Dr. Sanguedolce, you have just celebrated the first century of life of this company: can we take a 100 years step back to tell how it all began?
This adventure was born with the fath er of my grandfather, Tommaso Sanguedolce, the “Casaro” as he was called by everyone, who already in the early ‘900 took a cow and began his passion for milk processing. At that time, they were all farmers, the production was of a few liters of milk, a few cheeses, a small homemade ricotta, homemade preparations mostly for home consumption. Then, after returning from the First World War, my grandfather followed the footsteps of his father and started a
small family dairy business: of his three children the only one to continue the business was my father who unfortunately left us in 2015.
Today, all three brothers are running the company.
My father’s business was a small shop under our home and when we three children grew up it was natural to approach this reality.
Is it true that among the three brothers, you were the most ambitious, the one who understood that you could go beyond the shop…
I wanted something more, I have always wanted to grow, I had ambitions… I wondered why the others did it and we should not? And we began to think about changing everything. So that one day my father told us: please help me first to make your youngest sister get married, then you do what you want. That’s when our journey started.
What was the first step?
We moved from the small 100-square- metre workshop under my father’s house to a 3,000-square-metre shed on a side street in Via Barletta. There the extended activity began, the first days we felt like being in an airport. Then we realized that if we wanted to be present in the big distribution, if we wanted to target foreign markets, then we needed to have a suitable structure to ensure that the product went through all stages of processing. This is how we started to think about moving to the current location and from the shed of 3 thousand square meters we found ourselves in this of 15 thousand.
A good step forward…
Actually this shed at the beginning was 30 thousand meters, I made it split into two parts. Even today my brother blames me for the choice of not having bought those other 15 thousand meters. At that time, however, it was not enough to buy, it was also necessary to fill.
I bet today that extra space would have been useful…
Yes, in fact, we bought a disused sawmill not far from here, a 10,000-square- metre structure destined to host a new, more modern technology, a “frozen” production line to satisfy the ever-increasing demand that comes from the Eastern countries. This is an important expansion project with an investment of 20 million euros. Here, however, will remain the technology for distribution in Puglia and Italy.
How old were you when you began to mature the idea of taking over the management?
My older brother and I have been working in the dairy since the age of ten. The highest level of study for us was the
third grade of middle school. When my father came to school to collect the elementary school certificate the professors
said “Leonardo your son has the skills and qualities to go on with the study” and every time he used to answer, in the dialect of Andria: “ and who will be supposed to make the mozzarella then?” We never stopped working, we had work in our DNA: at that time when we finished school in the afternoon we went to work and when there were holidays I went to deliver the mozzarella with the vespino or by bicycle. Ours was a small family business, we helped each other, even my mother helped out. But the one who wasn’t satisfied with it was me.
Explain yourself, what was the matter with you?
I felt tight. If we had to process an extra 100 quintals of milk, you couldn’t do it there. Our historical area was Barletta- Margherita-Trinitapoli. Barletta has always been a historic area for my father: he wanted to make his first dairy there, but at that time for my mother’s parents it was as if her daughter had to move to New York and then they stayed in Andria. But when I realized that the market was already too crowded, I had the idea of moving to Bari.
Your clients at that time were the little delicatessens, right?
Yes, at that time supermarkets did not exist yet, my father transported the mozzarella in the buckets riding a Lambretta. We served the first supermarket in 1975, it was called Mega Market in Barletta: it was the first Dok-Famila supermarket of today.
Let’s go back to the evolution of Sanguedolce…
Moving to Bari and the South of Bari was for me like entering another world. Bari, besides being a very big city, opened
the doors of a market that appreciated our product very much. The customers complimented us, I loaded the van and went to sell.
You went to make the sale yourself, you didn’t have any distributors or representatives?
Here we’ve all always worked. Now you see me in my suit, but if the night came, you’ d find me in a white uniform working with the workers. All workers are good, but they always need to be guided.
But then what happened?
On July 26, 1989, I was on my way to Bojano, Campania, to meet new buyers. I went there with a distributor of mine who had organized the appointment, he was driving… in Vallata we went to get stuck under a truck and I spent five days in reanimation. I came back to life because someone told me, up there, that my time had not arrived yet. I was 30 years old, two daughters and a third son coming.
How did that episode mark your experience?
That episode is just to say the importance of the work. Today here in the company there are my children, the children of my brother, the children of the other brother and then there are the sons in law … But today the young people are not as hungry as we were at their age. They don’t have the same ambition. At that time our dream was to have the car, 20 million in the bank and the house. God gave us those and more. Our children already had everything.
This is a beautiful reflection that connects many other business realities: what can be done?
We asked for the advice of the Ambrosetti studio, a company expert in generational changes within companies: we have written rules for the future and to ensure that the company continues to live and grow from one generation to the next.
In short, the challenge is to rediscover the same humility from which you started.
We have always been humble. They taught me that you always have to keep your feet on the ground. Sometimes, however, I see people who have nothing and yet swell up. For example, I have a car and I don’t drive it since two or three years because it almost bothers me that someone can see me and think that I want to show something off.
An important “little car”, I understand…
Yes, a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti.
Your company is 100 years old, but I would say it doesn’t show it: cutting-edge products, investments in technology investments in communication and advertising. You answered my call immediately and after twenty-four hours we are now doing the interview: I immediately
had the feeling of an entrepreneur who is not showing off. You told me you only have the eighth grade: how do you keep up with the times?
If you want to grow you have to study, you have to update, you always have to compare with what is out there. I still remember the joy in the eyes of my children when they gave me my first iPhone: they told me that it was one of the first models ever and that not many people had it. After two days I threw it out and I asked back my Nokia. Then slowly I got it back and I had to learn. Today I can’t avoid reading the emails on my iPhone, to send messages via WhatsApp or to make video conferences when I cannot participate in Parma to the Assolatte meetings to which we belong.
Do you remember a time when you felt heavy the weight of an important choice?
When we bought the first shed. We bought it from a man in Barletta who produced aluminum sections and we didn’t have a penny. Without knowing it we found ourselves with 300 million of debt that that gentleman had and that we had to pay for him. It was a difficult moment. In those days we were sitting at the table, looking each other without knowing what to do. We wanted to cry. Our goal, however, was to keep our father’s name high and that’s all that made us move on, work 24 hours a day, until we achieved the result. After all, we could count on an exceptional product that the market liked, we had a pinch of luck that allowed us to work and from then on it’s all been downhill.
Today Sanguedolce distributes in Italy and abroad.
We are present throughout Italy and we have just started with Spain. We produce a lot for a company called Nuova Castelli, which distributes in France, England and Netherlands. We are also present abroad between 10-20 percent. In New York as well as in Hong Kong where one day I found my burratina in an Italian restaurant.
In the Middle East?
The East is the market that if it explodes will frighten more than one person.
In which way?
In China until a short time ago they didn’t drink milk, then they realized that everyone suffered from osteoporosis to the point that the Chinese government forced them to drink milk every day. At the beginning they imported powdered milk from Germany, while recently they started to build stables and the first milk production plants. Bear in mind that if the Chinese started to consume an average of one liter of milk per capita, the whole Europe would not be enough to give milk to China. And if the Chinese started to eat a single morsel of mozzarella each, it would not be enough everything we produce to supply that market. It is certainly an opportunity, but they are copying everything and if they learn how to produce mozzarella too, it will be a problem. Our advantage is that we make the mozzarella and we eat it fresh. The Chinese would only be able to send it here frozen.
How much milk do you process here, by the way?
We process from 1,000 to 1,500 quintals of milk a day, we make over 35 million euros and in 2019, if God wants, we will approach 40 million euros.
The next milestone?
As I told you before, we have everything ready for a new plant. It’s an investment designed to grow further. We will build a new generation plant that will allow us to produce mozzarella with a 40 days chef-line, with a particular technique of freezing, in this way we could transport it everywhere at reasonable costs that today are not guaranteed by air transport.
How have consumer preferences changed in 100 years?
We were the first to make lactose- free mozzarella and today we offer the full range of lactose-free products authorized by the Ministry of Health. We also launched the “organic” product because today the consumer is very concerned about quality, so it’s up to us to stay on the piece and carefully follow the changing trends. For example, today we pay more attention to the diet and if once at the table we were used to eat a kilo of mozzarella, today, 100 grams is a lot.
How do you like mozzarella?
Mozzarella must always be tempered and consumed at room temperature, don’t be afraid if it’s 40 degrees outside and it’s hot. Mozzarella does not get ruined, on the contrary, mozzarella is already born at 80 degrees. When eaten as soon as taken out of the refrigerator, any food loses its taste.