Alexander Marzahn & Tiziana Perchiazzi reveal how the Italian beverage producer outpaces its competitors.
Innovation and tradition go hand-in-hand at mineral water producer San Benedetto. Originally working in the sales of household appliances, the company founder had the idea that the refrigerator’s success could have a positive impact on the consumption of mineral water. He turned out to be right.
The company recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. As the name suggests, the company’s water promised beneficial effects. Known as Acqua della salute (‘healthy water’), it quickly made a local name for itself, but obstacles to the national market remained.
“Revenues grew, but distribution was only regional. Building a new production line required a significant investment,” recalls Enrico Zoppas, who took over the company together with partners following the death of the founder in 1971. “The company was losing money and no one wanted it,” remembers the chairman of the board. Zoppas was nevertheless convinced of the potential. He entered the business and not long after landed a coup with the introduction of returnable bottles. Practically overnight, consumer acceptance catapulted the regional player to the national stage.
Less than 10 years later, the introduction of recyclable PET bottles led to the next revolution. In 1983, San Benedetto became the first company in Italy to sell mineral water in plastic bottles.
For the first time, vertical process integration enabled full automation of the production line.
A further innovation followed in 1993 when the company put a complete, aseptic bottling system for non-carbonated beverages into operation. More than just a milestone in quality assurance, it also opened the door to emerging lifestyle products such as iced tea and energy drinks.
The bold and foresighted moves paid off.
Today, San Benedetto is successful in every segment of the soft drink industry, from mineral water and sweetened drinks to children’s drinks and tonic water.
Although the company relies on a modern sales distribution network that stretches from vending machines to restaurants, the production chain, from manufacturing to bottling, remains under its own control.
“We use state-of-the-art process plants and continuous improvement processes to guarantee quality,” says San Benedetto plant manager, Dr Rosario De Marchi. “The pursuit of a good balance between quality, safety and efficiency spurs continuous technical innovation.”
A key factor here is process automation.
“With Endress+Hauser, we found a strong partner with whom we have a lot in common, particularly a vision to constantly improve things,” says De Marchi.
The vision is not just about reliably monitoring the process and quality parameters in-line. It also involves the optimal use of resources and energy.
“Precise and reliable flow measurements during batch dosing and preparation allow us to reduce the use of raw materials and process water and minimise the volume of waste,” adds Rosario De Marchi.
“Thanks to Endress+Hauser’s technology and knowledge, we have reached a level of automation that provides a great deal of production flexibility,” says the plant manager. Behind this flexibility is not only technology, but also people. The company offers training to help plant operators make the right decision in any situation. “Rather than performing their tasks blindly, our employees should assume responsibility. That calls for easy-to-use interfaces that permit a direct diagnosis of the process,” explains De Marchi.
“A well-interconnected device landscape doesn’t supply data, but information,” says the plant manager. And it offers a perspective for the future. With regards to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), integration of the automation technology into the company’s ERP system is becoming increasingly important. “Endress+Hauser has already implemented this requirement with fieldbus technology, the W@M portal and an asset management solution,” says De Marchi. “The bottom line is that the partnership allows us to keep our processes lean and our attention focused on what our customers need.”
This technological edge did not go unnoticed by the industry. International beverage companies eventually began to show interest in San Benedetto, a development that culminated in joint projects.
“We’re agile and boast a high rate of innovation. That allows us to act quickly, flexibly and boldly,” underlines Enrico Zoppas. The entire product and process development system was recently oriented toward environmental sustainability, another important aspect of the company’s culture. “San Benedetto has always maintained a close relationship with nature and the environment,” recalls Zoppas. “From nature we learned to create prosperity. This principle summarises our philosophy and charts a course for the future.”
Alexander Marzahn & Tiziana Perchiazzi are with Endress+Hauser.