November 16, 2014 is seared on the memory of all those who work at Sigma Alimentos as the day we faced the greatest challenge of our history. The fire that destroyed the facilities of our flagship, the Campofrío factory in Burgos (La Bureba), put to the test the philosophy that we have been preaching for years, our famous slogan “Nothing and no one can take away our way of enjoying life”. Seen in hindsight, the course we took that day led us from the horror of the crisis to be able to transform it into opportunity with the support of our employees, partners, clients, consumers and others. The result, rechristened as Nueva Bureba, or New Bureba, is not only the most state-of-the-art and modern meat processing plant in Europe, but above all, a commitment fulfilled.
The first concern when the fire initially broke out was without a doubt to prevent any type of human casualty. Fortunately, the 25 people who were inside the plant at that time were able to make it to safety immediately. The leadership team immediately activated the crisis management protocols, and established a global crisis committee to assess, analyze and manage the impact of the fire and take the necessary damage mitigation measures: everything from personal injury through to possible environmental repercussions, material damage, the loss of production, possible impact on third parties and more. We did everything in our power to re-establish normality as soon as possible. The whole team bent over backward from the very first moment of this crisis. And key throughout this process was the support of our employees, the authorities, our business partners, our shareholders and our insurance company.
At a time of maximum uncertainty after the fire, our commitment –which also became our greatest challenge– was to guarantee and ensure employment and rebuild the factory in record time: two years. It seemed almost impossible, but when the agreed date arrived, that promise was delivered. Today, we feel enormously proud that all our employees have returned to Nueva Bureba to continue working and making our group more competitive and innovative than ever.
Looking back, another of the challenges we were facing was the steep decline in our productive capacity. The functional crisis committee activated after the disaster made the supply chain one of the core elements in its strategy. The Bureba factory was at that time in full production mode for the Christmas campaign, one of the highest demand peaks for products on retail shelves. The difficulty was twofold: on the one hand, offsetting the loss of product (60,000 tons of product were lost) and, on the other, looking for alternatives for the drop in productive capacity. The impact was devastating. In total we lost 30% of volume in Spain, 37% of our sales and 50% of our gross profit. Of the 16 kilometers of retail shelf we occupied in Spain, we were left with barely 1.5 just a few weeks later. This made it essential to channel the production to other plants in the group and to third parties, while simultaneously increasing investment in promotional campaigns, which could have had a clear impact on the company’s liquidity. However, and thanks to the support of our insurance companies and the collaboration of MAPFRE throughout the whole process, we were able to make the necessary investment to continue competing on the shelf.
Following our business continuity plan, we defined a clear target to re-establish our activity: to recover the same share of the retail shelf as before the fire by June 2015. This was a very aggressive but necessary commercial plan to ensure we continued to be present in supermarkets and so the clients would not forget us. In a very short period of time, we reinvented our strategies and aligned our sales force under the same goal. If we didn’t find a way to replace the 60,000 tons of product on the shelves, that would be the end of us. It wasn’t easy. And that’s something that could never have happened if we hadn’t had solid and reputable partners like MAPFRE who fulfilled their commitments and were at our side at all times.
The material damages and loss of profits policy was critical, and thanks to that, we were able to rebuild the factory, take on the expense of mitigating the losses produced by the fire, and guaranteed the expected profit level for which the company was structured. In all the chaos, we could find some small oasis of calm thanks to MAPFRE’s support.
As well as the actions aimed at the employees, the recovery of our productive capacity and our ability to compete in the market, and the collaboration with our insurance companies, the communications plan –both external and internal– was fundamental. Guaranteeing a transparent communication with the employees who had lost their job due to the fire was our main concern and undertaking. We received substantial outside support from the authorities and the Spanish public as a whole. The optimism that has always been our hallmark came back to us and our factory in the form of messages of encouragement and offers of support. This helped us reinforce our brand image, even without a product on the shelves.
Together with our workers –who became the company’s most fervent defenders–, we ran our own communications strategy: Creamos Vitae –an intranet with all the information about the factory, the daily tasks of the operators who worked to rebuild it, and the progress of the negotiations to recover 100% of the employment. Thanks to this collective effort, to the whole team’s talent and capacity for hard work, we have managed to emerge stronger from a tremendously unfortunate event, and to keep our promise.
And finally, this enormous challenge for the business ultimately became an opportunity for resurgence like the phoenix. Thanks to the effectiveness and speed of the action protocols and the support of our insurance policies, we were able to guarantee the continuity of the employment and recover our production levels. But above all, thanks to the lessons learned in these two years, the Nueva Bureba, built in record time on the same site as its forerunner, has become a symbol of how our way of understanding and enjoying life can overcome any obstacle, however daunting it may seem.