Mon. Dec 9th, 2019

AMC Group: an empire under the vineyard | Economy

It's one of the holdings most unknown business in the country. Under the umbrella of AMC Group, brothers Álvaro and Antonio Muñoz run from Murcia a conglomerate of companies that invoices globally about 1.3 billion euros with the sale of fruits, flowers and vegetable preparations worldwide. Children of the industrialist Antonio Muñoz Armero, who was one of the first exporters to the countries of the iron curtain in full Franco dictatorship, both form the third generation (they have four other brothers who are not in the company) of a dynasty that turns 85 years old. But it is difficult to keep track of the Mercantile Registry to make checks, since they have more than a hundred companies and do not present consolidated accounts.

Your business is not strictly in the fruit: they research and patent plants that then license other farmers or grow themselves on its 3,250 hectares. Up to 400,000 producers in 16 countries pay to grow AMC-owned varieties on another 25,000 hectares, from the United States to South Africa or Israel. Its citrus fruits, grapes, persimmons or pomegranates are planted in both hemispheres to try to maintain a stable supply to supermarkets. The workforce of 2,400 employees becomes 5,700 during production peaks.

They are going to patent a grape for Walmart with a much crunchier texture

The group is divided in two, the branch of juices and vegetable preparations directed by Antonio, and that of fresh products, by Álvaro. “Every business has its reason for being. The part of fresh that I carry is in about 1,000 million turnover. We are growing between 6% and 7% and Ebitda is going to rise 21% this year (its fiscal year ends in August), but we don't like to give absolute figures, ”Álvaro explains. Nor does it offer net benefit data, or debt, but its innovation center in Cabezo de Torres (Murcia) shows the root of the vigorous growth: in table grapes they have spent 20 years investing in a biological archive of varieties that only since 2012 began to profit . “There is a lot of research work behind. We have our own plantations, packaging factories, distribution. We carry out this vertical integration with our production and with which we license third parties, ”says Úrsula Mejía, head of marketing.

Among all its products they make more than 400 launches every year. The English Court, Eroski, Carrefour, Tesco or Marks & Spencer are among its main clients. "In innovation we invest between 7% and 10% of the annual turnover of the group," says Mejía.

They produce for their customers in a way that changes the way in which farmers have traditionally operated. “In the world there is a varietal replacement. Historically, people bought the fruit they had, but now you find a dozen types of tomatoes or apples. Very large distribution chains make lists that circulate to their regional purchasing departments and recommend which grapes to buy and which not. People begin to notice that certain supermarkets have a certain type of fruit… ” So your approach starts with the person who eats your products. “Varietal innovation goes from that, to finding things that people like, to understanding the consumer. We are changing in a natural way the way of understanding agriculture ”.

Álvaro Muñoz.

Álvaro Muñoz.

They are patenting, for example, a grape for the Walmart supermarket chain that they will produce exclusively. A very crunchy fruit to the taste of its American buyers. They have another 26 patents of this fruit and some of those that are about to go on the market have a flavor of jelly beans, or souvenir of mango, almost all without seeds. Each year they make about 40,000 crosses from which one or at most two protected fruits will come out. "The process begins before flowering, with the selection of the parents: we prepare the clusters, leaving the pistil ready to be pollinated and throughout the flowering we apply the pollen with brushes every two days," they explain in AMC. The cluster is covered and 45 days after the last pollination it is cut from the plant and taken to the laboratory. There the embryo is removed and developed first in a Petri dish in a nutrient-rich medium and then in a culture tube. The resulting plant goes to a test field where the selection process will begin that will last three years. "If you can adjust your product to those that people like, why not do it?" And they clarify that they do not make genetic modifications in any country, not even in those authorized by transgenics.

Pending subject

Josep Estiarte, the director of Snfl, the branch responsible for varietal research in the vineyard, moves that in addition to flavor they want to get “varieties with natural resistance to pests to reduce the use of fungicides”. They are doing the same in another division of the company with citrus fruits. In China, the world's first consumer of grapes, they have not entered for fear of theft of industrial property. “It is the most complicated country, the largest in table grape production. We have our main registered varieties and it is changing a lot in terms of the protection and defense of industrial property. We have been working for years to structure a business model that allows us to expand, although we do sell grapes there. ”

With the UN warning that without a change of diet Humans will end up depleting resources, the co-owner of the group relies on the new possibilities of retail. "There will be more design of specific products, producer relationships with the distributor will be longer term." And regarding the closest – commercial war, Brexit – he is not overly concerned despite his high exposure to the United Kingdom, one of his best clients and where they have just opened a factory. "Most likely, there is a negotiated settlement," he says, despite threats from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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