Bolivia’s Coronilla provides an original line of quinoa-based pasta and other gluten-free, organic products to world markets. When German-Bolivian industrialist Guillermo Wille arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the city’s best-known monument was “Las Heroinas de la Coronilla”, honoring a group of women that fought for independence in 1812.
Guillermo had a successful brewery in Potosi in the highlands, but health issues forced a move with his family to Cochabamba at a lower altitude. In 1972, he sold his interest in the brewery, bought land and decided to name the new company “Coronilla.”
Mr. Wille had six children, and they all helped him in the business, especially Gerardo and Marta. When Gerardo left home to continue his education in Germany, Marta became more involved in the company’s administration.
By 1997, Coronilla was a family-operated manufacturer of traditional Italian pasta for the Bolivian market, with 134 employees. However, due to a significant economic crisis and with production five times the Bolivian consumption capacity, Coronilla had to restructure. Martha learned about celiac disease and decided the company should cater to this market and develop gluten-free, organic certified pasta and a wider range of products.
“In 1997 there was no “gluten-free” industry,” says Marta’s son Diego Pelaez Wille, CFO, and part of the third generation of the family enterprise. “The primary goal was to develop a gluten free pasta that would feel and taste like a regular top quality pasta. There was a lot of trial and error until we eventually achieved what we were looking for.”
Three years later, Coronilla had an excellent line of gluten-free pasta with organic certification. Coronilla created a product that provides the perfect “al dente” feel of traditional Italian pasta. In addition to its ideal texture, Coronilla decided to upgrade the nutritional value by incorporating Quinoa, an exceptional gluten-free grain with a nutty flavor that at that time was not known outside Bolivia and Peru, its main producing countries.
While its bestseller is pasta, Coronilla has gradually introduced a complete line of gluten-free pasta, breakfast cereals, dehydrated foods, snacks, cookies and ready mixes for muffins and pancakes. Besides Royal Quinoa, other Andean grains and brown rice form part of the recipes at Coronilla.
“Today, we source ingredients from different countries. However, quinoa is still one of our primary ingredients, and we will keep it as 100% Bolivian because we believe that Bolivian Quinoa has exceptional and unique attributes, and socially it is crucial to our country’s development,” says Diego.
Though Coronilla knew it had the highest quality, nutritious gluten-free pasta, it is no longer unique to the market as more firms have moved into the attractive gluten-free segment.
In 2016, Coronilla is launching a first in the market, a 100% Organic Sorghum pasta. “We chose Sorghum as our next “big thing” from all the gluten-free grains we could have chosen. First, it is a grain with an exceptional nutritional profile, high in protein and fiber, and adds a great value to gluten-free products,” says Diego.
“Second, it is a grain that barely needs water to grow. This feature is especially important in a world where a global water crisis is already happening; take California as a great example of this.”
Another unique strength at Coronilla is its ability to observe consumer trends and to listen to its clients. “We adapt our recipes to the taste of our customers. Each account has a unique and slightly different formulation for the products in the portfolio”. The firm has now formally established an R&D unit. Coronilla sells its line in 14 countries, with each of those markets having a different culture and understanding of taste and texture.
Corporate social responsibility According to its website Coronilla follows “fair trade practices and a unique model based on four core principles; environment protection, social development, economic feasibility, and total transparency.”
“We want to offer a distinct product line and company. We firmly believe in the power of the private sector to transform and improve this world through sustainable and fair business practices,” Diego says.
The Schwab Foundation awarded Martha, the current CEO, “social entrepreneur of the year” in 2014 for her work and commitment at Coronilla. She has made sure the firm is and remains a “hybrid for-profit model”.
The company has now 180 direct employees. In 2016, Coronilla’s shareholders will create a foundation to transfer close to 7% of the firm’s shares to provide more resources for social programs to improve education for workers and their families.
Another initiative is a loan program for the workers with 0% interest rate to help them cover some needs. “We also incorporate people with disabilities into our operations,” says Diego.Today, 10% of Coronilla’s workers have an impairment. Every Saturday, Coronilla hosts learning programs for the families of the workers, such as “Astronomy” or “Molecular Physics for Kids.”
When Marta took over the management in 1997, males made 90% of the workforce. Today, 85% of the workforce are women. It is a priority for Coronilla to focus on female development. Coronilla´s products are Organic and Kosher. The company is ISO 22.000, GMP, and socially certified through the “For Life” standards.
Quinoa was sourced directly from producers to guarantee they would receive a fair payment for their grain. When the price of the raw material skyrocketed, this was no longer needed. Today, the producers get at least 80% of the grain market price. Coronilla buys the goods from ethical and socially responsible companies that guarantee a reasonable relation with their supplier while keeping high standards of quality in their grain cleaning operations.
Coronilla has earned a reputation as a high quality and innovative provider of gluten-free products. Its marketing strategy for exports has been to produce under private label, selecting a client exclusive for each country, such as Windmill Organics in England, Gogo Quinoa in Canada and Olive Green in Australia.
“We believe in long-term relationships, and that is the main reason for having exclusive agreements in each country. However, if the market is big enough, Coronilla will consider having more than one private label under different contracts,” Diego says.
In 2016, Coronilla will focus on new markets, such as The Middle East and South East Asia. And it will launch its retail brand, a big move from the exclusive private label strategy. It will be introduced at ”FoodAsia” in Singapore this coming April. Now the biggest challenge Coronilla faces on a day-to-day basis is handling growth while keeping the operation as a 100% family owned business.
The issue of authenticity is increasingly important for quinoa grown in the Andean highlands of Bolivia. Quinoa used to be a food sourced only in Bolivia and Peru, with marginal production in Chile and Ecuador. While the US and Canada have started growing quinoa, this does not meet the quality or volume of quinoa grown in Bolivia’s Andes. Today, over 40 countries produce different varieties of quinoa, and conventional food multinationals are incorporating quinoa in their lines, as the Andean ‘superfood’ moves from niche food to commodity food.
Looking ahead five to 10 years with these changes and the evolution of other Andean grains, Diego says change brings challenging opportunities, but Coronilla has been able to meet all of its challenges well in the past.
“Coronilla is not only about quinoa, but it is also about first class gluten free pasta and other gluten free products, and we will keep innovating in that field. We now see significant opportunities with other gluten free grains,” Diego adds. “We believe quinoa will remain as a staple food, but the big picture for us is the organic, gluten-free foods market segment.”
The firm will be part of the CABOLQUI pavilion at BIOFACH in Nuremberg, Germany in Hall 2-219 this coming February 10-13.