From a small warewashing company in Milan, Italy, to a multinational enterprise that can supply at least 90% of equipment in a professional kitchen, Ali Group's growth has been rapid since its establishment in the 1960s.
“Time has been very helpful,” says Ali’s president and founder, Luciano Berti. “Time and the fact we have always concentrated on the same business – foodservice equipment. We never abandoned that, we never stopped doing that and we have stuck to the same principles over the years.”
Key amongst these is the entrepreneurial spirit Berti and his executive team instil in their managers. “Our philosophy is founded on freedom of action and thought. We trust our managers and give them a lot of autonomy because this means they are motivated to grow the business as if it is their own,” he explains.
Equally, Berti has never wavered from his goal of providing Ali’s clients with the widest range of high-quality foodservice products possible. “All of our growth has been a way of increasing the offer we can provide to our clients,” he emphasizes. “We have always grown through the acquisitions of specialized brands that know their market very well.”
Milestones of our evolution
1960s: In the beginning
Following two degrees – the first in sociology from Stanford University and the second in political science from the University of Turin – and three years working at a large state-owned corporation in Italy, Berti’s entrepreneurial spirit got the better of him and he decided it was time to branch out on his own. He couldn’t have picked a better moment – or a better industry.
In 1963 he founded a professional warewashing company, Comenda, in Milan, and with the economy booming and hotels, restaurants, schools and hospitals on the lookout for speedy efficient alternatives to manual labor, success came quickly.
1970s: Ali Group goes global
Throughout the 1970s, growth continued uninterrupted and international expansion began. After setting up its French headquarters in Paris in 1972, Berti decided the future of the Group, which by this point had been renamed Ali Group, lay beyond Europe.
Berti moved his family to the US in 1979 and it was there, with the acquisition of US commercial dishmachines firm Champion Industries in North Carolina, business really started to boom.
Not only did Ali Group’s first acquisition double the group’s sales volume, Berti learned valuable lessons about how to turn a loss-making company around. “The first thing to do is make sure you have the right talent,” he says. “It’s a matter of having the right people doing the right things. When you’ve done this a number of times, you learn how to get it right.”
1980s: Time to diversify
By the 1980s, washing was no longer the core business of the company; Ali Group had become focused on expansion. “My leading idea had always been to develop the Group so it offered the widest and best choice to our customers,” Berti explains.
His diversification strategy therefore began in earnest. Thanks to the acquisition of a wide range of specialized brands with excellent knowledge of their markets as well as local facilities and staff, turnover doubled during this decade.
Key additions to the group included Carpigiani, the number one Italian ice cream machine manufacturer; Lainox and Ambach, leaders in the cooking market; and Moyer-Diebel, a Canadian company, whose acquisition cemented Ali Group’s position as a leader in the warewashing sector.
1990s: New opportunities
For Ali Group, the 1990s were all about new markets and finding alternative ways of doing business. In 1994, Berti set up Alicontract, a ‘single source supply’ contract company designed to leverage the combined resources of the operating companies within Ali Group. The Group could now offer turnkey projects worldwide, including products, installation and assistance.
Meanwhile, new strategic acquisitions led to opportunities in markets ranging from food delivery in hospitals, clinics and airports (Burlodge and Stierlen) to refrigeration (Hiber), while expansion continued into the Middle East.
2000s: Growth continues
In this period Ali Group became truly global, making some of its most relevant acquisitions, including The Moffat Group in 2000. A leading company in Australia and New Zealand, The Moffat Group design, develop, manufacture and market a comprehensive range of cooking, bakery and meal distribution equipment.
In 2004 the Group acquired Metos, the market leader in Scandinavia, the Baltics and Benelux. With over 80 years of experience and vast technological competence, Metos supply kitchens and provide turnkey projects, covering products, installation and assistance for the foodservice business.
In 2006 the group made the important step of opening offices in China, while in 2007 Ali Group acquired Aga Foodservice Equipment (AFE Group). The acquisition introduced several leading bakery brands, such as Bongard, Mono and Pavailler, to the Group. It also added Williams, a well-developed refrigeration brand that already had an office and a plant in China, and Falcon, a leading cooking UK brand, plus additional service companies
2010s: New markets, new acquisitions
Since the turn of the Millennium Ali Group’s reach has become truly global. And thanks to a few important strategic acquisitions, the Group has also reached the point where it can supply at least 90% of equipment in a professional kitchen.
Significant steps during this period included the decision to start exporting in and operating in China and the 2012 acquisition of US multinational Scotsman Industries, the world’s largest producer of ice machines. The two latest additions to the Group, professional espresso machine manufacturer Rancilio Group in 2013 and shelving, storage and transport product manufacturer Metro in 2015, completed the picture. These latest acquisitions highlighted that Ali Group’s focus on offering the widest variety of top quality products to its clients has never faltered. Significantly, the acquisition of Metro brought up the number of people working in Ali Group to over 10,000.
Looking forward, Ali Group will continue to move with the times, exploring and evaluating new opportunities for growth, while at the same time keeping an eye on emerging challenges such as evolving distribution systems.
“Today, we sell to pretty much every country in the world, even the small islands in the Pacific. Wherever there is hospitality, we have a company that sells one or more of our products to the hospitality industry,” says Berti.
“Distribution is changing, so we have to keep our eyes open to that. We will also have to be mindful of the competition and what they’re doing as well as working out how we can continue to grow in a relatively small industry,” he says.
And while regions like Africa and the Middle East will undoubtedly prove to be important growth markets for the Group, there is also room for improvement in established markets like the US, where the biggest opportunities lie with chain restaurants and hotel groups.
As the business continues to grow and develop globally, Ali Group is also evolving its operational structure. “I’ve stepped back from the business and have transferred control to my son Filippo,” says Berti.
“Filippo has proved himself to be a talented manager over the years. He has significantly grown the US side of Ali Group – which accounts for 40% of the business – and is now concentrating on our overall worldwide growth. I am confident the Group has a bright future under his direction. All I can say now is ‘good luck’ and watch as they continue to develop the business.”
No matter how big the organization grows, one thing will remain consistent: the entrepreneurial spirit that has propelled the Group to where it is today.