Planting large crop products

Fitó: from tomatoes to grass for football fields

The Catalan seed company invoices 64% of turnover through exports, has 8 subsidiaries and 4 business lines, which make it a Catalan hidden champion
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iscretion has always been typical of Catalan firms. For this reason, when ordinary citizens think of Catalan historical multinationals, one of the companies that fulfils these characteristics, despites being usually overlooked, is Semillas Fitó.

Founded in 1880 in Barcelona, ​​Fitó is a leading seed company in several countries of the world, in segments such as melon or aubergine, and is becoming increasingly important in varieties such as tomatoes, watermelons, cucumbers, courgettes or peppers. It is a Catalan hidden champion. “Our vocation is to be specialists in seeds and not open ourselves to other businesses”, they explain from the company.

With a strong commitment to remain independent, this family-owned company is currently led by the fifth generation, and its annual turnover is around 86 million euros.

Image of the interior of an R & D center of Semillas Fitó

BUSINESS AREAS

At Fitó, they divide their business into four units. On the one hand, we find the vegetables, which represent 63% of sales, with more than 500 varieties of seeds adapted to different areas of the Mediterranean, as well as temperate and subtropical climates, and a range of products that includes the solanaceous varieties (aubergines, peppers and tomatoes), cucurbits (courgette, melon, cucumber and watermelon) and those called “large seeds”, such as beans, green beans or sweet corn. Besides, Fitó has also created a new sector, presented as the hobby unit, with a great variety of seeds for the amateur and semi-professional farmer, to satisfy an increasingly growing demand; although currently it represents only 4% of sales. “It’s about seeds in small envelopes, designed to make a small garden at home”, explains Xavier Fitó, director of the horticultural area, and who has led the company’s growth process.

On the other hand, at Fitó there are seeds for extensive crops, such as the field crops (23% of sales) with four corn and three sunflower programs. “These typologies constitute a wide range of very specific products for dry and heat conditions”, they explain. In addition, they also produce seeds specifically for turf grasses and sports fields with conditions of Mediterranean climates, which account for 10% of sales. We can, therefore, eat Fitó vegetables or play football in a Fitó grass field without knowing it.

64% EXPORT AND 8 SUBSIDIARIES

64% of the company’s turnover corresponds to exports, with sales in more than 70 countries, such as Mexico, Italy, Turkey or Brazil. Spain represents one third of the income. Fitó also has eight subsidiaries (Portugal, France, Italy, Turkey, India, Chile, Mexico and Brazil, the latter being the most recent, inaugurated in 2016) and a direct presence in ten other countries. The operations centres are installed in Spain -specifically, in Barcelona and Lleida- and in Turkey, and they employ more than 650 people in 18 different countries, of which more than 450 are in Spain (approximately 325 job positions in Catalonia).

“The R & D investment is a key factor for the development of our sector”, they explain from Fitó. Thus, they affirm to invest 20% of turnover in R & D, which represents 39% of jobs. “We have 10 R & D centres, a biotechnology laboratory in Cabrera de Mar (Barcelona), product development stations in more than 15 countries and collaborations with public and private centres, including collaboration with the Research and Technology Agrifood Institute (IRTA)”. In Catalonia they have a plant in Poblenou, Barcelona, ​​a logistics production center in Barbens (Pla d’Urgell) and the research and production centre in Maresme.

Aerial photograph of the Semillas Fitó logistics center in Lleida.

EXPANSION AND FUTURE

“We are known worldwide for the aubergine and melon, and we are fostering the possibilities of tomato”, explains Xavier Fitó. And he gives the example of the Monterosa variety of tomato, that has been developed at the company by combining the Girona “pear” tomato and the Costoluto Genovese tomato.

As for future plans, Xavier Fitó explains that last year, at Semillas Fitó, they were “debating a lot about whether they should grow by diversification, by international expansion or by penetration (quota)”. “We do not intend to grow in more markets or by diversification, but to work better in the markets where we are already present, opening subsidiaries, etc. In 2019, for example, we will open in Morocco”, explains Xavier Fitó, who adds: “in Europe and in the United States we want to develop brands that reach the final consumer”.

“We are little well-known, but we can say that 90% of the aubergines that Trump eats and 50% of the cucumbers that Obama eats are ours”, states Xavier Fitó, who has led the company process of growth.