I recently was in Brazil to attend the Vitoria Stone Fair/Marmomacc Latin America. This was my first time to South America, and it was a memorable and worthwhile experience. For starters, it gave me an excuse to leave the snow and frigid temperatures we were experiencing on the East Coast, but on a more serious note, it was a great learning experience.

As most of you know, many exotic and unique-looking stone types are quarried in Brazil. At the exhibition, many Brazilian exhibitors were displaying new stone introductions. In particular, quartzite seems all the rage these days. When it comes to color, white remains “hot” for countertops. So, it was not surprising to see several new granites and quartzites in this shade.

In addition to attending the trade show, I had the opportunity to visit two factories. One is owned by Antolini, and the other one is operated by Granito Zucchi. For both stone manufacturers, the U.S. market comprises more than 50% of their exports.

One thing was evident at both plants; a great deal of thought, planning and investment are put into each stone production process. Both companies specialize in exotic and high-end stone material. Each has devised its own system to ensure their customers receive top-quality products. From the moment a slab enters the factory until it is loaded in a container great care is taken throughout the production process.

At Granito Zucchi, I learned the company collaborated with Italian machine manufacturer Simec to create a custom processing line for its exotic and specialty stones. Rather than using rollers, slabs are placed on benches, which keep them stable during the production process. With an investment such as this, it is obvious superior quality is important to the company.

Both factories I visited each have large warehouses lined with what seems like endless rows of slabs. Many were bundled and ready to be exported. Most of the stone producers I spoke with in Brazil said they have been busy since the beginning of 2015 with customers who have come to visit. These customers are U.S. fabricators and distributors who are looking for premium material they can purchase and offer to their customers, such as architects, designers and homeowners.

This issue of Stone Worldcontains our annual “Report from Brazil.” In addition to articles on Granito Zucchi and Antolini’s operations, there are several other features on Brazilian stone producers as well as a review of the show, including a Stone Gallery of the many stones that were displayed on the exhibition floor. The report begins on page 110.

Overall, it seems 2015 is off to a good start for those in the stone industry. The stone producers I spoke with in Brazil were reporting positive signs from the U.S. market, and many U.S. fabricators are experiencing a spike in business. For those catering to the high-end market, new quartzites and other specialty stones are ideal. Customers are looking for unique material to create a one-of-a-kind design.