Located on 25 acres of land outside the bustling center of the mercantile city of Cremona, Italy, is MartinoRossi's flour mill. In typical years, current and prospective customers tour the facility to see firsthand its production process from seed to flour and learn about its fully-integrated supply chain.
But with international travel stunted likely for the rest of the year because of the pandemic, Luca Deruda, sales manager for North America, told Food Dive that the company had to find an alternative.
"I don't want to waste time so I need to find a solution in order to have people coming to visit our facility in some way," Deruda said. His solution was to make the tour virtual.
Deruda, who has some background in the technology field, is using an image stabilizer and noise reduction headphones to make sure customers can hear over the production machinery and walk through the facility in real time. Food Dive got a glimpse of the interactive tour where customers are able to see everything from its 24 massive silos outside to its production lines in the mill.
"I decided to merge different technologies in order to provide a very tailored solution for people to be using video streaming," he said. "I am able to walk you through the entire facility, even in the production side, where the machines are going very noisy and very loudly."
The family-owned Italian mill has been producing gluten-free, allergen-free and GMO-free ingredients, flours and custom mixes from cereals and legumes for more than 50 years. MartinoRossi serves the food processing industry, mainly CPG manufacturers like pasta, snacks, pizza, plant-based meat and bakery.
Inside the (virtual) tour
With a mask and headphones on, Deruda walks the stabilized camera through the whole plant, showing where the seeds are loaded, cleaned, selected, grinded, milled and packed.
Before the Zoom video tour, he sends customers a map of the facility so that they can know exactly where they are located when following along with the video camera. As they virtually walk through the facility, customers are able to ask Deruda questions as they come up. He said he wanted to "provide a seamless experience like people actually visiting us even though it's not possible."
"It's really important for our customers to do this and see exactly what's going on within our facilities," he said.
The company has a team of agronomists that work with its more than 400 farmer partners in the Italian territory, and is continuing to expand. The company is building new facilities for its R&D department and so in couple of months, they will be able to show that off as well.
Deruda said many company websites offer a 3D tour of facilities, but those tend to be "super boring" and aren't tailored to each specific customer. He said MartinoRossi can do full customization of its ingredients and needed to be able to communicate that to consumers. For example, if a consumer is specifically interested in green pea flour, he can tailor the tour to show that production process.
"I need to talk with people and show the production and answer their questions," he said. "I want to be able to have a very tailored experience for them like they were with me actually."
The company has already conducted the virtual tour with some people in Norway, the Netherlands and the U.S. He said the tours, which last about 30 minutes, have gone seamlessly and customers have been "enthusiastic" about them. Deruda said that as soon as he sends the invitation for the tour, clients ask if they can forward it to their colleagues because they want more people on board.
Although Italy has been hit hard by coronavirus, he said there haven't been any positive cases at MartinoRossi and its supply chain remains uninterrupted. Deruda said that's been possible because people respected the lockdowns and only the production workers went in to work with safety protocols in place.
As more companies put precautions in place and production ramps up, many are now looking for different ways to promote their businesses as travel is still restricted and trade shows are cancelled. Several are getting creative with virtual experiences. Plant-based company Before the Butcher, for example, conducted a Zoom demo to show how its plant-based products cook. Now MartinoRossi says they are the first ingredients company to offer its typical in-person tour in a virtual way. Some businesses like Kerry do offer virtual 360-degree tours of factories made with outside firms.
"Within the industry, nobody has done something like this," he said. "It's something that I wanted to use for customers and prospects even though international travel is off the menu and it will be off the menu for a while."