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Bertolli (Italy)

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Confusingly, ownership of the Bertolli brand is now split between four separate companies. It is best-known as the world's top-selling branded olive oil, with a leading position in the US and several major European markets. Owned for several years by Unilever, the oil business was sold in 2008 to what is now Deoleo of Spain. Four years later, Unilever transferred ownership of its range of Bertolli-branded frozen meals marketed in the US to ConAgra. In 2014, Unilever also sold off its Bertolli pasta sauces business to Mizkan of Japan. It retains ownership of the Bertolli name, as well as rights to use it for spreads. The brand's profile and product range varies widely from market to market, but the US and Germany are its biggest global markets.

Competitors

See Food Sector index for other companies. In the olive oil sector, leading international rivals to Deoleo include Filippo Berio and Monini. In the far more competitive pasta sauce market, Unilever's rivals include Dolmio and Seeds of Change (Mars), Sacla, Loyd Grossman and Homepride (Premier Foods), Buitoni (Nestle) and Barilla.

Advertising

Click here for a listing of Bertolli Agency Account Assignments from Adbrands.net

Brands & Activities

As the only olive oil owned - until recently - by one of the global food giants, Bertolli accumulated an unassailable position as the global #1 in that segment, even if it does not always rank so highly in some of its individual markets. Unilever used this leverage to extend the brand into other segments, establishing Bertolli as the umbrella for a full range of Italian-style food products. In 2007, the Bertolli brand had a global turnover of around €600m, of which around half was contributed by the oils, and the rest by other Italian foods. Unilever had set itself a target of building sales to over €1bn, but had difficulty reaching that target.

Partly in reflection of that, the group began considering the sale of the core oils business, while maintaining use of the brandname for other foods. Under the terms of the deal agreed in July 2008, Grupo SOS acquired worldwide rights to the main Bertolli olive oil brand for around £500m, as well as sub-brands Dante, Maya and San Giorgio. It already owned rival brands Carbonell, Sasso and Carapelli, as well as numerous local and regional brands. Grupo SOS changed its name in 2010 to Deoleo. It is the world leader in bottled olive oil with revenues of €829m in 2012. Bertolli olive oil remains the top-selling brand, distributed to more than 40 countries, and is the branded market leader in the US (almost 17% share in 2013), Germany and Benelux markets. It ranks #2 in its original home market of Italy.

Unilever kept control of the Bertolli name, which is used as the badge for a range of spreads, pasta sauces and frozen meals. The product range varies widely from country to country depending on local customer habits. The core range, available in most markets, is a selection of pasta sauces. During 2004, the company rebranded its Olivio range of olive oil spreads under the Bertolli umbrella in several European territories as well as Australia. In the US, its biggest market, the sauces collection now houses an expanded range of 15 different products. (The local Five Brothers pasta sauce line was absorbed by Bertolli in 2002). However, the Bertolli US pasta sauce business was sold in 2014, along with market leader Ragu, to Mizkan of Japan for $2.15bn. That unit now trades as R&B Foods Inc (or Ragu & Bertolli),

The US range also housed a selection of frozen soups, prepared "skillet meals" and oven-bakes. These have done particularly well since 2006, capturing the #2 position in multiserve frozen dinners some way behind market leader Stouffer's but also well ahead of third-placed Birds Eye. However the range was sold in 2012 to rival ConAgra, completing Unilever's global exit from non-ice cream frozen foods.

In Italy, Unilever carried on with a range of Bertolli-branded tomato passatas and prepared sauces, mainly inherited from local acquisition Santa Rosa, but finally dropped the Bertolli name for them in 2010. They are now marketed under the Knorr and Santa Rosa brands. Germany is another important market, where the range includes antipasti, bruschetta toppings, dried pasta and even mayonnaise. Bertolli food products also enjoy a strong following in the Australia, Belgium, and Japan (where Bertolli is distributed under license by Suntory).

Unilever's remaining interest in the name has now been reduced solely to the range of oil-based Bertolli spreads.

Background

As highlighted in the date which sits beneath the logo, the Bertolli brand was first developed in 1865 in Lucca, Italy, when Francesco and Caterina Bertolli opened a shop beneath their family home to sell their own pressings of olive oil. The business expanded rapidly at the end of the 1890s when several family members moved to the US and began importing its products. As a result, Bertolli was, it is claimed, the first Italian olive oil exported to the US. By the 1890s, the brand was sold in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Although Bertolli was an established brand in Italy by the 1930s, it was one of hundreds of businesses nationalised by Mussolini in a bid to revitalise the collapsing Italian economy. Bertolli ended up grouped with Cirio tinned tomatoes and the country's biggest milk producer De Rica, as one arm of IRI, the mammoth state holding company. In the 1990s the government began the huge task of dismantling IRI. In 1993 Cirio-Bertolli-De Rica was sold to private investment group Fi.Svi who then in turn sold on the Bertolli business to Unilever a year later. Questions were later raised over the involvement of Romano Prodi, then the head of IRI, later Italian Prime Minister, and later still president of the EC. At the time of the Bertolli sale Prodi was also, "coincidentally", a paid consultant to Unilever.

Last full revision 18th November 2015

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