Joan Martí: "There are no successful sectors or ones in crisis: there are winning and obsolete strategies in all sectors"

Interview with Joan Martí, manager of the ACC1Ó Cluster Stimulus programme

ACC1Ó, the Government of Catalonia’s agency designed to support business competitiveness, is fostering 36 clusters in Catalonia in sectors including food, technology, the textile industry and the mobile sector. Now, with the Barcelona Food Cluster Association, led by Mercabarna, the Foodservice Cluster of Catalonia has got underway.

Q- So what is a cluster, exactly?
A- It’s a group of companies that work in the same business and share strategic challenges. Above all, it’s a tool used to detect and implement winning strategies.

Q- And it can be used to...
A- In a constantly changing environment, a cluster is a focal point that can help companies see the trends to follow and organise projects that allow businesses to become more competitive.

Q- You are promoting the foodservice cluster, together with the Barcelona Food Cluster Association. Why that sector?
A- We focus on sectors with a critical mass in Catalonia. We aren’t swayed by fashions. We work with what we have because there are no successful sectors or ones in crisis, but rather winning and obsolete strategies in every sector. In the Catalan foodservice sector we found there are around 450 firms with a turnover of some 4 billion euros, so it’s a very powerful cluster and one with growth opportunities.

Q- What steps should be taken now?
A- ACC1Ó and the Industrial Perspectives Observatory diagnosed the foodservice sector and the Food Cluster Association did likewise within the Stimulus Plan for the Foodservice Cluster of Catalonia. We saw that the two studies shared the main future challenges and decided to join forces. The result was the snapshot presented at the conference in Mercabarna. More conferences, workshops and roundtable discussions will be held in Mercabarna over coming months to reflect on the challenges detected: logistics, product development and marketing.

Q- And then?
A- The idea is that it will be the businesses themselves that propose projects to develop. Each firm, according to its interests and possibilities, will join one project or another.

Q- What sorts of projects are involved?
A- Each cluster requires action in line with its challenges. However, overall we could mention two issues: innovation and global link-up. Initiatives can also be taken in terms of training, the creation of purchasing platforms, R&D projects, etc. In the foodservice sector, the first presentation held in Mercabarna revealed an interest in product development, shared logistics and in carrying out sector studies.

Q- Are the projects designed for businesses to carry out alone or in conjunction with other firms?
A- The purpose of the cluster is not to get companies to work together. The idea is for them to implement successful strategies, which they can do either individually or together. Let me give you an example: if I want to know the business opportunities of the foodservice market in Brazil but I can’t pay for a study on the sector by myself, I may be able to find other companies that are interested in it within the cluster. So we can work together on the study, but later I will move onto the market by myself.

Q-How do you get competing firms to cooperate?
A- Well you have to look at competition from today’s perspective. Your fiercest competitor mightn’t be the guy next door any more, but someone who is 12,000 kilometres away! Having interesting projects is what makes companies within a sector keen to pull together.

Q-What role should businesses play within the cluster?
A- The cluster is targeted at businesses so they should put time and resources into it, because everything done within the cluster will have a direct impact on their income statement.

Q- What role do the Barcelona Food Cluster Association, Mercabarna and ACC1Ó play?
A- We help businesses along the way. We can cooperate by jointly funding some projects, but our main work is to help companies detect future strategies and visualise new business models. To support them in this process we have a number of cluster managers, a person from ACC1Ó and a person from Mercabarna, who will help them structure their projects.