Barilla, World’s Largest Pasta Company, Focuses on Sustainability

For any pasta enthusiast, the blue box is a familiar sight.

Italian company Barilla is a supermarket staple; boxes of its pastas, from spaghetti to fusilli, line shelves in that classic color.

Since its humble beginnings as a bakery shop in Parma, Italy in 1877, Barilla has grown to be a major international player, with 33 percent of the dry pasta market in the U.S. and 23 percent worldwide, according to a 2018 Nielsen report. Its products, from pasta to sauces to crispbreads, are sold in stores and restaurants internationally—1.7 million tons of them each year.

And yet, over 140 years later, the Italian food empire has remained family-owned. Brothers Guido, Luca, and Paolo Barilla, chairman and vice chairmen, respectively, represent the fourth generation at the helm of the Barilla Group.

Focus on Sustainability

In continuing their family legacy, the Barillas have committed to a sustainable approach to company growth, with programs that aim to improve agricultural efficiency and competitiveness while limiting environmental impact. According to its 2018 “Good for You, Good for the Planet” Sustainability Report, the Barilla Group allocated over 5.4 million euros to spending and investing in environmental preservation and protection initiatives in 2017.

In line with a commitment to sustainable sourcing, Barilla doubled the percentage of raw materials purchased from responsibly managed supply chains, from 19 to 40 percent, from 2016 to 2017. That includes 61 percent of its durum wheat semolina, 87 percent of its tomatoes, and 100 percent of its beef and pork.

In 2017, Barilla purchased 90 percent of its durum wheat for pasta—a total of around 1 million tons—locally, meaning in the same country where the pasta was produced. For pasta sold in the United States, most of which is produced by Barilla’s plants in Iowa and upstate New York, much of that means local American wheat grown in the country’s agricultural heartland.

Barilla sources much almost all of its durum wheat for pasta locally. (Deborah Yun/The Epoch Times)

The company encourages multi-year contracts with its farmers, both to provide better job stability and ensure the setting of specific quality and sustainability guidelines for crop cultivation, including efforts to maintain soil health and biodiversity and reduce water consumption and other resource waste. In 2017, 57 percent of Barilla’s durum wheat purchased in Italy was done through such agreements, involving over 5,000 farmers.

For its pasta production plant in Parma, the largest in the world, Barilla also launched a wheat transport train—the Barilla “grain train”—in 2015. The train has resulted in 3,300 fewer trucks on Italian roads per year, according to the report.

Since 2010, Barilla has reduced water consumption for every ton of pasta made in its production facilities by 31 percent.

The Barilla “grain train.” (Deborah Yun/The Epoch Times)

Future Plans

Moving forward, Barilla continues to focus on long-term impact. Its 2018 report includes a plan to invest 1 billion euros (about $1.1 billion) over the next five years, to continue to boost competitiveness and sustainability as well as innovation and expansion of its plants.

Goals including purchasing 100 percent of its raw materials, including durum wheat, semolina, tomatoes, and sunflower oil, from responsibly managed supply chains; doubling the number of farmers involved in its sustainable agriculture program from 5,000 to 10,000, thus also doubling the supply of sustainably grown wheat; and achieving zero waste to landfill at its production plants by 2020.

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Author: Crystal Shi