Thursday 13 June 2024
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Rocío Hervella, co-fonder of Prosol: “Innovation, always present in our daily work, never stops, it is a constant”

Prosol founder: "Today PROSOL's market is the whole world. From our factory, located in Venta de Baños, a town of 6500 inhabitants, 14 million cups of coffee are shipped every day to more than 30 countries in the five continents"

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MILAN – With 25 years of history, a turnover of 93 million euros in the last year, and a production of 14 million daily cups distributed to more than 30 countries across the 5 continents, the Spanish company Prosol stands as one of the most powerful manufacturers of soluble coffee in Southern Europe. Behind these numbers is a woman who serves as a shining example of management and leadership: Rocío Hervella.

At the age of 16, she was already immersed in the essence of running a family business. Her responsibilities included inventorying warehouses and assisting in various activities.

Rocío Hervella, an entrepreneur, a leader and an active part of industry associations and federations: how do you live all these roles together?

“With passion, organization and enormous responsibility. Passion is the engine that helps me to undertake daily work. Every day is full of challenges that I have to face by taking the right decisions. It is also essential to be perfectly organized, a task where my team is extremely helpful at.

And thirdly, I try to keep on listening and learning in order to be a better leader, which is what is expected of me. And I gladly accept it. I am passionate about everything I do.”

How important is it and does it make sense for a company like yours to be part of an association today?

“Of course being part of an association is very important for me. Today partnerships are the basis to search alliances and they are fundamental to continue growing and gaining share in your sector. Moreover, the value of these alliances lies in their expansive power, in such a way that all partners benefit and also grow at the same time as you do.

This way, the sum of diverse capabilities makes you gain that authorized voice that is heard outside the company, more powerful and well-founded. Associationism has also other obvious benefits.

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It allows you to understand very diverse points of view and to enrich all involved parts with yours too; it helps to learn about trends and to anticipate measures that are already being applied in other places before they reach your country of origin. Undoubtedly, partnership is unnegotiable. This way of relating to others must be encouraged.”

Tell us about your other achievement, the IWEC award, what does it mean to you to have achieved this recognition and what does it mean for women in the industry?

“For me it was very important because it represents an international recognition to a leadership that in my case has never depended on gender shares. That way of leading teams without depending on gender, but on the capabilities of each person, is something that we have encouraged from day one at Prosol.

Besides that, it was an honor to be surrounded by other inspiring women of more than 100 nationalities whose trajectory is also a mirror for me and for many other women who try to overcome barriers or glass ceilings through entrepreneurship, which is the most powerful weapon of equality.”

We wish we didn’t have to ask ourselves this question anymore, but unfortunately it is still relevant: was it difficult to be the founder and leader of a company as a woman? Have things changed since PROSOL was started in 1998?

“I founded PROSOL with conviction. I worked, and continue to work, with that deep conviction. I was 29 years old and had a life ahead of me that I was able to combine with the growth of our company. It was inevitable to give up certain steps that a conventional motherhood does not usually face. But I knew I was doing the right thing even when I had no choice but to bring my children to work.

That also helped me to experience in person the need to implement multiple measures that make possible to reconcile work and personal life at PROSOL. Today we have almost 60 employees measures and we are constantly growing to cover all the needs and contingencies of our team.

Apart from that, I must point out that, as a woman, I have never felt that I was discriminated or that obstacles were put on purpose in my way. I firmly believe in the sum of abilities based on self-knowledge to find travel companions and to be able to achieve challenging projects.

This is something that will never change and translates into relying on a good team and
seeking alliances along the way.”

PROSOL has direct contact with the Horeca sector: how has this channel evolved and what is its current situation in Spain?

“It continues to recover from the pandemics’ effects and, since 2021, it has not stopped growing, recovering 2023 levels especially in the Mediterranean area and in the big capitals thanks to tourism and the increase in out-of-home consumption. Its growth is encouraging, although circumstances, such as inflation and the increase in energy costs, are jeopardizing this progress and slowing it down.”

On the other hand, how has domestic consumption changed, and do capsules represent the most popular mode of extraction in Spanish households?

“Today, capsules are chosen by one out of every five consumers at home. Data reveal that out of every 100 coffees drunk in Spain, more than 60 are consumed at home and the remaining are taken in bars and cafés.”

PROSOL and sustainability: what is still missing to reach emission neutrality and how did you make the domestic capsule compostable – maintaining the quality of the coffee contained inside and making its recycling effective? –

Sustainability has been part of our DNA since we were born in 1998 – we have just celebrated our 25th anniversary. This objective guided us and continues to do so nowadays. PROSOL was the first Spanish company in the agri-food sector to obtain the ‘Zero Waste’ certification and, today, we are able to transform 97% of the waste we generate into resources.

Nevertheless, we have never been indulgent and we have always evolved at the pace of the times. That is why we are committed to Efficient Global Sustainability, a way of working that brings together the company’s policies on Human and Labor Rights, Health and Safety, Environmental Management and Corporate Social Responsibility.

We are bringing sustainability to processes and actions in all scopes and we do so through a roadmap that we have called the ‘PRONEUTRO Plan’.

Concerning emissions neutrality, we have made a huge progress in the past five years, and
2024 is a key date in this regard. Between 2019 and 2022 our emissions’ reduction was equivalent to protecting 46 hectares of forest. In that period, we have avoided moving almost 500 truckloads of waste and sludge management has generated energy to heat 490 homes.

And in 2024 PROSOL’s main milestone will be the commissioning of our biomass boiler, which we will start generating energy this year after a 13-million euro investment, the highest in our history, and that will reduce emissions by up to 56%, as well as transforming our main waste into our main source of energy.

The compostable capsule, disposable at home, is also aligned in the same direction. We carefully listened to consumers, who were strongly demanding this type of single-dose pod. So we decided to work on it.

We looked for partnerships and our innovation department worked for months to solve the problem of recycling capsules without losing any of their properties.

At PROSOL we are constantly innovating, and this has been one of our most recent milestones.”

How will you act with regard to the new European directives against deforestation (EUDR)?

“We are working to adapt to new regulations and I must point out that I fully share this
vocation.

In today’s world, we have to take care of our forests, the lungs of a planet that needs them more than ever. However, I am concerned about the impact that its implementation may have in Europe after 2025, as some aspects are not yet fully clear.

For PROSOL, these traceability requirements are not new, as we have been rigorously monitoring every step of the coffee’s long journey since our inception and we are certified as environmentally responsible producers.

And this is how it will continue to be. It is possible to work for the environment, but I have doubts as to whether all the actors in the chain will have the necessary muscle to withstand the regulation requirements. Personally, and even more from my responsibility as a member of the Executive Committee of the European Coffee Association and as Vice President of the Spanish Coffee Association, I am actively working to find the most
appropriate solution and, above all, to standardize the measures with a guide for all actors, large and small, that can be acceptable.”

What is your target market and which other countries are you targeting?

“Today PROSOL’s market is the whole world. From our factory, located in Venta de Baños, a
town of 6500 inhabitants, 14 million cups of coffee are shipped every day to more than 30
countries in the five continents. And we do not stop looking abroad because we want to
continue growing. We have a lot of experience. We know how to do things. That is why, among other reasons, we were able to maintain our market share in the British market after Brexit.

We are a reliable, proactive and expert producer. That is why our products are on the shelves of the best chains all over the world and are even marketed on Amazon through our own brand, Koffie Cup, which is gradually consolidating its position in this sales channel. We also use it as a test bench and where we have remained due to the success of our product.

What do you see in the future for single-dose and PROSOL? More technical innovations in production?

“Single-dose is currently in great shape, as is PROSOL. We have a perfectly consolidated
business project with enough financial muscle and expertise to face difficult times and even
overcome them by growing. That makes us be one of the reference companies in Europe.

Innovation, always present in our daily work, never stops. It is a constant. We listen to needs and trends in order to act accordingly. In the last five years we have also linked it to the digital transformation process in which the company is immersed, and which is making PROSOL a Digital Factory in which agility and efficiency in processes from a sustainable perspective are absolutely essential.

Thanks to the data, we are reducing and adjusting energy consumption and raw materials supply. At the same time, we are reinforcing circularity, which we promote from different scopes and continue to promote with full conviction and awareness. Our processes, as signatories of the UN Global Compact, have an impact on 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals included in the 2030 Agenda. Because, as confirmed during the pandemic, no one is stronger than all of us together.”

CIMBALI

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