Adelaide master of pasta Luigi Crotti is hungry for the future

WHEN Luigi Crotti came to Australia from his home in Italy in 1936 and started making pasta, he gave it away.

Those were the days when you couldn’t buy pasta in Australia, and Mr Crotti’s Italian friends missing the tastes of their old home were grateful for his generosity.

But the popularity of that pasta eventually led the Crotti family into business — and after three generations of hard work, Adelaide’s San Remo Macaroni Company is now one of the nation’s largest privately owned food manufacturers.

In a rare interview, Luigi’s grandson Maurice Crotti said the company’s induction into the Family Business Australia Hall of Fame this week was an honour and reward for the effort and hard work put in by the company in previous decades.

San Remo firstly conquered the domestic market, helping teach Australians to eat pasta before starting to focus on overseas markets in the 1980s.

Few Australian companies have made bigger inroads into global food markets than San Remo, which the Crotti family has built into one of the world’s best known pasta companies with many millions of customers.

It exports to more than 36 countries including Italy, the home of pasta.

The Windsor Gardens company is achieving significant growth in Europe, while it is making strong inroads into the vast Asian market, teaching its citizens to eat pasta, as it once did in Australia.

“We have very good business in Asia and although per head they don’t eat a lot, overall when they start to eat it at the same rate as they do in Hong Kong, it will be big business,” Mr Crotti, the company’s chief executive, said.

“That’s exactly what happened here, everything was meat and two vegetables and then the Italian food started to come in and then Chinese food and later on Thai food.”

He has fought against the odds to build the business since he went to work at the company in the 1970s, believing that there was only room for one of the nine major pasta manufacturers operating in Australia to survive.

Through sheer hard work and commitment, San Remo has seen off its major Australian competitors and enjoys a market share of more than 50 per cent.

Mr Crotti said its success in winning the battle for the Australian pasta market taught it to fear no one.

He puts the success down to sheer determination.

“Never give up, never ever, if you give up you’re done,” he said.

He describes the quality of its pasta as the reason for its success, its dominant market share and ability to withstand the competition from lower priced, sometimes inferior imported products.

“People want quality and our pasta tastes good, holds up to the cooking and holds the sauce,” he said.

Another crucial reason for its success was its move in the early 1990s to start a durum wheat growing industry in South Australia to gain the supply of specialty durum it badly needed and add value to farmers by building consumer demand.

“Durum was our way of taking costs out of the business because we don’t pay a miller and we don’t pay a storage facility, plus it gives us greater control over our quality,” he said.

“The quality of the durum wheat grown in South Australia helps the quality of our products astronomically and the name of the game is always to produce quality and sell it for a fair price because value for money for customers is all important.”

San Remo produces 350 pasta products and has also owned the Balfours baking business since 2008, a business at risk of closure if it hadn’t stepped in.

It saved 400 jobs and returned it to success by focusing on the quality of its traditional pies, pasties, pastries, cakes, doughnuts, frog cakes and other treats.

Mr Crotti believes there is plenty of room for San Remo to continue growing in Australia because pasta consumption is only 3kg per person, compared to nine kg in countries such as the United States and Sweden.

Mr Crotti’s father Aldo bought the company in 1948 and he and wife Josie formed a strong team.

While he ran the manufacturing and sales side, she oversaw the administration and finance. Both worked nearly up to their death, he passed away in 2008 and she early this year.

These days while Maurice is chief executive, his brother David is general manager.

“We’ve been at it for a long time and it’s not like we hide our light under a bush, but a lot of people don’t know we are here,” Mr Crotti said.

Few food companies are more closely watched than San Remo which has grown from a tiny pasta maker into an international company, trading and selling goods throughout Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East and Europe.