MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Carlsberg Italia

The creation of Poretti beer in the 1820s

Angelo Poretti, born in Vedano Olona in 1829, decided to leave the province of Varese at a young age to go to work in Austria, Germany and Bohemia, first as an unskilled labourer, later as a workman and finally as a contractor for a number of railway lines.

During the mid-1870s, he decided to return to Italy with his Bohemian wife, Franziska Peterzilka, to invest his discreet fortune in beer production, which was having enormous success in Central Europe.

His idea was to introduce a new type of beer, the Bohemian Pilsner, to Italy. Compared to those which had been sold in Italy up until that time ("Vienna" and "Chiavenna"), Bohemian Pilsner was lighter and more delicate and was produced using first class ingredients. His lengthy experience in central Europe had convinced him of the feasibility of his initiative. In Induno Olona, he identified the area in which to build his factory. It was located near the caves of Valganna, where there was a spring known as the "fontana degli ammalati" (fountain of the ill), which was famous for its "miraculous" effects locally, and even as far off as Milan. Angelo Poretti purchased both properties, which provided for an immediate advertising effect: the water from the "fontana degli ammalati" became the foundation of his beer. Shortly after, he bought the old Dones starch factory, and began importing foreign machinery and raw materials, as well as his first master brewer. The company, founded in 1877 and formalized three years later with the creation of Angelo Poretti e C., became enormously popular only a few years later, in 1881, with the World's Fair held in Milan. In fact, the elegant Swiss chalet hosting the company from Varese was literally besieged by a crowd of visitors who wanted to try out the new Italian pilsner. Over the following years, the company continued to grow despite a market which, like now, was characterized by extremely low consumption per capita with respect to the European average (the average today is of about 30 litres) and an extreme fragmentation of the points of sale. In addition to his entrepreneurial experience, Angelo Poretti was also active in economic and public life. Over the years, in fact, he held the offices of Varese city councilman and mayor of Vedano Olona and was appointed chairman of the Standing Committee of the Association of Brewers in the mid 1880s. He had no children and, upon his death in October of 1901, was succeeded by his nephews, Edoardo Chiesa, Angelo and Tranquillo Magnani and Francesco Bianchi (who died in 1918). Until the outbreak of World War I, the company recorded such positive results that it consistently placed at the top of the national ranking for hectolitres of beer produced. Meanwhile, in 1905, increased production requirements forced the two nephews to renovate the company's production facility in Induno Olona.

The project was entrusted to the German studio Bihl and Woltz, which designed the new production facility in a pure art nouveau style that perfectly combined art with industrial technology.


From the 1920s to the 1970s, Poretti's heirs and the sale of the company to the Bassetti family

In December of 1922, the company went public in order to attract new capital and to initiate a new process of organizational and management remodelling. The operation was successful and the financial institution Credito Varesino put up the capital necessary in order to start the expansion of the production complex, which was carried out in several stages. Angelo Magnani died in May of 1924, just when the market started to give signals of returning to normalcy after the difficult post-war period.

The consequences of the great depression, that arose in the fall of '29, were quite serious for S.A. Birra Poretti as well. In fact, beer production dropped from 120 thousand hectolitres in 1922 to 14 thousand in 1934. Tranquillo Magnani died that same year, leaving the management of the company to Edoardo Chiesa alone. These were difficult times, and the unusual circumstances resulted in a reduction in consumption, including that of beer.

In January of 1939, on the brink of bankruptcy, the company was saved by the Bassetti family which, as the owners of the Spluga di Chiavenna brewery, was already involved in the brewing industry.

From the post-war period onward, under the leadership of commander Giannino Bassetti, the company was re-launched and soon began producing over half a million hectolitres of beer. In 1957, the entire business of the Spluga beer production facility in Chiavenna was concentrated into the plant at Induno Olona. The Varese production facility employed nearly two hundred workers, many of whom were women, who dealt exclusively with the bottling process. From the 1960s to the 1970s, the female workforce was entirely replaced by men. The company's expansion was not only due to the diversification of the beer production, but also to the strengthening of the structure and the sales network. In 1969, the launch of the "Splügen Bock" brand, which was destined for enormous success, along with the development of the first "dry" beers, were tangible evidence of the research and development activities carried out within the company's laboratories, which employed nearly fifteen technicians at the end of the 1970s. The oil crisis of 1973, however, had serious consequences for the Varese company which, at the time, was attempting to expand its sales into central and southern Italy with the purchase of the Henmed "Skol" brand production facility in Ceccano, in the province of Frosinone.


From the 1970s to the year 2000

With the significant increase in major cost items (raw materials, transport, energy, etc.), Poretti responded by making a number of cuts, but above all by signing an agreement with Carlsberg group in 1975 (at the time called United Breweries A/S following the 1970 merger between Carlsberg and Tuborg) for the production and sales of the brands "Tuborg" and "Carlsberg" in Italy. During these years, the company was headed by Aldo Bassetti, the grandson of Giannino. In addition to saving Poretti from a period of significant crisis, the Danish company also had the opportunity to use the Varese based company as a launch vehicle for these two important brands. Furthermore, the purchase of a local company for the purpose of gaining access to a new market fell within the typical framework of the methods of entry used by large multinational companies. The arrival of the Danish giant coincided with the commissioning of a new brew house with a highly automated production process, to replace the one built in 1908. The effect that this would have on the number of people employed by the facility was obvious, and the numbers soon dropped from nearly three hundred to just over one hundred. This first phase of internationalization, however, did not alienate the company from the local community which, indeed, continued to identify itself with the enterprise founded by Angelo Poretti (after whom a street in Induno Olona was named in 2009). For example, the beer festivals that had been organized since the early 80s attracted up to 5,000 people from the surrounding areas: this was enough to force the company's recreational and welfare centre for workers to suspend the events at the end of the decade due to excessive attendance. Moreover, Poretti was also the site of a union experiment, which was pursued, again during the 1980s, in collaboration with the nearby Lindt factory. In fact, by exploiting the different seasonality of production (summer for beer, winter for chocolate), nearly twenty some workers had obtained six-month part-time contracts from each company, thus ensuring themselves full-time employment all year round. Meanwhile, in November of 1982, the Danish group purchased 50% of the company's share package from Bassetti and the company capital was simultaneously brought to 7 billion Italian lire. In 1998, in continuing with the same process of development and internationalization, Carlsberg group purchased another 25% of the company capital, so as to hold a total of 75%, and simultaneously changed the company name to Carlsberg Italia Spa



In 2002, while still under the chairmanship of Aldo Bassetti, the Danish multinational - founded in Copenhagen in 1847 by master brewer J. C. Jacobsen - purchased the remaining 25% and thus obtained full ownership of the company in Induno Olona. On an organizational level, it was decided to transfer the company's administrative offices to the Lainate headquarters, near Milan, at the end of 2004. The complexities and difficulties that characterized the first decade of the twenty first century led to a rationalization of the system. The research and financial functions, as well as the preparation of the raw materials (the malting of the barley), could no longer be divided amongst separate facilities. Even production had to be concentrated into facilities which were capable of processing large quantities in order to exploit the economies of scale. In this scenario, which arose against the backdrop of an increasingly complex market situation, the production activities had to be focused exclusively within the Induno Olona plant. Production was increasingly geared towards medium to high quality products in order to meet the demands of the Italian consumers who, as it was known, drank little in comparison to others, but preferred products of maximum quality. Thus exploiting the synergy of the group, the production cycle begins with the arrival of the malted barley from abroad, which is stowed in silos. It is later mixed with the other raw materials and is brewed in the new (2008) underground brew house, which is equipped with modern technological systems and is situated right underneath the old brew house, complete with its copper equipment.

The brands produced and marketed by Carlsberg Italia Spa - for a total of 1 million 500 thousand hectolitres of beer - include all of the "Carlsberg" and "Tuborg" brands, as well as "Splügen" and "Birrificio Angelo Poretti".

The company also handles the Italian marketing for a number of major international brands, like "Corona", for example. Furthermore, in order to better develop its distribution network, which is essential in a highly fragmented market like that of Italy, T&C Italia was created, a distribution network dedicated to distribution for the commercial sector of the hotel and catering industry (Horeca - hotel, restaurant, café). Carlsberg Group - which currently has more than 45,000 employees, in addition to 500 brands of beer present in 150 markets worldwide - has recently launched "Tuborg DraughtMasterTM" in Italy, an innovative and unique draft beer system which is capable of preserving the freshness of the product for longer periods of time, rendering it particularly well suited to sales points with lower rates of consumption.