1877-2017: Barilla turns 140
8 June 2017
Barilla, born in 1877 as a small bread and pasta shop in the centre of Parma, is today the world’s pasta leader. For four generations, Barilla was guided by passion and values that have inspired what
is today’s only way of doing business: Good for You, Good for the Planet.
Let’s look back at the main stages in the life of one of Italy’s most important business stories.
A family business that is strongly rooted in the gastronomic tradition of Italy. An ambassador of the Mediterranean Diet around the world. A pioneer in communication: unforgettable commercials with actors, artists and sports personalities including Federico Fellini, Dario Fo, Ennio Morricone, Paul Newman and, more recently, Roger Federer. Innovative, for its ability to anticipate trends: with the Mulino Bianco brand it invented the Italian breakfast, today it is launching organic pasta and pasta ready in “3 minutes”, and in the future it will be the turn of 3D printed pasta. But, first and foremost, a sustainable company that has chosen not to be listed on the Stock Exchange, to be managed drawing inspiration from values: to become the preferred company for people in the world.
In 2017, Barilla turns 140 years old. Born out of a small pasta and bread store in 1877, located in Strada Vittorio Emanuele II in Parma, today Barilla is world leader in pasta and pasta sauces in continental Europe, bakery products in Italy and crispbread in Scandinavia. Barilla has 28 production plants (14 in Italy and 14 abroad) that export to more than 100 countries, with 2016 revenues of 3.413 billion euros and more than 8,000 employees. And with only one way of doing business, drawing inspiration from the wellbeing of people and the environment: Good for you, Good for the Planet.
“Having a 140-year history gives great motivation to face the future. The generations of people who have worked with dedication to build Barilla did so while preserving the values that still drive us today: making quality products respecting local communities”says Paolo Barilla, Deputy Chairman of Barilla Group. “Today we have much more information and skills to understand and improve products, from the origins of raw materials in the field to their impact on people’s well-being. We are aware that everything can be improved, and this is what give us enthusiasm to continue working with passion”.
IN 1877, PIETRO BARILLA OPENS A BAKERY IN DOWNTOWN PARMA
Everything starts in Parma, famous around the world for excellent food products such as prosciutto and Parmigiano, in 1877. Pietro Barilla Senior starts a bakery business, in strada Vittorio Emanuele II in the centre of Parma (today via Repubblica). In 1898, “a small wooden press to make pasta to sell in the bakery” makes its début in the shop. They made about 50kg per day. With the help of his sons Riccardo (who quitted school at 14 to help “my dear father”) and Gualtiero (who studied in the seminary), the story of the Barilla family company begins. In 1903, the pasta production is 400 kg per day; in 1905, it becomes 2.5 tons.
1910-1947: BARILLA BECOMES A BUSINESS AND COMES TO THE SECOND GENERATION
In 1910, the first industrial plant opens on via Veneto to produce bread and pasta. The work of the family’s second generation starts here: Riccardo and Gualtiero take on the leadership of the company. The company employs 80 people and pasta production reaches 8 tons per day.
The family’s first great commercial success is the packaging of pastina glutinata (i.e. high gluten soup pasta) with the family name on it (all pasta used to be sold in bulk). Of that period (1910) is also the first company logo penned by sculptor Emilio Trombara: a boy who breaks a gigantic egg inside a wooden trough.
In 1919, Gualtiero dies and Riccardo remains at the helm of the company with his wife Virginia. Their son Pietro Barilla junior joins the company in 1936 and sets up the first sales network; at the same time the plant is modernized with six continuous presses that work as mixers, kneading machines and presses. In 1937, the “fosfina” pasta (thanks to phosphate “gives strength to the weak, sustains the strong”) marks the beginning of the Barilla family’s focus on matters of nutrition.
1947-1971: BARILLA PASTA CONQUERS ITALY (AND ITALIANS)
The leadership of the company is taken by the family’s third generation.Pietro Barilla, who deals especially with marketing and promotion, and his brother Gianni, in charge of plant development and management.
Pietro’s trip to America in 1950 becomes the symbol of the transition from the past to the future of the company. He experiences the logics behind advertising, marketing techniques, packaging and large retail. The first effect of this encounter with the new is the introduction of the cardboard box for pasta, which was being sold in bulk or exported in wooden cases. The success is such that in 1952 the company gives up the production of bread and focuses only on pasta, which soon becomes a product sold all over Italy.
The partnership with graphic designer (and architect) Erberto Carboni begins. He designs the company logo – the brand framed by the oval representing the egg.
To increase its visibility, Barilla decides to use advertising, which is taking its first steps on TV in these years. The catchphrase “with Barilla pasta it’s always Sunday” is created and very famous Italian actors of the time are involved as testimonials: Giorgio Albertazzi, the later winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Dario Fo and singers Mina (last-minute choice over Sofia Loren) and Massimo Ranieri.
The packs of cardboard pasta introduce the transparent window that will become the trademark of the company from Parma. Starting from 1965, bread sticks and crackers are added to the product range.
The need then arises to have a larger plant and in 1969, the largest pasta factory in the world is opened in Pedrignano, on the outskirts of Parma: 120 meters of production line, 1,000 tons of pasta per day.
1971-1979: THE AMERICAN BREAK AND THE BARILLA FAMILY BACK AT THE HELM
In 1971, brothers Pietro and Gianni Barilla, due to family reasons and the difficult economic and social context of the time, decides to sell the business to the American multi national company W.R. GRACE. Pietro Barilla tries to resist until the bitter end. He is 50% shareholder with his brother, but he does not have enough money to buy out his brother’s shares. From the day after the sale agreement was signed, Pietro started thinking about a way to buy back the business in the shortest time possible.
He tries a first time in 1978 (but cannot manage to put together the cash needed and comes out of the Grace’s USA offices disappointed, literally in tears), but he will have to postpone everything for one year only. In 1979,Pietro’s offer to buy back the company is successful and Barilla returns in the hands of the family.
However, the company does not stay still in these years. Brands such as Neapolitan pasta maker Voiello is purchased (1973) and, in 1975, Mulino Bianco is launched, a line of biscuits, breads and snacks. To give people hope in troubled times, Barilla places the need to “go back to nature”, to what’s good and genuine, at centre stage.
1979-1993: “BARILLA IS HOME”, THE YEARS OF FELLINI, TORNATORE AND MICHALKOV…
In these years, Barilla collaborates with the most prestigious film directors in the world. Federico Fellini, in 1985, authors a brilliant commercial that mocks French nouvelle cuisine, on the rise at that time, (a sophisticated couple seated at an upscale restaurant rejects scores of dishes with French sounding names to end up ordering prosaic “rigatoni”, amid everyone’s astonishment).
Nikita Michalkov, a few years later (1989), films a remake of that commercial and sets it in the Hotel National restaurant in Moscow’s Red Square (with the two protagonists ordering spaghetti and, to make themselves understood, they roll the air with two fingers, imitating the fork on spaghetti, a gesture that will quickly become international).
In 1990, it is the turn of a very young Giuseppe Tornatore, fresh from winning an Academy Award for the movie “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”, who is signed up along with musician Ennio Morricone for the campaign on the “Famiglia del Mulino” dedicated to the Mulino Bianco brand. The campaign portrays a universe of values – family, nature and the environment, the quality of the products and raw materials - which still today characterizes the company.
In the meantime between 1991 and 1992 acquisitions continue. Abroad - Misko, pasta leader in Greece – but also Pavesi, famous producer of biscuits, in Italy.
1993-2000: INTERNATIONALIZATION AND SUSTAINABILITY (GOOD FOR YOU, GOOD FOR THE PLANET)
In this last quarter of a century, with the arrival at the helm of the company of the fourth generation – Guido, Luca and Paolo, sons of Pietro – another chapter is opened. The keywords become internationalization and sustainability. The first years are marked by the development of the European market: between 1993 and 1995, with commercials filmed by famous directors and celebrity testimonials, Barilla grows strongly in France (ads created by David Lynch and Ridley Scott with Gérard Depardieu) and in Germany (how could we forget Steffi Graf serving Barilla pasta on her Wimbledon trophy “plate”?).
Then the horizon encompasses the whole world. In 1994, Barilla pasta lands in America. In the meantime, there is a flurry of acquisitions – Filiz pasta, in Turkey, Wasa crisp breads in Northern Europe, Vesta and Yemina pasta in Mexico, Harrys soft breads in France – which help position the Barilla brand as undisputed pasta leader in the world and a key player in bakery products.
2000-2016: ACADEMIA BARILLA AND THE BCFN FOUNDATION
Producing good healthy food is no longer enough: in Italy the opening in 2004 of Academia Barilla – a cultural project dedicated to knowledge and promotion of regional Italian food – marks the starting point of focused attention paid to social and cultural values that revolve around food and its preparation. In the USA, the opening of the Barilla Restaurants (the first in New York in 2013) brings the Mediterranean model of conviviality and pleasure of healthy eating around the world (landing in Dubai in 2016). Also, projects like the Barilla Pasta World Championship, a cooking challenge among the best chefs in the world who test their skills with dry pasta based recipes, become a statement about the excellence of pasta not only as a dish but also as an emotional element of socialization.
In 2009 the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation is created, a think tank whose goal is to make proposals and analyse with a multidisciplinary approach the global topics related to food: hunger, obesity, food waste and sustainable agriculture.
BARILLA TODAY: “GOOD FOR YOU, GOOD FOR THE PLANET”: THE ONLY WAY OF DOING BUSINESS.
“Good for You, Good for the Planet” is the compass that today guides the Group’s business: promote healthy lifestyles and a sustainable diet, constantly improve existing products following the Double Pyramid model (nutrition and environment); value diversity as an asset; promote a more sustainable agricultural system. And the results speak for themselves. From 2010 until today, Barilla has improved the nutritional profile of 360 products, removing in 2016 palm oil from all its bakery products. And in the pasta supply chain, Barilla supports Italian farmers with new three-year cultivation contracts that call for the purchase of 900,000 tons of durum wheat by 2019. For an ever greener company that in the last five years has reduced by 21% water consumption and by 28% greenhouse gas emissions in its production plants.
Barilla is today also on the front line of healthy eating education with the project Giocampus, that made Parma a workshop for quality of lifestyles, working with the new generations in a case history that is being studied all over the world in the context of fighting obesity. And it supports people in emergency situations: 100 Barilla employees (“Barilla Angels”) are volunteers of the civil protection agency and have been active during the earthquake in Central Italy and the flood in Piacenza.
BARILLA AND COMMUNICATION: ROGER FEDERER NEW BRAND TESTIMONIAL IN EUROPE
The brand’s communication continues. Barilla has been a pioneer in this since the early years of Carosello (the showcase of Italian TV commercials), thanks to the winning choice of betting on testimonials to present its commercials. The latest Barilla ads featured movie stars such as Antonio Banderas, Angela Finocchiaro and Pier Francesco Favino, and just a few days ago the Parma Group announced that its new testimonial for pasta and sauces in Europe will be the Swiss tennis star Roger Federer. The collaboration with the athlete considered by many to be the strongest tennis player of all times belongs to a path undertaken by Barilla years ago in the world of sports. Let’s not forget the collaboration with big tennis stars of the past such as Stefan Edberg and Steffi Graf or the historical sponsorship of the AS Roma of Falcao and Bruno Conti, winner of the 1982-83 Italian Football Championship. And then again recently, the sponsorship of the Italian national basketball team and the great American skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
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