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Jorge Bretó, CEO of Citrosol, in this interview, explains the projects the company is working on and its ambitious goals for the future.

Jorge Bretó has been in charge of Citrosol since the beginning of 2021. However, his experience in the company spans almost 25 years, during which the biologist has passed from an internship contract through progressive positions in which his responsibility has increased. Today, at the head of the leading Spanish company in post-harvest treatments, he is updating us on the progress of the company, the projects that are being worked on and also an ambitious future objective which knows no bounds.

Valencia Fruits. Although Jorge’s appointment as CEO is relatively recent, his experience within the company goes back a long way…

Jorge Bretó. In November it will be 25 years. I joined at the age of 24, as an intern within another of the group’s companies dedicated to environmental issues. Then I transferred to the Technical department in Citrosol where I spent several years as Coordinator, until about two years ago, when I was appointed as Operations Director up until this latest change.

VF. After so many years in the company, how has your vision of Citrosol changed after some months at the helm?

JB. I would say that it hasn’t changed too much. The fact that I have been on the Board of Directors for some 20 years means that I have always been concerned about the proper running of the company. Furthermore, my opinion has usually held weight on those most relevant and strategic matters, and I must say that in most cases it has not differed too much from the vision of the previous management of the company. The main difference is that, in my new position, the responsibility for everything going well is primarily mine and this always adds a little stress. Fortunately, we have a great team which is an enormous help to ensure that the decisions that I make are the most appropriate at all times.

VF. Have your routines at work also changed? How does needing to be in contact with all the various departments and areas of the company influence your day-to-day work?

JB. Yes, indeed, this has changed quite a bit. In my previous role, I was directly involved in a major part of the work and now, of course, this has reduced significantly as I need to spend much more time planning and reviewing the fulfilment of objectives of the other departments.

At the same time, whereas previously my involvement with the various parts of the company such as the interaction with the areas of Corporate Services, Marketing and Communication, Human Resources and the Legal area, was much more limited, my present level of interaction has helped me tremendously to obtain an even broader vision of the operation of the company.

VF. Do you miss the laboratory?

JB. Yes, a little, because I enjoy it, although I continue to deal with technical issues in my current position.

VF. Where does Citrosol sit currently among the manufacturers of postharvest products in Spain?

JB. We are currently top the table in Spain with a national market share of around 35%. Importantly, in recent years, our growth has been constant and we have been increasing our sales year on year. Our aim is to continue to do so and we dedicate a large part of our efforts to just that.

VF. Although awards are not something new for Citrosol, in recent months innovation has been recognized twice, receiving two very prestigious accolades. Is the secret of the company’s success precisely that, innovation?

"Our team of staff: we have a fantastic team comprised of highly trained, motivated people, who are very involved and fully committed to the objectives of our company."

JB. Indeed, in April the Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium Enterprises (CEPYME) presented us with its 2020 Technological Innovation Award, which had previously been bestowed upon us in 2015, and then, just a few days ago, we received the Company Innovation Award 2020 from the Valencian Chamber of Commerce, in an event held at the Palacio de Congresos in Valencia. Furthermore, we were also finalists in the category of SME of the year in 2018 and 2020.

In my opinion, although there are more factors, it is not the only secret of Citrosol’s success, but it is the most important. It has enabled us to differentiate ourselves within the market at key moments. I also believe that the fact that our innovations are focused not only on obtaining the best results, but also on seeking to improve the sustainability of post-harvest processes, we make these innovations doubly valued by our clients as they also help them to obtain better results whilst, at the same time, become more sustainable companies.

VF. Apart from innovation, is there anything else that sets Citrosol apart?

JB. Our team of staff: we have a fantastic team comprised of highly trained, motivated people, who are very involved and fully committed to the objectives of our company.

VF. What is the path for the post-harvest products when the use of active ingredients and MRLs are ever increasingly restricted?

JB. It is true that there are more and more postharvest product restrictions, regulatory changes, good agricultural practices, supermarkets audits …, which are not always driven by scientific criteria or consumer health protection; sometimes it seems that it is more of a competition. It must be said, however, that there are also positive changes that demand greater professionalism within the sector. Irrespectively, one must adapt to these changes and those that appear on the horizon. That is what we do at Citrosol.

We have been working on alternative and “without residue” treatments for many years and we are adapting to these restrictions. Among the most decay prone are citrus fruits, particularly lemon and mandarin orange, and it is very difficult to avoid decay without the use of conventional fungicides, but only to an extent. There are cases in which it is possible to reduce the active ingredients and where results can be greatly improved by reducing the residue left on the fruit, and this is what we do with our alternative treatments.

At the same time, we have, for years, used the term “precision postharvest”, which means that we look into the variability of treatment that exists in the preparation procedures within a packinghouse. We carefully study and endeavour to reduce them. The work of quality management is carried out by our application systems, with sensors, to reduce to the maximum the variability in both the application and in the chemical concentration of the products. This means that we apply conventional fungicides and “green chemical” products with the greatest of care.

VF. How do postharvest treatments fit in with organic production?

JB. Biocare by Citrosol is our great commitment to ecological production; currently made up of half a dozen products: two safe-use disinfectants for the hygienic washing of fruit and vegetable produce, a detergent for cleaning citrus fruit, a product for decay control in citrus fruit that extends their commercial life and, finally, two plant based coatings called Plantseal, used to reduce the weight loss and chilling injury that may otherwise occur in long-distance shipments or in cold storage.

This range has been certified for use in organic farming and a few months ago we also received the certification of Plantseal coatings as products suitable for vegan consumption.

Up to now, these are the developments that we have launched in this area, but we continue to research and investigate within this field to better anticipate market demand both from our clients and the consumer.

VF. Returning to your management; over these months, have you introduced changes in the way you run the company? In what sense?

JB. After close to nine months, the changes in the way I lead are related mainly to my personality and my way of seeing and understanding things. We have also introduced some changes in the structure and way of working in specific departments, always with the aim of improving, but in general, these are not big changes.

When the boat is on course, and in my opinion this is the case with Citrosol, it is better not to vary it too much. This does not mean that, if in the future we need to make changes to better take advantage of the opportunities offered, we will not do so, but at the moment, that is not necessary.

VF. You continue to have the collaboration of Benito Orihuel, Citrosol’s previous CEO; what is the most important thing you have learned from him?

 JB. Indeed, Benito continues to work with us part-time as a Postharvest Advisor. Fundamentally, he collaborates in R&D+i projects and in marketing and communication.

I have learned many things from him over the years, but I think that what I value the most has been his vision in distinguishing where the challenges and opportunities that the sector offered us really were at any time, thus promoting projects best able to bring solutions to the market that would be the most appropriate and that would provide the greatest value to our clients.

Also, his ability to form a great team of professionals that has enabled us to scale the heights Citrosol enjoys today. Currently we number more than a hundred people.

VF. Which line will you particularly work on with regard to the Citrosol catalog?

JB. We have a range of product lines and all are important. We must not neglect any. Notwithstanding, there are some lines that we are promoting more.

Given the demand for products that are not treated with synthetic fungicides, the so-called “zero residue”, we continue to pay special attention to our alternative treatments. Currently, there isn’t any regulatory legislation which is why we decided to develop Biocare by Citrosol, our product line certified for use in organic farming as I mentioned earlier, to respond to this need.

We also continue our work on the development of new coatings. This is a line that we have strengthened in recent years and we will continue to do so. Evidence of this is that in recent years we have launched onto the market, Plantseal coatings based on plant extracts; CIC coatings, which minimize the symptoms of chilling injury and Sunseal, our low drying temperature wax, ideal for shipments to distant destinations.

Finally, it should be noted that, with the aim of optimizing the application of our products, we continue to develop new application systems and implement improvements in existing ones. All these systems are framed within the concept of “precision postharvest” which we discussed earlier, and therefore represent an improvement in the results of our clients.

VF. In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about cold treatment, does Citrosol have products to prevent chilling injury?

JB. We have greatly improved in the realms of cold damage with coatings such as Plantseal and, above all, with CIC, with which we are providing excellent results when it comes to making the fruit more resistant to quarantine periods, enabling transport to far-flung destinations… Finally, chilling injury is a time/temperature binomial and the fruit resists up to a limit, highly variable limits, depending on the type of fruit, a grapefruit is nothing like an apple, for example. Once that limit is crossed in each product, the fruit ends up marked or scalded …

VF. Although Citrosol has always been known for citrus products, the truth is that you have treatments for other fruits too. Could you give us some examples?

 JB. As an example, we have developed a line of products for use with vegetables (pepper, tomato). The Citrocide system is used to deactivate pathogenic microorganisms on the surface of these vegetables and helps to greatly reduce decay levels. We have also developed a line for tropical fruit (coatings, surface disinfection …). And we continue working.

VF. So are you testing for any other crops?

JB. We continue working on pear and apple, but it is complicated. In tropical fruit we are now mainly developing for mango and avocado, but have projects with other types of tropical fruit. We hope that the situation will stabilize after the pandemic such that we may continue along these lines.

VF. How long can it take to develop a product and obtain the necessary authorizations?

JB. Although it does depend, a new treatment product can take one to two years to develop. Registration can then take up to five or six more years. In the end, it may be seven or eight years, at best, for a product to be launched in Spain, bearing in mind that European regulations are the most demanding in the world.

VF. Do you foresee which active materials are going to be banned?

JB. At the moment, Citrosol has a catalog that includes only active materials that are not anticipated to be unauthorized in the short or medium term. It should not be forgotten that, beyond the active ingredients, hygiene and disinfection are essential for the care of the fruit. In fact, the disinfection of the plants contributes to the effectiveness of the rest of the treatments.

VF. Research and Development is always ongoing with new products every year, your international expansion is unstoppable … How important is communication at Citrosol so that the market hears about the new products and recognizes the values of the brand, taking into account its position at the forefront?

JB. I believe that in this area we have been increasing our presence progressively in both national and international media. We are also very active on social media and in digital formats such as webinars with which we have reached many countries where our products have a great penetration (Peru, South Africa, Egypt, Argentina…). We also publish our discoveries in international scientific publications… Everything contributes to report and consolidate our prestige.

For Citrosol, communication is fundamental.

VF. Has the container crisis affected the export of Citrosol products?

JB. We endeavour to schedule shipments well in advance. It is a way to avoid problems and obtain more affordable prices. We are managing to overcome the problem by working with foresight and anticipation. It is no longer just delays or higher costs, but also includes potential problems with sourcing raw materials where there is a risk of possible shortages.

VF. Another important aspect in the management of a company of this size is human resources. How do you experience the change of position from being a peer to a being director? What do you particularly value about the Citrosol team?

JB. This is something that I agree on fully; human resources are key for a company like ours and it is something that we try to take maximum care of. We have expanded from having around 50 employees to more than 100 over the past 12 years. Obviously, our efforts to attract and manage talent is fundamental to us.

The change from colleague to manager is something that I already have experience of in previous stages when I have been promoted to positions with greater responsibility within the company, although it is evident not to the same degree as now. I try to take it as naturally as possible and it is clear that the relationship changes in the professional sense, but I try not to change on a personal level.

As I mentioned before, we have a great team, involved and committed to the development of the company’s objectives with whom I feel really satisfied, but, in addition, I must say that, in general, they are people with great human qualities, which I consider to be very important for the proper functioning of the company.

VF. What plus does Citrosol bring to its clients?

JB. We are a very customer-focused company, we offer a lot of technical support, install our own application systems, individually developed for each type of product, so we afford our customers the opportunity to obtain great results. Our customers improve the results of their shipments, the quality of the fruit at destination has fewer problems … all that is a lot of money. Plus, we are always there to resolve any problem that a client may encounter. We provide detailed recommendations, continuous advice and support to our clients.

VF. What challenges have you set for yourself in the short term?

JB. One of our outstanding challenges is to continue to internationalize successfully, adapting to the cultural environment of each market and the requirements of potential clients. The challenge is to do so while maintaining our values ​​and our customer service capacity, which, ultimately, are what allow us to grow in a sustainable way.

We are also developing new markets for our post-harvest treatments, markets that we consider “blue oceans” (new untapped markets, but ripe for growth), where we provide solutions to problems in horticultural products such as tomato, pepper and fresh cut produce (minimally processed vegetables and fresh fruit, clean, chopped and packaged for consumption) for which successful postharvest treatments had never been developed, and for tropical fruit, such as mango and avocado. Our idea is to continue along this path and provide new solutions to the specific fruit that requires them, always offering support to our clients to help them reduce wastage at destination and, ultimately, to also reduce food losses and waste.

VF. And five years from now? Where and how would you like to see the company?

JB. We aspire to be the world reference in post-harvest treatment of fruit and vegetable produce. In my opinion, we already are in the case of citrus, but we can also be there in other crops too. It would be a bit presumptuous to say that it is something that we are going to achieve in five years, but we can always continue to climb the steps and increase the recognition that we currently enjoy. Little by little we have been expanding our catalog in other markets, as is the case of some vegetable produce as I mentioned before, or that of tropical fruit. The latter is a market experiencing continuous growth and one in which we have been providing new solutions for several years now. We still have a long way to go though

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