Pino Calcagni

Pino Calcagni says Besana continues to target expansion in emerging overseas markets

Initial impressions can be misleading. At first, Italian dried fruit and nut company Besana might appear to be the most traditional and conservative of operators: a family-run business that trades in a highly specialised and niche segment of the fresh produce market, with a firm commitment to its domestic market and strong links with a handful of the largest retail customers.

But look more closely and you will see a company with horizons that are as broad as its product range, which itself has undergone continued transformation and expansion as Besana looks to keep up with new trends for healthier and more convenient products. Last year, its turnover rose to around €171m with volumes sold rising roughly in proportion. Importing raw product from around 30 countries and shipping to more than 20 foreign markets, almost 90 per cent of its business is now outside Italy, with the UK, Germany, Belgium and Scandinavia constituting its largest export markets.

In 2015, the group is targeting further expansion and development of new markets, backed by new investment at its main Italian packhouse, which is situated 25km east of Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. In the UK, meanwhile, Besana recently transferred its entire commercial, packing and logistics operation from the Cotswolds to a site just outside Ipswich, bring it far closer to the Port of Felixstowe, a key point of entry for the dried fruit and nuts it imports in bulk before mixing, bagging and boxing up products for onward distribution.

But while Italy, the UK and Germany remain very much a priority for the group, there’s no escaping the fact that it has one eye on new opportunities for commercial growth outside of Europe. For Pino Calcagni, owner of Besana Group and also vice-president of the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, exploring the world’s major emerging market is essential. “If we are going to grow, then we have to be aiming for those new, emerging markets in the east,” he explains. “We have an excellent business here in Europe, in Italy and the UK in particular, but if you look at the size of markets like China or India, each with a middle class made up of millions of consumers, that is an opportunity we cannot ignore.”

Private label raisin packs supplied by Besana

Mixed approach to branding

At present, the company’s expansion is occurring mainly in the Middle East and the Far East, although eastern European countries such as Poland are apparently also becoming more interesting as the pressure from discounters grows in more traditional markets.

Calcagni feels a branded offer will do well in those emerging markets, contrasting with a more private label-oriented approach in established commercial arenas. In the UK, for example, Besana has managed to corner a major swathe of the dried fruit and nut market by tackling big brand names such KP and Salters head on. “We’ve given the market what it wants, which is a very flexible and broad range of products all of which can be sold under private label,” he comments. “If you invest in a particular product line and put a brand on it, then that makes it more challenging to adapt if the market moves on in terms of its preference.”

In fact, almost three-quarters of the 100m packs Besana sold in 2014 were sold under private label, with a further 20 per cent or so going to the food industry. The company’s aim is to provide distributors with the right products in order to give consumers precisely what they want. “One of our customers recently asked us to develop brand new dried fruit and nut mixes for sale exclusively under their own brand. That can be a challenge, finding a mix that hasn’t been sold elsewhere, but it’s one we are well equipped to meet.”

Calcagni says the group has met increased demand for smaller snack lines: “People are eating more sensibly, only buying what they need and being careful not to waste food. So consumers want products that fit into that trend, as well as satisfying a demand for convenience.”

Besana's award-winning Waitrose Daily Vigour mix

Healthy returns

Investing in health has also been a key ingredient for Besana as far as providing the right range of products, for example with its highly successful trail mixes – combinations of dried fruit, nuts and sometimes other items like seeds or chocolate – that have been developed very much as something to be consumed while on the move. Besana’s Waitrose Love Life Daily Vigour Mix was recently recognised as the outstanding product in the Best Trail Mix category at the recent Healthy Food Guide awards.

The group has also attracted plaudits for the development of its UK business and recently saw one of its Tesco Finest Spiced Fruit and Nut Selection scoop a much-coveted Quality Food Award.

Besana will hold a special open day at its Naples factory in late January to present its 2014 results, new products and plans for the coming year to key customers, stakeholders, partners, banks and journalists.