Since its foundation in 1991, agribusiness company Glissando has stretched its commercial network of distribution and farm supply stores across Romania, becoming a force in agricultural production and large-scale storage and trade in cereals. The turnover of the company is approaching the €40 million mark, and here, Glissando founder and owner Ioan Biianu explains his plans to grow the business further, thanks to the huge potential of Romania’s agricultural base
How has Glissando grown since you founded the company?
After graduating from university, where my field of study was chemistry, I was one of the three colleagues who founded the company, starting with trading and packaging pesticides. We made bulk acquisitions and then retailed the products to farmers. At first, the company was a sideline, but gradually it became a way of making a living. It has continued to grow organically, and now it is a nationwide company employing more than 250 people, of which, over 80 agricultural specialists. We distribute the whole range of agricultural products, and work with all the big multinationals in the sector, including Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, Nufarm, DuPont and many more. Year after year, we have developed the company in different directions. The most important direction is Glissando’s distribution network, comprised of 18 warehouses and 50 stores nationwide. We also collaborate with more than 600 partner stores.
Another step in the development process of our company, was building facilities for cereal storage. Since 2015, we operate vertically integrated cereal silos with 20,000 metric tons of capacity, and a further 16,000 metric tons in horizontal warehouses. Although the Romanian agricultural sector exports to other European countries, especially Hungary and Austria, to Egypt and other Middle East markets, Glissando is not directly involved in exporting. We only sell cereal to large companies, such as Glencore, companies that are specialized and involved in cereal trade. In 2015, we also launched a new business, mainly focused on the home and garden sector. We have developed a 6,000-square-meter hypermarket in Timisoara and another 800-square-meter garden center store in Lovrin.
Why do you believe that Romania’s agribusiness sector is a strong area to invest in?
In 2018 I took over the helm of the whole group. It was the biggest acquisition ever made by a Romanian businessman in this sector, where companies are usually sold to international concerns. This sector is very strong, it was not affected by the 2008 crisis, having registered double-digit growth every year for the past decade, and growth for all companies investing in agribusiness has continued. The farms have received European funds. Romania remains one of the most promising countries in Europe in terms of production per hectare, as the potential for growth is huge. It is one of the few sectors we can be confident will experience constant growth over the next decade. Agribusiness is also the sector where you can see that most investments take place. If you look at Romania’s situation now, it imports most of its food products, while exporting raw foodstuffs such as cereals. We provide feedstock and import animals that have been nurtured on Romanian cereals. There is huge potential for investment in value-added activities, mostly in food processing. It has proved relatively straightforward to secure financing for these reasons, and there is actually serious competition between banks to invest in the agricultural sector. The cost of financing is bigger than in Western Europe, so we have sought to balance that by borrowing in euros as well as Romanian currency. We are willing to take into consideration any kind of collaboration, but at this moment when the company has been through an intense period of transformation, I would like to see us grow before considering whether to collaborate with any strategic partners.
What are your key niches in the Romanian agricultural sector?
We offer farmers a broad range of products, and they can rely on us for the full cycle of seedlings, pesticides and fertilizers. In terms of how we do business with small farmers, we credit them to the extent of a whole crop cycle, lasting up to eight or nine months. As for the cereals, we usually buy directly from the farmer after the harvest, if it is in an area where we have silo space, as transport is costly. We operate nationwide, but especially around Timisoara and across Transylvania. Agriculture is more developed in the western part of the country and in Transylvania, where many crops are grown as well as vineyards and orchards. This area has more intensive farming with bigger costs per hectare, and more products involved. The farmers we work with range from smallholders to very large farms of up to 10,000 hectares. But our most important niche is the small farmer, with up to 50 hectares, thanks to our excellent network of distribution through our stores, meaning we can reach these customers more easily. We are able to compete against the big players, who also distribute products on a nationwide level. We offer a lot of technical support and information to farmers. We present new products properly, and work out the best financial solutions for farmers. Usually, a multinational company has up to 60 different products, but we have more than 500 products in our portfolio so that we are able to cover a wider range of demands. Due to our long-lasting partnerships with all our suppliers, we offer the biggest possible range, from top-level to generic products. It is very important to have a diversified product range for different clients. Take a vineyard for example; they need to use 15 different treatments per year. If they would only buy the top-level products, some farmers could not even afford to harvest their crops, as the asking price for their produce would be smaller than their investments.
To what extent do you see advanced technology and digitalization taking hold in the sector?
Advanced technologies are already present in the agricultural sector. During the last years many companies have started to offer specific solutions. There is an app that diagnoses stress in farms by simply taking a picture so you can monitor where you need to use more of a given product and avoid overlapping sprayed areas. You can also analyze soil and see where you might need to use more fertilizer. Big farmers use these technologies frequently. Romania has 5,000 farms with more than 500 hectares, while in Germany it is rare to find a farm with more than 1,000 hectares. Digitalized solutions are best applied to big farms, so there is a big need for such technologies here.
What are your plans to take the company forward?
Over the last 10 years we have gone through a lot of investment processes, collecting more than €10 million, which mainly went on silos, the new home and garden hypermarket, and into distribution channels and stores. Last year we decided to extend our production capacity, so this year we have started a €1 million investment in a new production plant. It is the company’s most profitable sector, showing a 10% growth, compared to last year. We hope this growth will continue in the years to come. By next year, in May, we will have the new production facility running. We have great confidence in Romanian agriculture and farmers, and we hope to be a major contributor to the development of this sector over the coming years.
What is your final message for the readers of Die Welt?
German readers need to know that Romania’s agricultural sector is in a state of constant growth, and it is a market that has not yet reached its potential. It is offering a lot of investment opportunities, especially in the western part of the country and Transylvania, regions where the people’s mentality is similar to that of Germans. German investments have already been made here, with outstanding results, so I encourage others to follow this example and have the confidence to invest in Romania. Even if we face more political changes and our laws change a little faster than in Germany, our country is moving in one sole direction: along the EU path.