From colonial warehouse to cannery
Beginning with a small family business, a colonial warehouse in the Galician town of Carballo, and after several attempts with vegetable and meat preserves, in the early 1940s Luis Calvo Sanz launched a business project based on the processing and marketing of canned fish, thus initiating the history of one of the world’s leading canning companies.
In 1941, Calvo’s first factory began operating in Carballo. It was a modest facility where 25 people worked and in which the packaging was done by hand with the raw material that arrived from the Galician ports of the Costa da Morte.
Innovation as part of Calvo’s DNA
In the early 1950s, the sardine was progressively replaced by tuna. The difficulties at the time involved in getting fish-packing machinery drove manufacturers like our founder to look for creative and innovative solutions to further develop their businesses.
In 1956, Luis Calvo developed his own system for canning tuna using a piece from a coffee roaster and a bullet casing. It consisted of an iron cylinder fitted with a hinge to be opened in two halves and filled with tuna loins that were subsequently cut into similar portions. With a production capacity of 36 cans per minute, the new packer was much faster and more efficient than any system in existence at the time, and also provided better presentation of the final product, which was more uniform in weight, content and appearance.
The system was patented at the Patent and Trademark Office on September 13, 1956. Calvo’s innovation was a milestone in the Galician and European canning industry, with more than four hundred packers being sold worldwide.
At this time the second generation of the Calvo family was incorporated into the company. José Luis Calvo, son of our founder and current honorary president of Grupo Calvo, continued to drive innovation by traveling around the world and discovering the main developments and trends of the different international canning industries.
Specialization. Determined transition to yellowfin tuna
In the mid-1960s, Luis Calvo was wholly confident in the potential of canned tropical tuna for the company, for its flavor and nutritional quality, and for being a kind of fish that would afford a break from the traditional seasonality of the sector.
Thus began our specialization in the production of canned tuna. At first the company opted for skipjack tuna, but it was the determined decision to use yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), light tuna in Spanish terminology, that led Calvo to once again overtake the rest of the industry.
At the time, yellowfin tuna was a novel product that was used by practically no other canning company. Over the years, it would become the most widely consumed tuna in Spain, with a market share of 70%.
By the late 1960s tuna was already the most important product in production at the Carballo factory and it would be the protagonist of the facility’s expansion to five times its capacity.
Tuna, naturally… and in a round can
After yellowfin tuna came what would be the second major industrial innovation, which drove its commercialization: the round can.
The new product needed new packaging to differentiate it from the other tuna preserves, primarily made using skipjack tuna and canned in large or oval containers. The company introduced to the market a container with a more practical size for household consumption, one that was smaller and round in shape. Celebrating its 25th anniversary as a company at the time, this milestone in its history of innovation proved an unprecedented success and set the tone for the rest of the industry.
Today more than 90% of the canned tuna sold in Spain is marketed in the round format we launched in 1965.
In pursuit of the best raw material
In the late 1970s, the company made a strategic decision to develop its own fleet to secure the supply of raw material and ensure the quantity and quality of the tuna needed to meet the growing demand for products.
In 1979, we incorporated the first tuna fishing vessel, the Montecelo, with a 200-ton capacity. It was followed by others, such as the Montefrisa, the Monteclaro and the Monteneme. This enabled us to access new fishing zones in search of the best product and to improve management and control of the flow of raw material to our plants.
Having our own fleet allowed us not only to guarantee the supply of quality product, but also to take an active role in ensuring the sustainability of the raw material and our activity as a whole.
Taste, quality and convenience in a three-can pack
The next step in the growth of Grupo Calvo as a food company was another innovation: the three-can pack of tuna; an idea José Luis Calvo had after observing how beer was packaged in Germany.
The new packaging made it possible to further differentiate Calvo yellowfin tuna from the rest of the canned fish on the market. With the three-can pack, we enhanced the value proposal for the customer by offering a greater assortment, with a quality product at a better price. The new presentation also responded better to household needs given the very practical and convenient format.
The new format was a success in the Spanish market and beyond, with the concept gradually being adopted by other markets to become a standard worldwide in marketing canned fish and seafood.
Innovating in communication, too
About to enter the 80s, Calvo became the third-ranked Spanish canning company and No.1 in canned tuna.
With its own fleet, significant production capacity and quality products marketed using innovative packing and formats, Calvo made its way into a new field, the field of advertising.
The decision to run a massive campaign to promote our brand and yellowfin tuna was a risky one for a company of Calvo’s size and given the sector. It had never been done before.
For the first time, a canned food brand was advertised during prime time. Creativity was key to the success of the initiative and resulted in the definitive leap to leadership in the Spanish canning industry. The success of an “irrational” yet simple and at the same time captivating dialogue, “Atún claro, Calvo,” featuring well-known actors Juanjo Menéndez and Jesús Puente, catapulted awareness of our brand and compelled millions of households to add yellowfin tuna to their shopping carts. This variety of tuna still accounts for more than 90% of the tuna sold in Spain today.
The beginning of international expansion
Although there had been previous experiences in international markets, mainly through export, it was in the early 1990s that the vision of becoming a global food group began to take shape.
Our international expansion commenced in 1993 with the acquisition of the Italian brand Nostromo. Found in 1951, it was one of the most traditional canned fish and seafood brands in Italy.
With the incorporation of Nostromo into the group, the door was opened to the Italian market, with a long history of tuna consumption, through a recognized brand, the second leading brand in the market, and one with a significant commercial distribution network.
We launch the first low-sodium canned tuna on the market
With the turn of the millennium, at Grupo Calvo we anticipated our response to the new needs of consumers who were showing an increasing demand for a healthier diet.
Tuna being one of the most nutritious and healthy foods in any diet, our focus was on offering a low-salt option for those concerned about issues such as blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.
Low-sodium tuna was the first of a complete line of products geared towards this new consumer profile. It was followed by albacore, sardines and later yellowfin tuna packed in water with 0% fat, among others. With the new low-salt range, we were able to guarantee a reduction in sodium concentration of up to 80%.
Start of expansion in America
Ten years after we began our European expansion in Italy, we took a key step in the group’s history with our arrival in the Americas. In 2003, we started the construction of a new processing plant in El Salvador. We thus opened the door to an entire continent and consolidated our commitment to being a global provider of quality food.
Located in the coastal town of La Unión, the new factory was dedicated to the production of tuna and the preparation of semi-finished products to first supply markets in Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States, and then Europe as well.
Brazil and the Southern Cone
Just one year after our arrival in America, a milestone took place that completely transformed the dimension of our group and consolidated its international aspirations. In 2004, we acquired Gomes da Costa, Brazil’s No. 1 canning group, and along with it came access to a potential market in Brazil and in South America with over 250 million people.
Founded in 1954, the Gomes da Costa brand had a market share of about 50% in the Brazilian market. The company stood out for its specialization in canned fish, primarily sardines, and for its capacity for innovation, as well as its distribution network in a county of more than 180 million inhabitants.
The integration of Gomes da Costa also led to the incorporation of a new factory, the Itajaí plant, from which countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, among others, are supplied.
Grupo Calvo enters the Chinese market
The search for international markets with high growth potential led us in 2009 to take the Calvo brand and products to China. To do so, we reached an agreement for marketing our products with the German distribution company Metro Group, already present in the Chinese market, and thus opened the door to future expansion in Asia in the medium and long term.
Social responsibility as a strategic axis for the group
Ethical and responsible business management has been a constant throughout our history. We were, in fact, one of the first companies in the fishing industry to back the professionalization of Corporate Social Responsibility and its integration into the steering committee.
In 2012, we took a further step in this commitment to responsible engagement. After analyzing all our activity as a company, and its potential impact on people and the environment, and reviewing our initiatives in the realm of corporate social responsibility, we developed an executive plan for Grupo Calvo-wide Corporate Responsibility. This first plan envisaged 15 main objectives that revolved around four fundamental pillars: people, environmental safety, local communities and responsible supply.
The firm commitment we embraced in 2012 to CSR and sustainability not only continues today, but has developed in a highly significant way to take on a holistic focus that involves each and every one of the areas in which we operate as a company, from fishing to final distribution of products to households.
Celebrating our 75-year history of looking to the future
In 2015, 75 years had gone by since Luis Calvo Sanz started a small canning factory in 1940.
Since those early beginnings, the passion and dedication with which we pursue excellence in the production of nutritious, healthy and quality foods endures nearly eight decades later. Throughout this time, we have grown by innovating, differentiating ourselves and opening up new markets to become an international food group with a presence in more than 70 countries and over 1,500 product references in the range of markets.
Grupo Calvo on board with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
In 2016, Grupo Calvo joined the United Nations Global Compact and became a partner of the Spanish Global Compact Network. We thus subscribed to the vision of the United Nations that, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included in the 2030 Agenda, it is essential to have the involvement and direct action of the business community.
As members of the Global Compact, we publicly acquired a commitment to integrating in our business strategy, and in all our activities, the ten principles of the Global Compact for the promotion of Social Responsibility. In addition, we joined a workspace that allowed us to share experiences and practices with other companies and institutions. Along these lines, we collaborated in the creation of the SDG Sectoral Guide for the Agri-Food Industry, a publication that examined the areas in which our industry has the greatest impact and the challenges and opportunities it was facing.
Calvo Excellence System
In 2017, Grupo Calvo designed a new Strategic Plan with an outlook to 2020 that included consolidating its position as a global food company that grows sustainably over time, ensuring excellence in all operations and being recognized as a leader in personnel management.
In addition, implementation of a new management system, the Calvo Excellence System© (CES) began. Based on Kaizen (from the Japanese word in which kai means ‘change’ and zen ‘for the better’) methodology, the system’s main levers are continuous improvement and process optimization for maximum efficiency. From this moment on, the CES system would thus be present in all areas and at all levels of the company.
A sustainable business is the result of responsible management of production and consumption. And waste management is accordingly a key aspect. In 2018, we launched an ambitious environmental program: “Calvo Zero Waste”.
As part of our commitment to sustainability, we set a goal of separating and valorizing 100% of the waste generated in all our factories and offices by 2025. The project, furthermore, also includes objectives for reducing the generation of such waste.
Calvo Zero Waste started in Grupo Calvo’s factory in Spain and gradually expanded to include the rest of our facilities and offices in Spain. In 2018, for example, we replaced all single-use plastic bottles in our offices in Spain with reusable bottles, thereby eliminating the generation of 13,000 plastic bottles a year.
The project is in the process of being implemented in factories and offices in Brazil and El Salvador, which already have their own plants for treating the organic waste resulting from the processing of sardines and tuna. These plants have the capability to produce fishmeal and oil for the animal feed and cosmetic industries.