MERACINQUE: THE 5 ITALIAN AGRITECH SISTERS

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Take it from us, it's girl power

Take it from us, it's the power of 5

It’s the power of five 

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This was the jingle sung on the radio in the 90s by five girls who are probably the most famous in history, the Spice Girls.

Despite not (yet) being so famous, despite not being singers, in Italy, we have five girls who can definitively be considered an uncommon expression of girl power, exactly like the foodtech girls interviewed in a previous article.

I’m talking about the Tovo’s sisters: Benedetta, Silvia, Margherita, Anna e Maria Vittoria, founders and managers of Meracinque, the startup of rice 4.0.

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THE RICE 4.0

No doubt about the fact that at Meracinque it’s firstly a family affair, a true “back to the origins” for the five sisters, all five with different backgrounds, all five scattered all over the world, that three years ago chose to come back to realise their father and grandpa’s dream.

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Meracinque’s mission was clear and well defined from the beginning: produce the best Carnaroli rice. Not an organic rice, but a true rice 4.0, where innovation, technology, and sustainability play a leading role, being at the same time in perfect harmony with the ancient familiar tradition.

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In a previous article, I predicted that the farmer of the future will have an hoe in the right hand and a tablet in the left one. In Meracinque that’s already a reality, as explained by Silvia, the third sister, commercial manager, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Meracinque’s office in TAG Isola in Milan.

AGRIFOOD-TECH ABOVE ALL

Our father and grandfather were cattle and corn farmers - explains Silvia - but both had a dream to cultivate rice, so three years go, me and my four sisters, wondered: “Why don't we realise their dream?” Mera5 was the answer, founded with the aim of growing the best Carnaroli rice, obviously with a strong startup mindset.

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A startup mindset means particularly, innovation and sustainability, a true mantra for Mera5. “We struggle every day for a commitment on sustainability at 360: at environmental, agronomic, and socio-economic level”. About the latter, the first step was to redistribute the value along the whole food chain, as the players further up the chain are usually the most underprivileged.

In agriculture, sustainability matches with innovation, and agritech is a further point of strength for the startup: “We recently signed a partnership with precision farming startup xFarm (I interviewed the founder, Matteo Vanotti in a previous article) that provides us with the field sensors and farming management platform and with xxxx that provides data harmonisation and management in blockchain”.

The startup’s flagship is undoubtedly the micro-natural method, a revolutionary growing technique invented in Japan: The “Micro-Natural method consists of sprinkling the soil with microorganisms blended with micronised rock powder using drones. This works as a kind of vaccine allowing us to cultivate the rice without using chemicals”.

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So definitively, the present is good, but obviously the future will be better, as, explained by Benedetta, the second sister, head of R&D. “Since the beginning of our adventure we set the objective to grow the best Carnaroli Rice, in terms of product properties, cooking result and sustainability. We already achieved incredible results thanks to all the smart farming techniques that we implemented in the past few years, for the future we definitely want to keep on experimenting and the partnership with X Farm it's the first step in that direction. Meanwhile, we are at the final stage of testing a new very innovative packaging, 100% sustainable, that will change the scene of the rice shelf telling our story without leaving any trace behind”. Benedetta can’t say much beyond that as it’s under development, but the new, innovative packaging will be announced soon.

Even such a great product as Meracinque’s Carnaroli Rice needs powerful communication, which, for a startup, means especially social media and content marketing. “We can't deny - says Margherita, the first sister, marketing manager - that today social media are mandatory for every business, especially in the B2C segment. Through our channels (Fb, IG and Linkedin) we share our story, the ups and downs, the struggles and the achievements. We think they are a useful (and fun) channel to make people discover our brand and our day to day work. We also do our best to explain the technical side of our job, giving to the users the opportunity to understand better how we grow our Meracinque”.

Even Meracinque was obviously affected by Covid-19 driving to redefine business goals, as explained by Anna, the fourth sister, accounting manager “Definitely Covid was not something we ever planned for, like nobody else. After an initial shock we decided to spend the lockdown reading, learning and investigating all our options. We never stopped, even in the hardest days we pushed through, resetting our objectives and adjusting. Flexibility is key in crisis moments, we decided to take the risk and invest in a new sustainable packaging for retail. If before our targets were mainly chefs and restaurants we are now also targeting retailers knowing that customers are looking for real products with a honest story, a real ethic and top quality”.

Punchline for Maria Vittoria, the youngest and last sister to join the project. “We are all very independent and strong minded. For me it's very natural to be part of this project, even if I am still studying I am always happy to help, give my advice and bring my vision as the youngest of the team. Since forever we always knew that we are our biggest strength and I am very excited to see the evolution of our project”.

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The big step of next year? The entry into large-scale retail distribution, so please join me in wishing all the best to Tovo’s sister.

P.S.: What does Meracinque mean? Mera is the shorthand of meravigliosa (marvellous) the nickname used by the 5 sisters as a child, cinque is five in italian, no further explanation needed.