(Translated from an interview with Ramón Mendiola, CEO of FIFCO that was published in Dutch newspaper FD)
Where it all started
The Florida Ice and Farm Company (FIFCO) was founded in 1908 in a little town in Costa Rica as an agricultural and ice manufacturing company. Today it is a public company known globally for its success in adopting 3BL or triple bottom line approach.
FIFCO is famous for it’s Imperial Beer brand and over the last ten years expanded into new categories such as food, spirits, non-alcoholic beverages and milk. In 2013 they entered the US market by acquiring North American Breweries, the largest independent brewery in the USA. Most recently FIFCO expanded into retail through the acquisition of Musmanni, a national chain of 200 bakery shops, with the plan to partly convert them to convenience stores. With over 5000 employees FIFCO exports to over 22 countries, primarily in Central and North America.
Results from People, planet and profit
In 2008 the CEO, Ramón Mendiola, started the company on their Triple Bottom Line strategy (3BL or People, Planet, Profit) aiming to measure its success along more dimensions than just financial growth. Since then the company has grown two-fold, reaching 1 billion USD in sales.
In people and planet there were successes such as the award for “Best place to work in Costa Rica” as well as Zero Solid Waste and Water Neutral operations and the fact that 97% of FIFCO’s employees are involved in volunteering activities. The World Economic Forum classified FIFCO, together with 16 other companies, as “sustainability champions” and FIFCO is among the 1% of companies across the globe that allocates more than 6,5% of its profits to social investments.” A recent example that FIFCO means business with 3BL was its launch of the first social business in Central America, Nutrivida.
A new chapter and strategy for FIFCO
“But by 2014 it was time to start the next chapter in FIFCO’s history” says Ramon Mendiola. “FIFCO needed a new strategy to keep up with changes in the business landscape as well as social and environmental challenges in the markets where we operate. We needed inspiration to innovate and away to instill the 3BL ambition into our brands.”
In an interview with Ramon Mendiola he speaks about the actual journey that led to the new strategy and why he decided a different approach was needed to connect strategy and innovation to 3BL and why in this process it was important to engage FIFCO’s senior leaders, employees and key stakeholders.
Can you tell us something about the new strategy and how it was developed?
The development of the new strategy was a thoughtful process that we conducted with the guidance of one of the best strategy companies I have ever known: Strategos. With the support of Michel van Hove, Carl Hamilton and their team, we spent six months developing the new strategy for FIFCO. We set out to define a strategy that was aspirational before thinking what that would mean in financial terms.
Strategos guided our Team in the analysis of key stakeholder´s needs, challenging our beliefs, leveraging our core competencies and exploring trends in the marketplace. Together we worked on a new mission and developed opportunity domains, vectors and a new strategic architecture. We are extremely excited with our new strategy.
We engaged employees across the broader FIFCO organization around our future and their role within it. Therefore the whole project started by exploring new innovations and strategic options inspired by the insights that our core team developed.
What was different compared to the old strategy?
The new strategy builds on FIFCO’s belief in 3BL. It is based on four strategic vectors instead of one (3BL). In addition, it goes deeper in terms of our commitment to changing from 3BL as a vision to 3BL as a business.
How are you getting the organisation to support you in executing the strategy and innovating for the future?
It has been an easier process because our executives participated along the process of developing the strategy. Strategos´ methodology is quite effective because it creates different teams in which the key members of the organization were involved so at the end it is not a consulting project or imposition top down, but a result that we build together as a team.
In what way do you see changes in how you innovate for the future?
We expect changes in the way we develop and market our products. In addition, we are going to align better according to channel and consumer needs in order to potentiate the category experience at the point of sale. And we aim to be a partner of choice within the categories and markets where we operate.
What are the results / changes as a result of this initiative?
We have clear migration plans for each area of our business to transition from where we are today to where we want to be in the future. We immediately started several innovation challenges that will activate our strategy in the marketplace, demonstrate our commitment and make it real and visible for our stakeholders.
What is your ambition for the company going forward?
Together we have authored our ambition, which is now guiding our work: To become a company that shares the value we create with all our stakeholders, employees, consumers, customers, partners as well as the communities we operate in. We aspire to be the category captain in the markets we serve, aiming to exceed expectations through our unique brands and solutions. We are an open and entrepreneurial organization that seeks collaboration with others who share our beliefs in 3BL as a way to create prosperity and wellbeing.”
With this new strategy FIFCO aims to become the leader in the categories where they compete and provide products and solutions to its customers that make sense according to their 3BL commitment. “We will seek partnerships with other companies that commit to 3BL and believe just like we do, that this is the best way to create value for all involved” says Mendiola. He continues: “We are extremely enthusiastic about our new strategy and expect a transformation in how we develop and market our products and services. We expect these changes will help us to differentiate and create competitive advantages in the categories and markets we operate. And what is very important for us is that it will help FIFCO to convince other business leaders that there is a better way to conduct business without the usual trade offs. One where linking financial performance with sustainability and societal goals makes perfect business sense.
Ramon Mendiola is the kind of business leader that can inspire an organization to set a stretched goal and engage its employees to actually realize it. We are proud to have supported FIFCO to start their journey.