The evolution of Camst: a sustainable and innovative path that places people at the center

Laura Toschi, Massimiliano Ghini October 6, 2023 6 min read

Camst is one of Italy’s leading catering companies. Founded in Bologna in 1945, it is now a Benefit Cooperative Society that bases its corporate culture on values such as collaboration, respect for people, trust and innovation. Customers and suppliers, employees and collaborators are at the center of a commitment that has as its goals a better quality of life and a more sustainable future. A commitment that has taken concrete form in recent years with interventions inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that has enabled the company to achieve not only growth in terms of turnover, but also new business opportunities, based precisely on partnership and the sharing of corporate values. At the end of 2018, Camst’s annual turnover reached €784 million, a 25 percent increase over 2016, while total meals distributed exceeded 130 million. In addition, thanks to better coverage in Europe, partnerships generated about 160 million euros in revenues. The activities carried out over the years have attracted the attention of the United Nations, and Camst’s chairman, Francesco Malaguti, participated as a speaker at a UN conference on Sustainability in 2019. That is why they are now a Bologna Business School case study covering topics such as sustainability, innovation, people management and leadership. 

The beginning of this extraordinary journey dates back to 2016 with the launch of the “Taste of Improvement” award. Designed to highlight the most innovative and sustainable initiatives among Camst’s partners and suppliers, the event demonstrated the goodness of one of the cornerstones of Malaguti’s thinking: suppliers are a valuable asset for a business, and a win-win logic can and must be applied to generate an environment of trust capable of producing innovation. Indeed, since the award ceremony, customers, suppliers and partners, from often very different contexts, have shown that they are allies capable of inspiring each other. From this event to the creation of concrete action plans, the step was short and the path unstoppable. 

In 2017, the “Innovation Team,” an internal Camst initiative and completely self-managed, was established. The group, made up of people from various units, dedicated itself to envisioning the future of the company and managed to have a significant impact on the company culture. Its work, in fact, in addition to being an example and inspiration, has shown that contributing to innovation and change is a quality-of-life-enhancing endeavor that can and should be pursued at any level. These efforts, managed internally, have been complemented by several external projects, each designed to promote sustainability and innovation. 

The “Water Reduction Project” is one of these. And not just any one: this very project caught the attention of the United Nations, bringing Francesco Malaguti to the 2019 conference. Launched in partnership with Diversey, a supplier of cleaning and hygiene products, it has significantly reduced water consumption by applying the same sanitization methods used in operating rooms. Despite initial resistance, the project has yielded impressive results, saving 20 million liters of water per year, the equivalent of eight Olympic-size swimming pools. The process was not simple and the result by no means guaranteed, considering that Camst operates through as many as 36 centralized kitchens in which about 30 million meals a year are produced. 

While the one-shot project “Dialogue for Change” facilitated cooperation and dialogue among SDGs stakeholders. The event was designed to enable discussion, dialogue and debate among various stakeholders. It was well received by participants and provided valuable insights and ideas for the future, so much so that plans are already underway for new opportunities to meet. The inspiration? The enthusiasm and energy of the young woman who introduced Barack Obama at the Global Food and Innovation Summit: “We can create a dialogue for change and make the future better. And we can do it together.” And while bringing dialogue to Camst was not easy, as Malaguti recalls, it was certainly worth the effort and allowed the leadership to learn that if you offer people a space for interaction, discussion and trust, you receive in return the desire to actively collaborate, bringing new ideas and new projects. 

On its path toward innovation and sustainable change, Camst has also ventured into the world of startups, participating in MindsettER, a network of the Emilia-Romagna Region. Engaging with young and innovative companies operating in the food, sustainability, customer experience and welfare sectors has resulted in valuable collaborations, while alliances established with startups such as and Squat&Basilico have offered the company new perspectives and opportunities. 

Camst’s journey demonstrates how a people-centered approach to sustainability and innovation is successful in both the short and medium-to-long term. As the company continues to grow and expand, it is important to maintain the edge that this approach can provide. Although challenges are inevitable, Camst’s commitment to its core principle-people empowerment-is a beacon to follow in order to guide the company toward a sustainable future. Collaboration, trust, and shared power also demonstrate how a cooperative can transform itself into a major player in the global foodservice industry through sustainable practices and cutting-edge solutions. 

This article is based on
Open Innovation in Camst. A people-centred approach to Sustainability
Laura Toschi, Massimiliano Ghini