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Eaten in households across Central America, beans have long been one of the region’s main staples. Now, with a growing Hispanic diaspora in the US, their popularity is growing further afield as well. It’s great news for Guatemala-based Industrias Alimenticias Kern’s y CIA (IAK), the owner of Ducal, the region’s number one bean brand.
IAK company was founded in 1959 as a partnership between California’s Kern’s Foods and a number of Guatemalan entrepreneurs. It was then was bought by Costa Rican Florida Ice and Farm Company (FIFCO) for US$86 million in 2006. It currently produces and distributes Kern’s, Ducal and Fun C brands in Central America and the Caribbean, and has recently expanded the Ducal brand into the US.
Gustavo Cornejo Párraga is helping to oversee this exciting growth both at home and in the US. With more than 10-and-a-half years of working with various FIFCO companies under his belt, he took on the role of Country Manager of FIFCO Central America outside of his home country of Costa Rica.
Since coming on board almost two years ago, Gustavo has been busy working on a number of successful projects across what he refers to as the company’s four main engines throughout Guatemala and Central America. The first of these engines consists of its operations in the food industry including its production of beans, ketchup and juices. It is currently the number one in Central America in red and black beans, with its Ducal brand turning in double-digit growth over the last decade.
“The aim here is to defend our market share and grow the category value. This is still the biggest part of our turnover and our profitability. However, it’s not where I see the biggest and greatest long-term growth potential,” Gustavo admits. “We had to remove the walls of being solely an industrial producer in order to explore more opportunities beyond what we were producing here in Guatemala.”
And so “engine two” was born – the company’s expansion into the US with its Ducal range of refried beans, which is distributed throughout the country by Goya Foods. “We are now the number three refried bean brand in the whole of the United States,” Gustavo says. The US side of the business is fast catching up with its local operation. “It is becoming almost as important as our business in the rest of our markets and there is still a lot more room to grow,” he says.
The third engine is its alcoholic beverage portfolio with FIFCO, a market leader in this category across Central America. One of the products in its portfolio is a hard seltzer, which consists of flavored mineral water with a lower alcoholic content, limited calories and no carbohydrates or sugars. “It is therefore very attractive to the younger segments,” Gustavo says. “We also have the leading brand in the region on the rise, called Adán y Eva, and are leaders in the category in Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala. The category is still small, but we are its captains.”
The final engine is the company’s plant, IAK, which is constantly being enhanced. “With increasing costs in the market, we have to always look for ways to be more efficient, to be more productive, to stay very much connected with the innovation that our consumers are looking for and, above all, to maintain the quality that has characterized and positioned our brand for more than 50 years in all the markets in Central America,” Gustavo says.
When it comes to standing apart from the competition, he believes FIFCO’s commitment to its triple bottom line strategy is a “real differentiator”. “This is not lip service – it’s something deeply ingrained in the DNA of the company. And even all us executives are measured not only by the economic value we generate for our company and our shareholders, but also by the social and environmental value,” he says.
Its approach to creating social value is divided in two, according to Gustavo. “We focus on internal social value – making sure that we are a great place to work for our employees and helping our employees who are at risk of poverty to get ahead with very well-structured programs that have been benchmarked worldwide,” he explains.
We are a company with an excellent reputation, that has always acted in accordance with the law and with our commitments.
This makes for a dynamic culture, which he believes helps to underpin the company’s performance. “We are guided by a leadership model in which we start by empowering the person by bringing out the individual’s maximum potential,” Gustavo expands. “Then we invite them to form meaningful relationships with their co-workers, deep relationships of trust and teamwork. After that, already having a team in place, we invite them to explore different ways of doing things and to look for new alternatives, to question and rethink the way we traditionally do things and see where else the reach and the effect on our brands can go.”
Ensuring it delivers on its promises is also a huge focus for FIFCO Central America. “We are a company with an excellent reputation that has always acted in accordance with the law and with our commitments,” Gustavo stresses. “And all of this in an environment of enjoyment and harmony, which we believe is also very important.”
FIFCO’s determination to make a difference extends beyond the company, too, with it working hard to give back to the communities in which it operates. “At an external social level, it is about being a very responsible company with our communities and investing in them. We are in the 99th percentile of all the companies in the world, investing seven per cent of our net profit or the profit attributable to shareholders in social and environmental programs that enhance our responsibility footprint.”
For example, in the environmental area, the company is a leader in recycling, carbon emissions and water use with it measuring its performance against the main objectives of the World Economic Forum and other international regulatory entities. It’s a commitment that also helps the company get ahead.
“Consumers are becoming more and more aware and are rewarding with their loyalty and preference the brands that are socially responsible and the companies that act with social and environmental responsibility,” Gustavo reflects.
Having successfully delivered business continuity during the upheaval of the pandemic with its agile approach, his future focus is now on growth. While adding new markets beyond Central America and expanding into additional categories is certainly on the cards, it is “not a priority,” he reveals. “We would rather finish strengthening our existing distribution footprint – especially in the United States, where the potential is practically unlimited.”