Gema Boiza. Journalist. @GemaBoiza
US multinational Herbalife, which sponsors soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, continues to weather the effects of the economic crisis and to expand sales despite sluggish consumer spending. Wikispanishfood.com interviews Carlos Barroso, general manager of the company, which is celebrating 25 years in Spain in 2014 and has been able to position itself as a leader in promoting good nutrition and weight management with its products (nutrition, sports nutrition and personal care). Last year, company revenues amounted to 50 million euros in Spain and 4.8 billion dollars at global level.
Gemma Boiza.- How important is innovation for the company, in both national and international terms?
Carlos Barroso.- Herbalife is committed to becoming the benchmark by which all nutrition companies are measured. We are making progress in the science of nutrition through research all over the world. R&D spending has increased spectacularly since 2003 with a view to advancing product development. In fact, in 2011, the company invested close to 19 million euros in scientific research, R&D, technical operations, guarantees and quality control, compliance and product safety.
G.B.- How is Spain similar and how is it different from other European countries in terms of consumer acceptance of Herbalife products?
C. B.- Spanish consumers demand results and effective products. Herbalife offers not only products, but also personalized advice. Spanish customers stand out from those in other markets because they are very demanding, and even more so in times of crisis. They want quality and a commitment, and we're working on that with products that meet people's daily nutritional needs and programs for a long-lasting healthy lifestyle.
G.B.- What share does Spain account for in Herbalife's business in Europe? And in the world?
C.B.- Spain is our third most-important European market, after Russia and Italy.
G.B. Is Herbalife planning to diversify its product portfolio?
C.B.- Herbalife is focused on strengthening its three product lines: targeted nutrition, sports nutrition and personal care. The R&D department works tirelessly to expand our product portfolio; however, at the moment, we are solely focused on these three lines of action.
G.B.- Has the crisis changed the profile of the Herbalife employee?
C.B.- Yes, it's changing. Our employees are increasingly younger and educated and have a stronger professional commitment to creating their own business. People who are interested in starting their own business and commit themselves fully, most of whom work full time. Moreover, the new type of employee is someone that wants to know what he's selling and how, and here at Herbalife we have a range of different training programs.
G.B.- Can direct sales companies like Herbalife be a solution to crises and a driver of self-employment?
C.B.- The crisis can certainly help, but it's not the only factor. For people to take the plunge and start their own business, you have to offer an attractive business opportunity; a prestigious brand; a portfolio of quality, competitive products; and support. Since we operate in the personal care and wellbeing sector, which is attractive, it's these factors together with the low investment that encourage people to start their own business.
G.B.- What are the advantages of working for a company like Herbalife?
C.B.- We offer a business opportunity, not a traditional job. We offer flexibility schedules to ensure work-life balance. Each person organizes himself how he or she sees fit, and their income depends on their efforts. In short, we offer a way to be an entrepreneur, but without the risk.
G.B.- How is the direct sales sector evolving in Spain? How has the economic crisis affected it?
C.B.- The sector continues to perform favorably, after obtaining around 588 million euros in revenue in 2013. It's not one of the largest sectors in Spain, but it is very stable and weathers crises especially well.
G.B.- How important is social media for direct sales companies?
C.B.- In the case of direct sales and multi-level marketing, social media is a very useful tool which enables independent Herbalife members to get in touch with customers quickly and directly. In terms of the brand, it enables us to communicate with our users and to engage with them in a way that is friendly and non-invasive.
G.B.- What are the company's challenges and objectives in Spain this year and going forward?
C.B.- Our goal is to continue to grow and to address challenges such as promoting good nutrition and wellbeing with products backed by science, and offering the best opportunity for a direct sales business. In terms of numbers, our goal is to increase sales further by 2014 year-end.