Colombina, which started as a small confectionery concern more than 85 years ago, is now a global diversified food and candy company based in Cali, Colombia with sales working their way to the billion-dollar mark. What makes this company stand out is its ability to delight consumers with unparalleled and gratifying products, lead by its iconic brands, which includes Bon Bon Boom bubble gum pops, Tiger Pops lollipops and Fussione premium candies. It’s a formula that has global appeal as the company exports to 70 countries, a list that continues to expand.

Colombina S.A.’s origins go back to 1927, when Don Hernando Caicedo, its founder began to mix sugar with natural and tropical fruits from the fertile lands of Valle del Cauca. This mixture resulted in the production of many novel candies and pralines with tropical flavors that managed to capture the consumers’ fancy across generations. Over the years Colombina began to diversify its operations into other categories, such as biscuits, sauces and preserves, ice cream and drinks among others. Today, Colombina has become one of the most important food companies in Colombia and the continent.

La Paila

In 1968, in order to meet growing international demand for its products, Colombina built its main plant in La Paila, located 80 miles north of Cali, Colombia. This plant operates

 with modern equipment where more than 8,000 tons of products per month are produced. In 1970, Colombina created the first round bubble gum filled lollipop known worldwide as Bon Bon Bum, with its novel taste of strawberry and a soft gum inside. It quickly became the company’s flagship item and a favorite among consumers of all the ages. In 1975 Colombina launched Coffee Delight, a delicious sweet coffee praline, which also quickly became a Colombian icon.

Late last year, I had the opportunity to visit the company’s confectionery plant in La Paila, which is its largest facility. Upon arrival you can feel the camaraderie among the personnel where more than 2,400 people work in three shifts. This plant produces its leading brands such as Bon Bon Bum, Gissly gums, Coffee Delight candy, Millows marshmallows, Xtime gum, and many other sweets and candies.

The plant has several automated production lines, incorporating the latest technologies available to reduce the risk of human error almost to a minimum. Part of the company’s success stems from its philosophy of providing employees the opportunity to grow as professionals, drawing on best practices and experiences. That initiative delivers a huge payback as reflected in the commitment demonstrated by its employees in their jobs.

While touring the plant, I had the opportunity to talk with several operators, including Andres Felipe Ricaurte, who told me, “I have been working for Colombina for four and a half years and here we have the opportunity to grow.” Part of this support is given by offering scholarships to employees, as well as for their children, through programs offered by the Colombina Foundation.

It’s that kind of working environment that Colombina has strived to build; a single system with best practices, which removes barriers between management and workers and creates a core team defined by cooperation and autonomy. During 2014 the company implemented a CCM World-class program that drives operational excellence in the production facilities through a continuous improvement system.

One of the first things that impresses visitors to the plant is the smell of freshness, which comes from the chewing gum production line. One of the flavors that stood out was peppermint! And also Mojito!

 In 2014 Colombina launched its famed Bon Bon Bum with the new taste of coconut and lemonade. Given its origins, it’s not surprising the company has expanded its product lines with an impressive variety of Latin flavors.

One of the company’s most recent investments can be seen in its “Super Bombo” line — an all-in-one mega hype lozenge line that produces two tons of product.

While walking by the plant I stopped by one of the lines where they produce Nucita, one of its iconic brands and another popular product in Colombia that’s a blend of chocolate cream, milk and nuts. As one of the operators explained “The cream is made of cocoa and milk where the product is refined and then transferred to a deposit tank.” The product is packaged with two varieties, white and chocolate in 14-g plastic containers. They are packed in 12 units or 18 units and the carton will hold 288 units.

To improve logistic efficiencies, product cartons meet sales channel requirements for both size and space, be it 12,18, 24 or 30 units.

Sustainability initiatives

Since 2002, CEO Cesar A. Caicedo has transformed the company by focusing on the production of different types of food led by innovation and continuous improvement. He’s done so, however, with a robust sustainability model. Providing the best taste dovetails within a framework of sustainability.

Employee attitude and effort has also been a critical cog in the growth and positioning of the company. As a result, Colombina spares no effort in ensuring that its employees have better living conditions, which is reflected in two specific programs.

One is the programs is “Vivienda para Todos,” which provide homes for the employees. To date, the program has benefited more than 190 families by helping them to have their own homes. By year’s end, the company looks to have 520 employees taking advantage of this program, thereby continuing to build prosperity and social development.

Another area that’s been well received by its workers is job formalization, which is also a priority of the Colombian government and a key element within Colombina’s social responsibility strategy. In agreement with the Ministry of Labor, Colombina linked to its payroll 900 employees as permanent who were on a temporary status.

The company’s flagship sustainability program — Big Brother as it’s known — continues to invigorate the business sector through knowledge. This program seeks to contribute to the development and growth of the region, stimulating the growth of small businesses by transferring knowledge, raising incomes and providing employment.

In 2010 Colombina joined the Global Compact of the United Nations and began to report its sustainable management practices under the GRI3 methodology and indicators (Global Reporting Initiative), obtaining an A + rating in its sustainability reports.

Thanks to its sustainability practices, Colombina was ranked for the third consecutive year as one of the more sustainable food companies in Latin America and included in "The Sustainability Yearbook" of RobeccoSAM.

Additionally Colombina has now become one of the largest employers in the region, with more than 7,800 employees in Colombia and 9,400 around the world.

Evolution towards a food company

As part of its diversification strategy to become a major food company, Colombina has not only expanded its main confectionery plant in La Paila, but it’s also built the Colombina del Cauca biscuits and cracker factory; acquired La Constancia for the production of sauces, preserves and baby food; and added Robin Hood and Lis brands, which include ice cream and frozen desserts. Currently it has eight production plants, six located in Colombia, one in Guatemala and one recently acquired in Spain.

The plant in Guatemala supports the distribution of its products to all Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. This diversification program continues, as evidenced by the 2013 purchase of CI COMEXA SA, a company dedicated to sauces and hot pepper. The move enabled Colombina to incorporate  spicy Amazon branded products in Colombia and internationally. That same year, together with LivSmart, the company completed a historic strategic alliance for marketing healthy drinks. The most recent big news came late last year when Colombina acquired Fiesta SA, one of Spain's leading confectionery companies, to distribute its products and services to the European market as well as Africa.

The quality and innovation of Colombina allows them to export to more than 70 countries around the world, including all the five continents, which means millions of people from all ages, races and cultures, enjoy the essence of life, with the infinite flavor of Colombina. In addition it has established direct sales operations in more than 13 countries, including the United States, Ecuador, Chile Peru, Puerto Rico and Guatemala among others.

Conscious of the worldwide trend involving wellness, the company has created Colombina 100%, an umbrella strategy encompassing six categories of foods with natural colors and flavors and health benefits, including crackers, cereal bars, snacks and nuts, ice cream, tomato sauces and mayonnaise, as well as a complete line of baby foods that deliver a nutritional boost.

“As a food company, we are committed to offer the market products that meet consumer needs, so we've evolved over time to incorporate those issues that are relevant to our consumers: nourish the soul with some indulgence, feed the family, and protect the planet and now a line to those who devote special attention to their diet,” explained Caicedo. “With this we are contributing to our consumers to have greater choice in their quest for a balanced diet, without sacrificing the pleasure of enjoying the good taste."

As we all know, consumers are searching for better-for-you food with natural flavors and colors that contribute to their healthy lifestyle. Here too, Colombina delivers by offering more than 30 different options under the Colombina 100% brand. This effort demonstrates how the company has evolved over time by responding to consumers while simultaneously reaffirming Colombina’s strength, which is serving up good-tasting products. Hence, the slogan "Deliciously Healthy!"