Farming cooperative combines technology with experience
Augusto Grob, President of Colun, a cooperative of farmers who believe strongly in the concept of cooperation and maintaining the high quality of its products, discusses what has made it the country’s premier dairy company for more than six decades
During your mandate, which guidelines have you followed to bring Colun to where it is today and how the cooperative has evolved since its beginnings?
The first thing I would like to emphasize is that our company is a cooperative, therefore its social and economic structure is different from that of a corporation. In a cooperative there is a strong rapport with the member-farmers, who are the owners of the company and, at the same time, the milk suppliers. These partners seek to develop their own production capacity in their fields, adding value to their environment and production and, thus, improving the marketability of their production.
If I am not mistaken, you process over 1.5 million litres a day, with more than 770 associated producers to achieve goals worth over $325 million. You just mentioned that at the end of the year this plant would be operational increasing your productive capacity and operational management.
Yes. There is a lesson we learned from the beginning, and that is: “to make things work well, they have to be done well.” Nothing is accomplished with good ideas if we do not get the best advice to implement them. It is in our interest that the machinery we are going to acquire is the latest technology available in the market, that our farmers use the best products and processes available and, in that sense, we are willing to find them where they are, buy them and make them available to our cooperative members.
I absolutely agree. Aside from worrying about production and quality, we have a Department of Development, which has professionals who are constantly innovating products for internal and external markets.
Efficiency, quality, equipment, research and product development of Germany are known in the world. What does Germany mean to you in terms of potential benefits for your industry? And what potential business relationships exist today?
For us, the relationship with Germanic culture is a close and long-standing one. We feel that borders are pierced and today we are very influenced by these roots. A significant proportion of the inhabitants in our country descend from German settlers who arrived in Chile in the 19th century, built a home, started up a business, worked the fields, and brought their culture and traditions to this place so far away. And with this background, it is normal to feel close to this nation. This is why we are exploring and extending links with some German companies, which we hope will continue to grow over time.
In June of this year you entered the Marketing Hall of Fame. You have launched quite important marketing campaigns and we have seen international media promotions of Colun in foreign markets. What importance do you give as president to communicate the opportunities and the quality of the products? And to what extent are you thinking of promoting the brand beyond its borders?
Advertising is a fundamental activity. If we did not advertise, it would take a long time for our products to be known and demanded by consumers. Nowadays only the quality of products is not enough, you also have to make them known quickly, especially in the domestic market, where we have strong competition from multinational companies.
Where would you like to see Colun within five to 10 years? What are your strategies and your vision for the future? For example, are you planning more agreements with other countries?
A fundamental issue is that the business owners are farmers, and they have done very well because Colun pays them well for their production. For that reason, they request us to be able to receive more milk and to meet that need we built the new plant that will be inaugurated soon. This is a project that will provide short-term results, from which we expect better results in the coming years.
When the readers of the Financial Times Deutschland read in Germany about your history, the cooperative, the expansion process and the quality of your products, what would be the message to retain in their memory?
Without doubt, we would like to convey our philosophy that is passionate and is what differentiates us: we are a company formed by farmers, who believe strongly in the concept of cooperation. Country people, who live in close contact with nature, knowing very well their strengths and weaknesses, the reason why they provide why they offer.