Tomatoes made in Italy – still a promising business idea?

Francesco Mutti is the fourth generation to run Mutti Tomatoes, a Parma-based company founded in 1899. Mutti decided to change the business in a very special moment.

Video: How Mutti changed his business

For Francesco Mutti, tomatoes are a family matter: he is the fourth generation to run Mutti Tomatoes, a Parma-based company founded in 1899. When he took over from his father in 1994, Mutti made high quality and sustainable production a basic requirement of his work. And he set a goal to make the Mutti name known.

"I decided to go in a completely different direction from my father and focus on building a brand on tomatoes,” Mutti said. “Everyone told me it was an absolutely crazy idea. In the beginning, I didn't sleep so well".

Competitors from China

He did not choose the easy route. The tomato market - with sales of around 190 billion U.S. dollars at last count - has always been competitive. In the 1990s, farmers and harvest workers suffered from the price pressure exerted by discounters. Today, cheap goods from China are flooding the market. Around ten times as many tomatoes are produced there as in southern Europe – and their deceptive packaging means they often end up on our plates. "Made in Italy" does not necessarily mean that the tomato was grown there, but perhaps only packaged.

At Mutti, the route from field to factory is no more than 100 kilometers. This saves CO2 and ensures more flavor: the less time there is between harvesting and further processing, the fresher the taste of the tomatoes, even in the can.

This quality comes at a price. "Our costs are 13 percent higher than that of standard production in northern Italy," says Francesco Godani, who is responsible for research and development at Mutti.

Sustainability is the big element of transition. Francesco Godani, R&D Manager at Mutti

Quality pays off

In total, the family-owned company has invested 32 million Euros in better infrastructure and better pay for its employees. The consistent course toward quality has paid off. Mutti has won the trust of its customers. Increased awareness of regional, high-quality products and the trend toward sustainability have also fueled its success. The company not only sells 580,000 tons of tomatoes annually, but has also been able to increase its sales by 23 percent. In 2020, Mutti generated 465 million euros, demonstrating that quality and sustainability can be economically successful.

The key for having a fresh product is to reduce the time from harvesting to transformation. Francesco Godani, R&D Manager at Mutti

Francesco Mutti has long recognised the importance of sustainability – for society as a whole and for companies in particular. "It’s the engine of change,” he says. So it was on his initiative that the company developed its own research and development department. There Mutti is working on plans to save water on the fields and in further processing – also cooperating with farmers and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).

But it is also clear to the entrepreneur that more needs to happen to effect long-term change: "As a community we need to act in a completely different way."

About Mutti

Mutti was founded in 1899 in Montechiarugolo in the Italian Parma province. The family business is producing quality tomatoes in the fourth generation. From the beginning, quality has been one of the core values of the company. Producing tomato products exclusively allowed Mutti to focus on one single fruit and gather over 120 years of experience.

All tomatoes are, on average, grown within 60 miles of our factories and all are processed within 24 hours of harvest. The Mutti logo was registered in 1911, presenting two lions who protect Mutti’s first quality award.

Sonja Dammann

How can tradition and renewal go hand in hand? Sonja is particularly enthusiastic about family businesses that are deeply rooted in their region and focus on sustainability and quality. As an enthusiastic storyteller, foodie and mother of three children, she has taken particular pleasure in the story of Mutti Tomatoes.

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