Innovation and consumption. Gastronomic entrepreneurs who want to revolutionize the butcher shop business
If there is something that gastronomic entrepreneurs Sebastián Ríos and Fernando Goijman can boast about, it is their ability to enter a traditional field and turn the business around. Ríos did it more than fifteen years ago when he opened the first Almacén de Pizzas, a chain that came to break with the neighborhood pizzeria model and today has 35 locations spread across Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru. Goijman traveled the same path with coffee and Tostado, the proposal he launched in 2015 to modernize the Buenos Aires bar market and is about to land in Miami. Now, together, they go for a bigger bet: revolutionize the meat business with Al Fuego, a chain of stores specializing in the sale of vacuum-packed cuts, or as its partners define it, “a butcher shop without a butcher”.
For this project, Ríos and Goijman -who together have more than forty years of experience in the gastronomic field and participation in almost a hundred businesses, including pizzerias, bars and restaurants- partnered with the Lequio Group, one of the main players in the meat sector, owners of the Carnes Pampeanas, Alberdi and Carnes del Interior refrigerators.
“Both of us have always been linked to gastronomy and we were partners in several projects, including the launch we just did of the Juan Valdez coffee shop chain in Argentina. Last year a supplier approached us with the proposal to join Al Fuego, which he wanted to open in Buenos Aires, and we were so excited about the idea that we ended up associating ourselves with the project and now we are going to lead the landing of the chain in Buenos Aires and Uruguay”, explained Ríos.
The plan of Chispa SA – the company that Goijman and Ríos put together for this project – contemplates opening 50 Al Fuego stores in Buenos Aires within three years, with the aim of transforming the way in which premium meat is marketed in the local market. “In all the businesses we enter, the idea is always to work on reversing a classic, such as pizzerias or bars, based on a differential product and service. We don’t want to do the same thing that is already being done, but to provide a superior proposal”, said Goijman.
“The idea came largely from personal experience. As a consumer, I was a bit tired of going to the butcher shop and when I asked for an entrail to roast at home, the butcher smiled at me a little and told me that there was no entrail. The truth is that I never understood that commercial model of butcher shops that is managed with a combination of favors and contacts, and as a customer I prefer to be able to grab the product from the shelf or the refrigerator and pay for it,” explained Ríos.
Al Fuego is presented as a meat shop with a commercial proposal that is not based on the media carcass, which was for decades the base of operations of Argentine butcher shops. In the new chain, all the cuts are vacuum packed and are available in refrigerators that operate with the self-service model.. The investment per store is between 40,000 and 50,000 dollars and Chispa’s idea is to combine its own stores with franchises.
“We are betting on a change in consumer habits in which hygiene and concern for good food science practices are going to be increasingly important,” explains Goijman.
The proposal is in line with the change in the marketing of meat promoted by the national government. The classic half-carcass is on its way to disappearing, based on an official initiative that contemplates that in one year all the sale of beef will be made through pieces that do not exceed 32 kilos, when currently each half-carcass can weigh between 85 and 130 kilos. The rule issued by the Government provided that from January 1 of this year the federal traffic refrigerators -that is, their work can be marketed anywhere in the country-, have 180 calendar days to remodel their facilities and adapt them to the new model. commercial, while for the provincial and municipal transit plants the term extends until the end of the year.
In fact, the initiative contemplates a true commercial reconversion for the more than 40,000 butcher shops that operate throughout the country. This business is one of those that shows a higher level of atomization at the retail level and in which the largest players such as Coto, Carrefour or Cencosud (Jumbo, Disco, VEA) together control less than 15% of sales.
“We aim at an ABC1 segment with the opening in areas with high purchasing power such as the premises that we are already opening on Pedro Goyena Avenue in Caballito and in the town of Francisco Alvarez, very close to an area of countries and gated communities. The idea is to offer in the same place everything that is needed to make a barbecue, from premium cuts of beef and pork to charcoal or drinks, and with the differential that means having a refrigerator as a partner, which it ensures the supply and quality of the meat”, explained Goijman.
In Buenos Aires there are already other chains that are advancing with similar proposals to modernize the meat retail business. The pioneer was RES, the chain founded in 2014 by Omar Onsari, which today has more than 120 stores distributed nationwide, and later Biffe Carnes Premium was added, which has nine branches, with the focus on the north.
In all cases, what is at stake is not a minor business. According to the calculations of the industry itself, the retail sale of beef in Argentina moves US$10,000 million annually and faces a process of strong changes, with consumption that has been falling steadily for decades -in the last fifteen years internal demand collapsed 30% and the current 47.6 kilos per person per year represent the lowest level of consumption in history- but at the same time it does not resign profitability. According to the survey carried out by the Institute for the Promotion of Argentine Beef (Ipcva), the price of beef throughout 2021 increased by an average of 60.7%, that is, ten points above inflation.
Sebastián Ríos in a gastronomy practically from the cradle. His father Manuel and his uncle Francisco –two Galician immigrants who came to Argentina escaping the Spanish Civil War and hunger– managed dozens of bars, restaurants, pizzerias and confectioneries for decades and inherited their passion for the business from Sebastián and his cousins. “My dad and uncle started working in bars because it was a way to ensure food. They started washing glasses and that’s how they learned about the business until later they became first partners and then owners”, recalls the businessman who participates as a partner in several chains in the field, but whose main business today is Pizza Warehouse.
“With Almacén we are already in Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru, and our next market is Chile, where in February we are opening a dark kitchen. The idea is to start by offering delivery to gradually adapt the product and the proposal, but if the response is good, we will open our own stores,” explains Ríos.
Parallel to the expansion of its pizzeria chain, Ríos advances with the launch of Juan Valdez in Argentina. “A few months ago we started selling coffee in supermarkets and a few days ago we opened the first store in Unicenter. In total, we plan to have eight locations. The original deadline was to open within five years, but we will surely do it much faster”, explains the businessman.
In Juan Valdez Ríos he is associated with Goijman who also has a long history in the gastronomic field, dating back to 2002, although his family comes from the pharmaceutical industry, since he was one of the owners of the Vantage pharmacy chain.
For this year, Goijman is also planning to expand its own chain: Tostado Café Club. “With Tostado we have 17 openings scheduled during 2022, including the arrival at the Ezeiza and Aeroparque airports and the Abasto Shopping”, says Goijman. The internationalization of Tostado, which today is limited to two stores in São Paulo and one in Montevideo, also includes a debut in the United States, with the first opening in Miami.
The two businessmen acknowledge that the worst for the gastronomic industry is over, after the impact of the pandemic that left many competitors on the road. “We managed to survive at the cost of getting into debt and now we are starting to pay off those debts, in a market that experienced a strong purge not so much because of the closing of stores but because of the departure of many workers who left the industry to launch their own venture. which explains the boom in projects such as dark kitchens more or less informal that have multiplied in recent times”, explains Ríos.
In the case of Buenos Aires, the area hardest hit by the pandemic was the downtown, which to this day still shows a very complicated panorama with a large number of closed premises and the multiplication of “for rent” signs. “There is an opportunity in the downtown area because there are locations at a good price, but it is not for everyone because you have to wait three or four years and have the financial backing to do it,” explains Ríos.