Atlante focuses on quality food: “This is how we bring Italy to the world” – Il Resto del Carlino interviews Natasha Linhart

22 April 2024

Natasha Linhart, in an exclusive interview with Il Resto del Carlino, shares the history and future of Atlante, offering a compelling glimpse into the entrepreneurial journey that has established the company as a benchmark in the food industry.

Atlante focuses on quality food: “This is how we bring Italy to the world”

Founder Natasha Linhart reflects on Atlante’s remarkable journey: from inception to a turnover of €250 million in 30 years. And the company is set for even greater growth.

Intervista a Natasha Linhart su Il Resto del Carlino It is not enough for us to be good; we strive to be the best. That’s easier said than done. Yet, in thirty years, Natasha Linhart — English by birth, but Bolognese by adoption—has transformed Atlante (based in Casalecchio di Reno) into one of the primary strategic partners upon which the main Italian chains rely for the selection, import, and distribution of food products from around the world. Atlante also serves as a conduit for Italian products abroad. “We started from scratch in 1994,” recalls the English entrepreneur, CEO, and majority shareholder, “and today we boast a turnover of €250 million and employ 107 individuals from 12 different nationalities.”

What are your goals?
“Our business plan will take us to €350 million in turnover in 2026 with a recruitment plan for another thirty employees here in Bologna. In three years, we will reach 140 employees”.

But one can’t live on import-export alone, there’s more to business than that.
“Of course, otherwise it would be a trivial transaction – just buying and selling. Our aim is to stand out through authority and competence, and we are extremely careful about what we offer and how we offer it. We are scholars of raw materials, how and where best to look for them, their geopolitical and climate influence, and all the global dynamics that affect the world of food. We bring products to the market that are healthy, safe, good and of certified origin, and that are in line with customers’ economic expectations Thirty years ago it was enough to offer products that were cheap, healthy, and good. That is no longer the case, as the market is more demanding and sophisticated. We have an in-house team of food technologists who ensure the safety, quality and legality of our products; a supply chain team that plans requirements, identifies the best routes and brings efficiency and cost reduction; a finance & legal team that guarantees the punctuality and regularity of everything we do; and a marketing team that gives value to our proposals and to ATLANTE in general”.

What about your relationship with Bologna and Italy?
“We want to position ourselves as opinion leaders through a series of initiatives. In June we will hold the second edition of the Technical and Supply Chain Summit with our business partners and authoritative personalities such as astronaut Paolo Nespoli, among others. Last November, we organised the first Awareness Day at Mast, focusing on sustainability and the impact of climate change. We have maintained a longstanding partnership with the Food Bank in Bologna, and since 2017, we have initiated an important collaboration with the Bologna Business school by employing master’s degree students specialising in food and wine. This year we will fund a scholarship for a student who has demonstrated exceptional ability”.

Is Atlante a cutting-edge company?
“In our view it should be a place where employees love to work. We encourage their professional growth through career paths and foster a sense of community through semi-leisure, sports, and cultural activities. We also sponsor the Bologna football club, which enhances our prestige, and we hope it qualifies for the Champions League”.

Let’s talk about the ‘Made in Italy’ brand. What do they ask for abroad?
“Let me start by saying we do not work for manufacturers – we work for our customers. For instance, if a distributor is looking for a specific, perhaps niche product, we offer them all possible solutions considering factors such as quality, reliability, price, production capacity, and certifications. Essentially, we act as project developers. In Italy, we work with more than 200 manufacturers. In this time of crisis, Italy holds an advantage due to its cuisine, which features high-quality ingredients that require simple preparation, making it highly exportable. Pasta is wonderful and there is also a huge demand for sauces, as well as pestos, quality balsamic vinegar, cheeses, wines, and all regional specialities. We have a Swiss partner, Migros (who own 20% of Atlante), which has created the Da Emilio brand and wants to represent Italy on the global stage”.

What international products do you import to Italy?
“Primarily, we import Greek specialties, particularly yogurt, at a volume of 50 million pots annually. Additionally, we import feta and halloumi from Cyprus. The second category comprises beer, sourced from Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Belgium. We also import Swiss chocolate, manufactured by our partner Migros, along with a variety of ethnic specialties, such as maple syrup from Canada, agave syrup from Mexico, soy sauces from Malaysia, and basmati rice from India”.

Who are your customers?
“Large-scale distribution, discount stores, and foodservice, i.e., catering companies. One of our most important markets is the UK – we have a branch in England staffed by ten colleagues. We primarily supply large-scale distribution with Italian products”.