Leadership

Cooking with Barilla's CEO: How a 140-year-old company still innovates

Uptin Saiidi (CNBC) and Barilla CEO Claudio Colzani
CNBC
Uptin Saiidi (CNBC) and Barilla CEO Claudio Colzani

A favorite corporate buzzword in recent years is "disruption," and it's prompted legacy companies to acquire start-ups or launch their own innovation labs.

But for 140-year-old pasta company Barilla, the innovation is largely coming from within.

Barilla has more than 30 percent market share for pasta in the U.S., according to its 2016 annual report — that's been growing steadily over recent years. The company has more than 8,000 employees and is headquartered where it was founded in Parma, Italy.

"The value of our brand is to stick to its roots," said Claudio Colzani, the company's CEO. "We will never paint ourselves as a start-up brand."

But with fickle consumer demands, the company, admittedly has to adapt, too. So how does Barilla stay true to its roots, while also reinventing itself?

"In 140 years of history, you can be yourself and still rejuvenating to consumer trend," Colzani said.

Three years ago, Barilla built a gluten-free plant in Iowa and is now exploring organic biopasta, low-carb pasta, and even 3D printing, which it has a trademark for.

At its recently launched Barilla-owned restaurants in New York, fast casual dinning where a bowl of pasta costs about $15, customers can order their own letter-shaped pasta of their initials. Along with spinach, legumes and cheese — the whole meal can all be prepared in 30 seconds, according to Colzani.

"The future of food is personalization," Colzani said. "Consumers are asking for more natural and less-processed foods.

The company recently launched ready-made pasta in the U.S. in retailers Walmart and Walgreens.

"We're entering into new segments by following trends of ease of cooking and people with less time to cook."

Another key food trend is the increasing demand for natural products.

"We think innovation is in gastronomy and the way you put things together, making our products, everyday more natural," he said.

Colzani is also positioning the company to advocate for the planet and sustainability. One way to do that is by eating less.

"Europeans and North Americans, we'll destroy this planet, if we don't understand we need to eat less and this is about education," he said.

Inside the newly launched Barilla restaurants, he said consumers won't find dishes that are 200 grams, but rather about 80grams of pasta plus a meat or a fish. "And that's all you need," he added.

"At our company the mantra is eating better, teaching people in eating less," he said. "We tell people to eat better, eat less and food for everybody."