When Antonio Ferrillo was a young boy in Milano, Italy, he heard many stories about his grandad, Ciro, a pioneer in Italy’s tomato industry. Already retired by the time Antonio came along, Grandad Ciro ran tomato sauce factories in the Napoli region of Italy, at a time when tomato production was localized. He was credited with mastering the pasteurization process and moving it beyond tomatoes, allowing longer shelf lives for many canned vegetables and fruits. Perhaps Antonio inherited his passion because he knew from a very early age that he, too, wanted a career in flavor and food.
After studying food science at Università degli Studi di Milano and earning a Master’s degree in Food Science with a specialization in Flavor Chemistry, Antonio was fortunate to land a junior flavorist role at a small Italian flavorhouse. The business was operated by a team of six, which allowed him to do a bit of everything – from cleaning factory windows to designing flavors in the lab. It was a role that taught him invaluable lessons. After moving on and spending several years at The Kerry Group, he decided to step back from a big multi-national company and joined Enrico Giotti SpA, a leading family-run Italian flavor manufacturer in Florence, Italy. When McCormick acquired Giotti four years ago, he was pleased to discover the level of attention and time the company allows employees to focus on their interests. After all, “If flavor didn’t exist, I wouldn’t exist,” Antonio shares. “I love what I do and it’s the only thing I want to do!”
In his current role as the Director of Flavors, EMEA, his work impacts the future of flavor every day. The Giotti brand focuses a lot on health and wellness, making conscious efforts to provide people flavorful choices that are good for them. The extraction or isolation of botanicals from herbs and spices is a good example. Antonio considers extraction (or isolation) a fantastic process because the technology allows us to withdraw the desired flavors from spices and herbs and infuse the taste into the new product as a healthier alternative to non-nutritious ingredients.
To be an effective Director of Flavors, Antonio believes it is critical to have dreams, innovation-led profitable growth, the ability to launch products fast and effectively, and motivated people who strive for innovation over and over.
“Designing a flavor is much like being a musician: the notes are in the air and listening carefully enables him to create a new melody. Reshaping that melody makes it pleasing to the world,” he claims. Antonio knows that to do that, you need to walk in the consumer’s and customer’s shoes. Customer intimacy is key to understanding market needs and having contact with them helps seize opportunities. “We must always be mindful of the use of precious resources, taking care of the next generations, looking after the whole human race, then …. bingo! We accomplish the company’s goals and preserve the planet. We’ll feel proud of having contributed to the next generation. I stand for the future of flavor by inspiring my team to make food sustainable, to ensure future generations will have access to good food forever, and to improve the quality of people’s lives,” Antonio pledges.
Quoting the 19th-century Russian novelist, Dostoevsky, Antonio believes “Beauty will save the world.” But what is beauty? “Sharing good food with good people,” he says. “We all are the result of what we eat, so when we eat good, flavorful food, we just feel better, we have more energy and we start the day with a positive attitude. And since I work in the part of the business that designs flavors, it is my responsibility to make good food accessible – that makes people happy and that’s what beauty is.”
Antonio sees company culture as a big part of building a successful future. While most businesses worry about the integration of IT systems, many forget the importance of the integration of people. Connections made via phone calls, video conferences, and face-to-face meetings are still highly regarded at Giotti. As the Director of Flavors, he tries to stay ahead of change and encourages his teams to be daring every day and take small calculated risks. He believes behind each small failure, there are great learnings. Antonio does not find solutions for the team members, but instead enables them to solve them by themselves and find ways to turn those problems into opportunities – and it always works.
Antonio understands that his work reaches beyond the office and into the local community. In Italy, where businesses, villages, and communities are smaller than in most other countries, Giotti directly impacts how people live. They are part of the food footprint, driving people’s choices with what they put on the supermarket shelves and influencing customers and the products they sell to consumers. “Even though flavor is a very small part of the composition of food, it has the biggest impact in the presence of it,” Antonio maintains. “If food is designed with passion, bearing in mind who is consuming the food, we can feel proud of what we put on the shelves. As a food company, we have a big responsibility to be safe and plentiful. We have a deep commitment to the future of our communities.”
Although Italy was one of the first countries to be hit hard by COVID-19, Antonio reports that his day-to-day work has not been disrupted. He credits that to McCormick’s prompt reaction, available resources, and continuous support. He and his team are using this time to reflect on what reforms they can make should a future crisis occur. “What we need to think about now is how we can protect the future of tomorrow even better and supply 7 billion people with food without disruption,” he states.
At home, Antonio spends a great deal of time in the kitchen introducing his children to tastes from many different cultures. “We have international competitions: Spanish paella vs. Italian risotto, etc. – and they love it. I want the next generation to appreciate that food does much more than end the feeling of hunger. It allows us to experience flavor through our senses – the smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound of what we eat are all part of that journey,” he believes. Today, Antonio still uses the handwritten recipes that Grandad Ciro wrote down decades ago – his way of preserving the future of flavor for his own family.