Since 2008, year of construction of the rice mill, the rice cooperative has invested some 14 million euros in modernisation.
The Arrozúa cooperative can boast that they grow rice in quantity (they contribute 40% of the total grain produced in Seville) but also of the quality of their final product, the result of an ambitious project of continuous improvement supported by innovation and new technologies. “We are immersed in the integral automation of all our facilities”, declares the company’s president, Salvador Cuña, who stresses that “since 2008, year of construction of the rice mill, we have invested approximately 14 million euros in the improvement and modernisation of processes and infrastructures». This constant commitment to business excellence places Arrozúa, dedicated to the drying, storage, processing, packaging, distribution and marketing of paddy and white rice, at the technological forefront of the national rice sector.
The Arrozúa rice mill is already a decade old, a period in which the cooperative has changed a lot…
You are right. Arrozúa has been in operation for more than forty years and has the experience of three cooperatives -Isla Mayor, Arroceros Unidos and Veta la Mora- that decided to join their efforts in a single entity. At present, the cooperative brings together 800 farmers, who cultivate an area of 12,830 hectares of rice. But we are not satisfied by offering the raw material alone, that’s why in 2008 we embarked on processing the rice, including the packaging for an extra added value. We started with the idea of packaging 10% of the production, but we now pack 90% and for the next year we expect to pack 100% of our harvest, which reaches 120,000 tons. However, our aim is not only increasing the quantity of packaged rice, but also improving the processes. A macro project that we started when the rice mill was built and we continue now.
Which phase of this improvement project is currently being executed?
Arrozúa’s facilities are 100,000 square meters, including two peeling plants, seven mechanical dryers and a mill for white rice. The current project focuses on the mill and rice silos. Concerning the mill, we will improve the quality of the milling process by acquiring the latest technology. In addition, we will optimise the packaging plant by automating formats of two and five kilos, and improving the quality of packaging to comply with new protocols required by certification bodies. Furthermore, we will implement a cutting-edge process control system for an exhaustive control of production from the rice stored in silos to packaged rice, thus optimising product traceability, eliminating human errors and controlling temperature and humidity. A control system that guarantees traceability and facilitates the work to the operators.
What investment will the cooperative make in these improvements?
The budget for these actions is approximately one million euros, and we hope those new improvements will be implemented in spring 2019. However, to expand the current facilities of the rice mill we need more land.
The automation of the industrial plants was a reality in flour mills but not in grain storage plants, Arrozúa being one of the first to do so…
The latest Arrozúa’s silos were built in 2014, a project we entrusted to the Spanish company Silos Córdoba, leader in the European market of grain storage and conditioning facilities. In these silos, a comprehensive maintenance control and management tool was implemented, in order to have the status of the components that make up the different machinery from a mobile device or tablet (life cycle, pending revisions, possible failures, etc.), including an alert system that warns in case of incident. Accurate information of what is really happening in the grain storage facility, allowing to make decisions and facilitating remote management. The efficiency has also been remarkable, since now we unload a truck of 25,000 kilos of rice in just eight minutes.
The cooperative decided to launch its own brands. How are they doing?
We are betting on them, although 90% is sold in bulk for distribution brands like Dia, Aliada, Spar or Covirán. Of our 120,000-ton harvest, 50,000 tons go to the domestic market, 20,000 tons are exported and the rest are sold to other industries. Concerning international markets, we already sell in Europe, the United Kingdom and Asia. We have long rice varieties Puntal and Sirius; round rice such as Marisma and medium grain rice such as JSendra. Our brands Doña Ana and El Ruedo can be found in the cooperative itself, El Corte Inglés or in distribution establishment Barea. In addition, it can be consumed in restaurants of Isla Mayor.
The Herba group leaders the market with trademarks such as Brillante, La Cigala and La Fallera. How did they react when the cooperative, more focused on the distribution brand, decided to launch its own brands Doña Ana and El Ruedo?
Our relationship with the Herba group (rice division of the food giant Ebro Foods, world leader in the rice market) is fabulous. We help each other in everything we can. In fact, the year we created the cooperative we wanted to access the food aid program but we were required to have a brand with a minimum of six months in the market, and Doña Ana did not meet this requirement. We talked with Felix Hernandez who did not hesitate to give us the brand El Ruedo, now owned by Arrozúa.
Herba has opted for new crops such as quinoa. Does the cooperative plan to diversify its products and expand its catalogue with other grains?
No. We are focused on marsh rice, a sustainable crop produced under the strict conditions required by the integrated European production. We still have a lot to do and say in a sector that faces important challenges, such as the control of the pudenta, which caused havoc in production last year; the burning of crop residues; the abolishment of differences in the agro-environmental aid of rice produced in Andalusia and Valencia; undertaking once and for all the project of modernisation of rice irrigation; and deal with the threat posed by the indiscriminate and uncontrolled entry of rice to the European Union from third countries.