Talent and a good nose for quality making great taste sensations. David Lizzola, Léguriviera Groupe, trades only the finest fruit and vegetables.
Léguriviera Groupe: With determination and passion to market leadership
One man with a delivery van – that's all there was when the Léguriviera Groupe was founded in 2001. Today, the company has around 250 employees and its clientele includes top chefs. A success story about a one-man operation becoming the market leader in fruit and vegetable wholesaling in French-speaking Switzerland.
There's a lot going on in front of the wholesaler's depot in the Crissiers industrial zone. Small trucks are still arriving and departing even though it's lunchtime. They're delivering the last orders of the day. What must it be like during the peak time at five in the morning? By contrast, it's fairly quiet in the warehouses. A forklift operator is restacking pallets, a delivery driver is loading his vehicle. Green crates are stacked up to the roof, filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, everything from Swiss potatoes to exotic coconuts. The warehouses resemble a treasure trove.
A passion for wholesaling
Your hands quickly start to feel numb and your feet stiff in the cool warehouses, but you soon warm up when you enter David Lizzola's office. This is not only because the room is well heated, but also thanks to his warm welcome. The CEO of the Léguriviera Groupe is standing at his desk, the wall behind him is covered in photographs. All of them show him with familiar faces, mostly figures from the world of gastronomy.
Lizzola smiles as he sits down at the meeting table and recounts in his broad Vaud dialect how it all began. As a young man, he says, he already got a taste of the business in his uncle's company Légufruits SA in Villars-St-Croix, and discovered his love of the "métier". "For me, fruit and vegetable wholesaling is the link between what nature gives us and what lands on our plates," Lizzola says enthusiastically.
Unshakable belief in success
In 2001, he scraped together the capital for his first company with the help of family and friends, which was enough to buy a delivery van. "It was much harder than I had imagined," Lizzola recalls. At the beginning, he did everything himself: delivering the orders at night, finding new clients and negotiating with suppliers during the day. A grueling balancing act – both physically and financially. How did he manage it? With his passion for the business and the rock-solid belief that he would succeed, he says.
The turning point
After a year, things started to improve. One thing was obvious to Lizzola: He couldn't keep pace with the major suppliers and their quantities. So he focused on quality and service. His first loyal clients included top chefs in Montreux. "They liked me. And they appreciated the fact that I took so much trouble." The young entrepreneur quickly realized that he needed a bigger volume of orders in order to grow. So he took a bold step: In 2005, he took over his first company. The second followed in 2007: Légufruits SA, the company belonging to his uncle and his associate Christian Louys, whose turnover was higher than his own. From then on, David Lizzola was the CEO of a big group, which was to become the market leader in French-speaking Switzerland.
Partnership with Credit Suisse
In 2007, he also came into contact with Credit Suisse, Légufruits SA's house bank. Since then, the bank has supported him with both everyday transactions and further acquisitions. "Within big organizations, what counts above all is the interpersonal aspect," Lizzola explains. He describes his relationship with his client advisors at Credit Suisse as a true partnership. The bank trusted him and supported him even at difficult moments, he says, adding that he also had access to the bankers' network.
From an entrepreneur to CEO
David Lizzola proved to be more than just a smart strategist with his acquisitions. He also developed into a forward-looking manager. He used to do everything himself, he says; there was no question of a work-life balance. He points out that, although he's permanently online today, that can even work while sitting on the beach on vacation. His role in the company has changed. Nowadays Lizzola delegates a lot. "I know my strengths and weaknesses. That's why I have employees who have strengths where I don't – we're a genuine dream team."
You really believe Lizzola when he says that, for him, people are the company's most important asset. When asked about his toughest decision to date, it's not a strategic or a business decision that comes to mind. The decisions that kept him awake at night were those that affected his employees, he says.
Service of the highest order
Lizzola's shrewd instinct for the needs of his fellow citizens is reflected in the company's approach to service. If you place an order in the online shop before eight o'clock in the evening, you will receive a delivery within a few hours. A sophisticated logistics system distributes around 1,000 orders to the group's 50 drivers in the early morning. They then criss-cross the whole of French-speaking Switzerland, from Verbier at an altitude of 2,000 meters to the old town of Geneva.
Clients do not all want to take delivery at the same time: the baker at five, the clinic at six, the hotel at seven, the restaurant at nine a.m. On request, the fruit and vegetables can be delivered peeled and chopped. And this logistical masterpiece is built on more than just technology. It is mainly thanks to the long-standing employees, who are familiar with the work, the clients, and the routes. Relationships like these take years to develop, such as the ones with the gourmet chefs who continuously come up with new ideas. "The top chefs give us a new challenge every day," Lizzola says with a laugh. It's a source of inspiration for him. He loves new challenges and is always on the lookout for trends and unknown products.
As far as possible, Léguriviera Groupe purchases fruit and vegetables from Swiss farmers. Other suppliers produce their goods in Italy and France. Lizzola explains: "We already have an extremely diverse range with products from Switzerland, Italy, and France." Exotic items mostly come from Africa, South America and Asia. Independent laboratories monitor the produce. In addition to this, there are certifications, a catalog of requirements for producers, and occasional visits. As little as possible ends up on the compost pile: If fruit and vegetables become too ripe, they are offered to clients who need them or may be able to use them. For example, overripe apples are perfect for patissiers for making apple cake. Overripe strawberries make the ideal ingredient for hotels to produce their own home-made jam. Products also go to employees or organizations such as Schweizer Tafel, Terre des Hommes, and via the application "Too good to go."
Facing the future with optimism
Lizzola feels optimistic about the fact that sustainability has become a major issue and that people are starting to think differently. "The younger generation is showing real interest, they want to know what's on their plate." He hopes that, in the future, consumers will think less about discounts when they're shopping and more about the grocers' and farmers' hard work.
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