Fabio Zoboli, sales manager at Infia, discusses the lockdown, the bad weather and the increasing demand for eco-friendly products from operators all over the world. The company produces and sells 3.3 billion pieces a year in 5 continents.
FreshPlaza (FP): How would you describe the first 8 months of 2020 - before, during and after lockdown in Italy?
Fabio Zoboli (FZ): The volumes were very interesting until April, then there was a drop in sales due to the weather problems, which caused heavy losses all over southern Europe, and to the lack of harvesting personnel available during lockdown.
FP: How did the situation change on a European and global level?
FZ: When it comes to fruit exports, it became more difficult to plan. In many cases, supermarkets were not handing our programs or were sending them over with very little notice. This led to strong price fluctuations and made it difficult for producers to manage logistics and packaging. At Infia, we managed this aspect successfully thanks to the fact that, over the past few years, we invested mainly on flexibility.
FP: How did packaging demand react in Italy between June and August?
FZ: In Italy, as in the rest of the world, there is a strong tendency to prefer prepackaged products. The market is more and more segmented. There is a strong push towards biodegradable materials but, at the current stage, this is not a solution that can be realistically applied. There has been an increase in the use of materials alternative to plastic due to the false perception consumers have of it and to the interest of retailers to reach a circular economy when it comes to primary packaging (i.e. packaging made of recycled raw material that can be reused to make the same product). At the moment, the only material that can be used to do this is PET/R-PET
FP: How are the sales abroad?
FZ: Infia exports over 80% of its volumes in over 80 countries. Volumes and areas vary every year. This year, Spain suffered, particularly in April, due to the problems caused by the weather and by Covid. What is more, the peak of the berry campaign coincided with great difficulties getting labor over from Morocco to proceed with harvesting. At the same time, Murcia suffered from great losses due to the bad weather in spring. As mentioned earlier, apart from Greece, all Mediterranean countries (Italy, France and Spain), suffered from the bad weather in spring, while northern European producers registered a good summer campaign.
FP: How are 100% R-PET sales going?
FZ: For the past few years, our entire Pet punnet production has been made using post-consumer PET. Supermarkets are interested in reducing the impact of primary packaging and operators are aware recycled plastic is the raw material with the best environmental impact. The problem is making consumers understand that plastic is not the problem per se, but that we need to prevent it being dumped into the environment. Focusing on using recycled plastic has the primary effect of promoting a positive circle by conveying value to the material: if plastic has value, someone will collect it and avoid it being dispersed. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this phenomenon, just think that the R-PET we are buying now is much more expensive than the virgin material!
The Infia stand at a fair in 2019
FP: Has planning changed for the last few months of 2020/early 2021?
FZ: We have focused on flexibility to keep up with the changes that have characterized the market. For a company producing and selling over 3.3. billion pieces a year in all continents, we are proud to say we have won this challenge.