No limits

Health trends are driving strong growth at Spanish company Laboratorios Almond. We caught up with Managing Director Álvaro Robles.
Tell us about yourself and your business?

The company was founded 25 years ago in Murcia and was initially focused on pharmacy products before moving into the food sector. I have spent most of my career in the consumer goods sector, including working for Coca- Cola. Moving to this business gave me the opportunity to work in a company which has a huge opportunity to explore the global healthy foods sector which is seeing enormous growth.

We export around half our products, especially vegetable drinks and our almond and coconut ranges, to some 60 countries. A particular target for us is to break into the US organic food market which is the biggest in the world, and we are looking for a partner to work with over there.

How have health trends impacted the business?

One area is the organic food sector which is now very fashionable and is a sector we know well. Our best selling products are organic vegetable milks, new variations of products containing seeds, and other alternatives to foods with a high sugar content. We also have a strong position across Europe with our Ecomil almond drink which, for instance, is popular in the UK via retailers such as Waitrose and Holland & Barrett.

The wider impact of these health trends has been spectacular. We are seeing annual sales growth of more than 30% and an explosion of new channels interested in selling organic food such as pharmacies, e-commerce channels and traditional supermarkets. At the end of the day consumers now have far more information about what is healthy. We increasingly realise ‘we are what we eat’.

The gluten-free market has seen particular growth. How mature is the Spanish market?

Our consumers have three profi les. They are either lovers of organic food, vegans, or people with intolerances, especially dairy protein and gluten. We have been making gluten-free products for many years and it remains a key focus for us.

However, gluten-free is no longer just serving those people with intolerances, it is also fashionable too. I would say the Spanish market is at the same level of maturity as the rest of Europe, although in some respects the market has been ahead of the game as leading retailer Mercadona started a campaign of products without gluten 20 years ago. Today it has thousands of gluten-free products on its shelves.

What other trends are you seeing across the food and drink sector?

It is a continuous process, every year we see new trends and products hitting the market, there are almost no limits. Traditional concepts are changing fast. We are seeing strong demand at the moment for ingredients such as coconut, turmeric, ginger, avocado, sugar alternatives such as panela, coconut sugar, xylitol, and ionized alkaline waters.

How are these trends impacting M&A activity?

Considerably! We are seeing a lot of consolidation in these emerging food markets and there will be more to come. A notable deal was Danone acquiring WhiteWave Foods which specialises in soy milk, protein shakes and kale. In the future few, if any, ingredients companies will be able to remain independent because this is such an attractive sector and fast-moving market. All the big players are looking at this right now.

Where do you want this business to be in 10 years time?

The organic food market will continue to play a very relevant role in the eating habits of the average consumer, but at the same time we will also see new discoveries that improve our health and lengthen life expectancy. As a business we want to play a major role in these health trends, especially in areas such as organic. But we also want to bring value to consumers and help create a more sustainable and fairer society, ensuring healthy foods are available to all.

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