Growing is part of our history. We have always known how to do it, step by step, with no illusions, but with the same ambition. Without the visionary instinct of Alfredo da Silva, the greatest Portuguese industrialist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sovena would not exist. By his hand, the largest Portuguese economic group was born, joining the forces of União Fabril and Companhia Aliança Fabril and creating CUF - Companhia União Fabril.
This has become the largest industrial, commercial and financial group in Portugal. Always with the motto, from the outset, that to inspire it was necessary to perspire. And so, it was that, by getting down to business, a technologically advanced industrial complex was created in Barreiro, which came to generate 5% of the national GDP. From shipbuilding to fertilisers, from textiles to cooking oils, no business area was left unexplored by CUF. The numbers were clear: more than 100 companies, with more than 1000 products, and more than 110,000 employees marked a remarkable achievement.
Alfredo da Silva was also a shrewd, tenacious and courageous diplomat, who remained at the helm of the company and successfully steered it through two world wars without it losing its way. However, the severe political instability of 1974, caused by the end of the dictatorship, led to the end of CUF as we knew it.
However, initiative, courage, insight and tenacity were family traits that passed from generation to generation. Thus, faced with the changes thrust upon them, Jorge de Mello and José Manuel de Mello set to work:
In the 1980s, Jorge de Mello acquired Sociedade Alco, Algodoeira Comercial e Industrial, dedicated to the extraction, refining and packaging of cooking oils and, later, Fábrica Torrejana de Azeites in Torres Novas.
In the 1990s, we strengthened the group with the purchase of Lusol, a specialist in oil extraction and refining and soap production; Tagol, responsible for oilseed extraction and refining through a contract with the multinational Bunge; and Sovena, born in 1956 from a partnership between CUF, Macedo e Coelho and Sociedade Nacional de Sabões, to sell vegetable oils and soaps.
We realised then that to go further it was vital to control the whole process: bringing the land closer to the market, the market closer to the kitchen, the kitchen closer to the plate and the plate closer to the land.
We entered the 21st-century sowing relationships and partnerships that have grown with us. In order to reach the world at large, we had to go even further in our conquest of the market. Together with our long-standing partners, but also with new companies, we have forged new paths: we concentrated extraction activities at Tagol; packaging at Sovena; and, in 2002, we acquired the assets of Agribética in Seville and integrated it into Sovena Ibérica de Aceites, which allowed us to produce even more and reach leaders in the Iberian Peninsula. Yet more was required.
We acquired the assets of Simão & Companhia in 2004 with the objective of relaunching the Andorinha brand in the Brazilian market; and in 2005 we acquired 80% of the capital of East Coast Olive Oil, the largest importer and packager of olive oil in the USA. In that same year we created Tagol Ibérica de Aceites and in 2006 we acquired 80% of the capital of Exoliva, a company dedicated to the preparation and packaging of olives for export, in order to have a positive impact in Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East.
The future continued to guide our impact and relevance: in 2006, Tagol, in partnership with Bunge, established BioColza, whose main activity was the extraction of rapeseed and the marketing of resulting products.
The way we perceived our role and the function of food never stopped evolving. When we realised that all our present actions gave even more impetus to our relevance, we sought to have an even greater impact: in 2006, in partnership with SOMED, we created Soprolives in Morocco, which transformed the olive grove effect and the scope of our foods. In 2007, we moved towards Tunisia, where we created Sovena MENA (Middle East & North Africa), thanks to a partnership with a local company that took our produce to the whole of North Africa.
Also, in 2007, the Elaia project was remarkable for its size: we planted more than 10,000 hectares of olive groves to further improve the quality of our produce, from the source. It was in that year that our impact on the planet also changed for the better, with the establishment of Agrodiesel in a partnership with Diester International, enabling us to begin making a difference in Biodiesel. It was at this time that our group became the second largest for olive oil production, as well as the largest distributor in the world.
Our mission was continuing to set the pace, building on the successes we had already achieved. For this reason, and in order to begin changing the world's relationship with food and future sustainability, seeking out the optimum in terms of production, in 2008 the Alco Group gave rise to Sovena Group, based on 4 distinct areas of impact and growth: Agriculture, Consumer Goods, Oilseeds and Biodiesel.