A holistic view of economics, which puts it in its rightful place, in the service of people with skilful hands, who are guarantors of expertise and quality, working in partnership with nature in order to offer people unique experiences, appears to be a successful way of boosting regional production. As AMO – Produto Local can attest.
Regional products in lotion containers? Passers-by cannot fail to notice the black packaging with its modern design bearing the brand-name AMO, where no detail is left to chance. Even if these do not go unnoticed and remind one of lotion pots, what they contain is more unusual still … regional products – honey, olive paté, bolos secos (dry cakes), wine and olive oil, which are all of the highest, certified quality. The company AMO – Produto Local has been operating since January 2012. António Jóia, the project’s mentor, was brave enough to take a risk and turned an academic project into a business idea. He welcomes me with an open smile and his typically friendly demeanour. “What we do is to sell, under our own brand name, a range of products including everything from olive oil to jams, produced in a traditional manner in the area of the Geopark Naturtejo*, and offer consumers the pleasure of tasting them.” In AMO, this financial and human resources manager found the perfect formula for promoting his home area, contributing to preventing producers from moving away and to their fair remuneration, and offering consumers unique experiences.
“What is marvellous is the magical effect that our products create: they tell a story and people delight in discovering the story,” says António, with a twinkle in his eye that conveys that sensation of mission accomplished.
What makes AMO different? At the same time as evoking age-old expertise and traditional, local and healthy food, based on the conservation of nature against a backdrop of rational, organic agriculture – the objective of the Common Agricultural Policy – AMO stands out thanks to the irreverent and innovative spirit with which it does so. “We can sell each of our products loose or as a package, each with a handicraft gift because this is clear evidence of the history of the region, and inherently of the history of each product.” As I learnt from Sr. Ramiro who, with the wisdom of his 78 years, refers to himself as “a craftsman by vocation and maker of adufes”, the traditional Portuguese tambourines: “The adufe conjures up the Celtic airs which are so much a part of the Raia border region, and it has to be made from two membranes, one from a male and the other from a female goat or sheep, otherwise it won’t produce a harmonious sound.” He also recounts that “people used to dance to the sound of the adufe at that time of the olive harvest… oh, my girl, there were so many romances that started with the olive harvest. In the past, there used to be a party.”
The AMO entrepreneur recalls with a laugh that, when he eventually found a suitable supplier, he said that no one had ever asked him for black plastic for wrapping chouriço sausages. “We can’t have bags that are anything but black, because that would be a break from our brand image.” In addition to this aspect, the pots and bottles are made from a special material which prevents ultraviolet rays from getting in. The labels are also printed using ecological inks and thus pollute less; advertising is virtual and based on word of mouth.
When I asked about AMO’s target market, the answer was quick: “Our products are not for everyone, but they are affordable!” António Jóia introduced the concept of “affordable luxury” into his brand, which positions itself in the gourmet and delicatessen market; this has special, exclusive and authentic products at its core, artistically presented and with additional touches, which generate a fair price for producers. Even so, the spirit of innovation does not just rely on the perfect blend of gastronomy and design, tourism comes into it too. The Naturtejo region has great scenic potential, which encourages bird-watching, walking, study sessions on sustainable agriculture … and so, in parallel with the sales of regional products, AMO offers a voucher for participating in the tourist event “Rota” which consists of a guided tour to the producers’ farms, having a look at and experiencing the manufacturing processes and taking part in tastings in situ, sprinkled with stories and interesting anecdotes by local people, told in the first person. “We offer people sensations like beating the olives off a tree with a stick, gathering the fruit, cutting it, seasoning it with the local herbs and tasting it with a freshly baked loaf of bread. By bringing consumers/tourists closer, AMO’s aim is to raise their awareness about the need to protect rural areas and the environment so that such products have the best quality.”
For all these reasons, it was no surprise when António Jóia chose Proactivity when I asked him to summarise the AMO concept in just one word.
“People here work above all with passion,” said Luis Coutinho, an olive oil producer. It wasn’t just about bringing producers together; the AMO team took huge care about the way in which this was done, making a commitment to consumers with the label “Quality Products – Local, Traditional and Typical” (PLTQT), exclusively representing a specific region which is rich, very popular and recognised for its numerous attributes, traditions, gastronomy, geology and tourism. The producers are always certificated, because “certification guarantees quality for consumers and added value for producers.”
The Herdade do Escrivão, located in Malpica do Tejo supplies the cheese, and the Tapada da Tojeira, in Vila Velha de Ródão the olive oil; the distillery Silvapa, located in Madeirã supplies the aguardente brandy and the producer João Vitório do Sobral do Campo the honey. The dry cakes come from the Padaria da Ângela in Monforte da Beira and Bolos d’Aldeia in Sta Margarida, and the Salsicharia Alpalhoense de Nisa supplies the cured meats; finally, the jams and liqueurs come from Calma, Ltd in Proença-a-Nova and the herbs/teas from Tisanas da Quinta Biológica in Castelo Branco. Most of AMO’s suppliers are trained to degree level and are on average 40 years old. They say there is a family tie to the agricultural and food businesses they run; it is thanks to knowledge being passed down from generation to generation that they have the experience and knowledge today, and in many cases this work is done rather like a hobby, like that of honey-producer João Vitório. He himself talks of “Honey, which is still produced in a completely traditional, artisan way, with hives and a totally manual extraction process, a product which retains pollen particles and wax from the combs which are produced naturally by the bees.”
In view of small producers’ lower business capacity, production would otherwise not be profitable, given the high costs of organic, artisan production as compared with the prices for which they could sell their products on their own. The sales process under the AMO brand allows producers to reach target markets, as they are automatically guaranteed a competitive advantage through the possibility of increasing their prices by extending the supply to other markets; it also increases their visibility and establishes cooperative relationships between producers and distributors, providing an outlet for the former and ensuring the quality of what they are selling for the latter. Profits increase and people stay in their home areas or return to them.
The challenge of international business. Economists like Daniel Bessa argue in favour of the creation of regional brands as the best way of enriching the local area and home-grown products. Products focusing on gastronomy have been appearing, examples being Boa Boca and Think global, taste local, which combine design with an alternative way of communicating about regional produce from the Alentejo and the Serra da Estrela respectively, concentrating on products with established credentials and with a clear orientation towards exports. According to Eurosif, Italy and France are the leading countries in terms of relative demand for regional products, with market shares of 11.6% and 10.6%, respectively. “We have international markets in our sights,” says António Jóia, “For the moment our efforts have been limited to attending international fairs through Geopark Naturtejo. This is another task which we hope to accomplish next year through partnerships I have been developing at certain international gatherings, ranging from distributors to owners of gourmet shops who were interested in our products.” He added that he’s been searching for success but hasn’t achieved it yet. “AMO attaches more importance to success than to money, and success is seeing that what you do really helps others to fulfil their dreams, the dream of living in the interior and being able to live from the excellent quality of the things you produce.”
AMO shuns the colour grey. It is a fine line in the rainbow that encompasses all the colours. Nowadays, as in the past, it is innovative ideas, know-how and thinking out of the box that flourish. It is responsible to anticipate change. And being responsible is a choice. AMO is too.
*defined region spanning a wide area, which favours its sustainable development, containing geological heritage of special importance or rarity, or scenic/aesthetic importance and which embraces the municipalities of Castelo Branco, Idanha-a-Nova, Oleiros, Nisa, Proença-a-Nova and Vila de Rei.