How a poultry farmer created the world’s second largest salmon production company

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The founder of the Chilean food conglomerate Agrosuper, Gonzalo Vial Vial (83), started the whole enterprise virtually without a penny to his name.

6th August this year: Agrosuper acquires Chile’s largest aquaculture company AquaChile, thus becoming the world’s second largest salmon production company.

But to understand how and why this event took place, we need to turn back time 63 years, more precisely to 1955.

We find ourselves in the town of Rancagua, in the heart of Chile, around 90 kilometres south of the capital Santiago. Here Gonzalo Vial Vial, the youngest of ten siblings, has begun the process of creating what will turn him into a multi-billionaire – specifically the conglomerate Agrosuper. At first he followed in the footsteps of his father, and studied law. However, it wasn’t long before it was clear that the future for Vial Vial lay in the food industry.

Eggs, chicken and pigs
It started quite simply with production and sale of poultry eggs, and then he hired two workers to assist him. Growth accelerated, and Vial Vial was/is not one to put all his eggs in one basket – literally speaking.

Five years on, he ventured into production and marketing of chicken. In 1974 he expanded this activity, which led to the launching of the renowned brand Super Pollo.

Nine years later, in 1983, the pork industry captured Vial Vial’s attention.

First meeting with salmon farming more than just a fleeting encounter
1990 marks the first meeting with salmon farming. Through their experience with production of poultry and pigs, Agrosuper established itself even more firmly in the aquaculture industry by founding the company Los Fiordos, which produces salmon and trout in Region XI.

Screenshot: Agrosuper

Meanwhile another product is added to the Agrosuper portfolio, when in 1996 the company decided to buy into the turkey producer Sopraval.

The following years are typified by an enhanced focus on export. In 2002 the company initiates the process of opening branch offices abroad, and establishing itself in Italy, the United States, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and China.

The company now has sales revenue of over one billion dollars per annum, employing a workforce of more than 15,000. Not a bad return for someone who just started with a few hens’ eggs. Agrosuper is a family business, owned by Gonzalo Vial Vial, his son and three daughters. Vial Vial is not just the founder, but also the CEO and Chairman of the Board.

Left 500,000 pigs to fend for themselves
But it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. In May 2012 it was discovered that 500,000 pigs were left to fend for themselves, and many died due to a lack of care, water and food. The farm was located in Freirina, around 800 kilometres south of Santiago, and owned by Agrosuper.

Vial Vial publicly regretted the occurrence in an interview with El Mercurio, but at the same time levelled hefty criticism against the authorities.

“What I cannot accept is misrepresentation of the truth. They (authorities) say we left the pigs to be alone for five days, but we were prevented from entering,” he claimed.

Horse breeding
Vial Vial is also passionate about horses, and is engaged in horse breeding. He also participated in starting the first organisation for Chilean rodeo, a sport involving horseback riding, which has been a national sport since 1962.

Chilean rodeo at Puerto Varas. Photo: Aslak Berge

Vial Vial is reputed to have said the following about his interest in horses: “This is not business, but a hobby that costs money. I earn money on pigs and chickens, and lose on horses and fish.

The remark about losing on fish was obviously uttered a long time ago.