmental awareness logic.
What projects does the company have for the future?
We are deeply studying the chestnut. It’s the company’s core product and, in this case, the goal is to stop freezing and start processing pastes and purees, and we want to launch a chestnut paste where Makro will fit like a glove. Regarding chestnut, we have the premium chestnut that we supply to Makro, and then there’s a substandard chestnut that will end up in paste producing industries dedicated to the on-trade market. There’s no company in Portugal performing that industrial process, and since Portugal has a large chestnut production, it would make much sense for AgroAguiar, as an operator, to move forward with this second transformation of the product, in order to introduce it in gastronomic habits. The idea is to present this product at a competitive price and, taking into account the seasonality of the fruits, that would allow us to keep a steady activity throughout the whole year. The company’s goal is to serve the customers the best national frozen fruit throughout the year. And fortunately, we have managed to do so.