The company happened to be in the right place at the right time. "We benefited from a stroke of good luck just a year after the founding of the cooperative when the EU decided to promote the cultivation of good certified rice seed at the continental level,” explains SAPISE CEO Massimo Biloni. “Good rice seed means good quality of the harvest! Italy now exports two thirds of its rice production, and is one of Europe's largest rice growers, being particularly known for the quality of its risottos.”
SAPISE modified its strategy accordingly, establishing three rice seed processing units (two close to Vercelli in the Piedmont region and another in Oristano, Sardinia region). Considering the demand of improved rice varieties and the need of novelty products, a research unit was established in 1989 with the objective of improving grain quality and crop production.
Today, SAPISE is an agricultural cooperative owned by 13 rice farmers. The company produces and markets a range of rice seeds that generate annual turnovers of eight to nine million EUR. Approximately 33% of the cooperative's production consists of Indica rice seeds. Round grain rice accounts for 25% of its sales, and the remainder consists of risotto and parboiled rice seeds.
All in all, the company produces 27 different varieties of rice for two main market sectors: rice seed for farmers (75%) and rice food for consumption (25%). In the first sector SAPISE is known by farmers for some conventional varieties largely adopted at the European level: Sirio CL, registered in 2009, is now the most grown variety across the Mediterranean rice countries.
In the food sector, SAPISE is working directly at promoting and commercializing its specialty rices, the most successful of which are Riso Venere (black aromatic rice), Ermes (red aromatic rice), Artemide (a indica-type black aromatic rice), Apollo (white aromatic rice) and Cerere (sushi rice).
SAPISE sells its products to other farmers (rice seed) and to rice millers (rice food). Export accounts for 20% of the cooperative's activity, which is centered around the Mediterranean region (Morocco, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey).
The cooperative has put a significant amount of effort into developing rice varieties that have adapted to Europe's specific weather conditions. The conventional weather conditions for growing rice are warmer than the European ones, Italy being the northern geographical limit for rice cultivation because of cold temperatures. This need forced Europe to develop its own set of varieties and its own market. Examples are risottos in Italy and paellas in Spain, which do not exist anywhere else and are prepared with rice types which are only grown on the European continent.
Increased specialization will dominate the cooperative's future strategy. "In the near future, we want to focus on educating customers about our special rice varieties and making them easily accessible,” states Mr. Biloni. “At the same time, we want to continue developing non-GMO rice seeds that taste good and are appealing to European consumers."
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