Enrique Hernández
CEO
Aires de Campo
/
View from the Top

People Put Health First

By Jan Hogewoning | Thu, 05/21/2020 - 11:22

Q: How would you characterize your performance over the last year?

A: We have been able to continue growing despite the economic downturn, which has hit the consumption sector especially hard. We have increased sales at our distributors’ stores by around 20 percent each year. The consumption of organic products is becoming more and more relevant, as consumers become more conscious of the benefits these products have for their health and the planet. Given that all our produce is artisanal, consistent growth is a significant achievement.  

Q: How far can you grow your production volume while keeping it organic?

A: Our products will always be organic and there are strict standards to be certified as such. This does not mean that we are limited in production volume. We are limited in economic efficiencies. Our industrial competitors produce more volume because they use agrochemicals or hormones and antibiotics in their animals. We also pay fair salaries to our partners in the field, which means the product price reflects its worth. Organic food penetration in the Mexican market is still low. However, there is also a large expanse of territory in this country where it can be grown, which means we have many opportunities to continue expanding. In other countries, large multinationals have been able to integrate organic products into their portfolio, such as dairy co-operatives in the US. Food can be organic and provide good returns.

Q: Many Mexicans do not have significant economic means to purchase organic products. How is that being addressed?

A: Consumers of organic products do not necessarily belong to the higher socioeconomic segments. Yes, our sales patterns lean in that direction, but we have many consumers who do not fit in those categories. They care for their health and seek good nutrition. It is more economical to buy good food than to buy expensive medications. To keep our prices competitive, we are looking at making use of economies of scale. We will never be able to fully reduce the price gap but our experience demonstrates that people are willing to pay for a better product. 

Q: What is your work method with field producers?

A: Aires de Campo itself does not produce anything. We work with a network of 40 producers. They create the magic of our products. We value them so much that we put their stories on the packaging of our products. We are constantly looking for new partners in the field. There are two ways two incorporate them: either we look for them or they come to us. When we find a new partner, we help develop their operation and get it certified. If they come looking for us, we almost always require that they are organic already. What we see is that there are many small producers who are practically organic but do not yet have the official certification.

Q: What needs do new partners have?

A: There are two main things. First, they need capital, both human and technical. We provide them with the technical knowledge and primary materials. The other issue is that many producers often do not have a strong business mindset. We try to imbue this mindset through participation in programs from the Mexican Council for Business and various other chambers. Farmers themselves also have a lot to teach us about their products. It is a continuous learning process for both of us.

Q: What methods do you use to promote your products and company?

A: We are active in social media campaigns. Our primary focus is health, since we believe this is a crucial factor in convincing people to consume more organic produce. One of our campaigns was focused on convincing people to eat at least one organic product a day. We also organize cooking workshops where we teach groups how to cook with organic products. Lastly, we love to take groups on visits to our producers. This helps people to reconnect with their food and its origins.

We grow through alliances with projects that look for the same positive impact that we do in three axes: personal, social and planet wise. Even though the community is small, we do as much as we can to contribute to the cause and work on strengthening our message to reach more people. However, the community of people interested in taking care of their health and their planet is in constant growth.

We are almost 100 percent of the organic market in Mexico. But only about 1 percent of the food market is organic. I would rather have 50 percent of the market and see 5-7 percent of Mexicans consuming organic products instead of 1 percent. This is why all organic producers deserve a push. In other countries, such as the US, growth in organic consumption is reaching double-digit figures. Our company tries to innovate, launching between four to six new products a year. We also try to grow our distribution network constantly. Combined with our social media campaigns, this helps to build the brand name and awareness of benefits of organic food.

Q: How will you grow in the short term?

A: The challenge is to continue growing in the current chaotic environment, with the economic downturn, COVID-19 and other factors. We have asked ourselves whether people will continue buying organic products when they are forced to ration and buy basic products due to lower income. However, we believe that personal health is the last thing a person wants to sacrifice. Our challenge is to keep our supply chain running and able to carry more sales. As producers become bigger and bigger, we have to be there as the trustworthy partner that is the channel to the customer.

 

Aires de Campo is a Mexican food company that works with 40 organic producers around the country. Its offering includes both plant and meat-based products and is available in supermarkets

Photo by:   Aires de Campo
Jan Hogewoning Jan Hogewoning Journalist and Industry Analyst