The berry sector enjoys vast growth potential for exports but also faces fierce competition: to export their products, berry producers must meet high requirements when competing on other markets. Few succeed in doing so. With support from the EBRD and the European Union (EU), berry producer Atlas Export has been able to expand its international presence, bringing its products up to the most stringent European standards, and entering new markets in the EU.
Relationships are key to success
“In our business, every hour counts,” says Ivan Kalinin, owner of Atlas Export, a producer of high quality frozen mushrooms and berries that exports to more than 12 EU countries, including Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland.
Ivan had been gaining experience at transnational companies all around the world, and decided to return to Ukraine to apply the best practices he learned to his own export-oriented business. “We analysed the export potential of many agricultural sectors and the berry sector appeared to possess the highest export potential,” says Ivan. And so, in 2015, Atlas Export was launched.
The company created its own network of qualified farmers who supply mainly raspberries, strawberries and wild berries grown in Western Ukraine. The network connects farmers big and small with thousands of jobs in the country. It took a few years to establish sustainable partnerships with suppliers that were ready to meet the company’s quality and speed of delivery requirements. “Our key to success was that we were able to ensure long-lasting relationships with farmers and our clients in Europe. In uncertain times like the pandemic, people appreciate more stable partner relationships,” says Ivan.
When the company started its first export deals with countries in Eastern Europe, it faced doubts from European counterparts in terms of the product quality of Ukrainian producers, as well as strong demands for quality standards. That was when the company realised it needed to introduce a system of quality and food safety management. “It was obvious to us that there was a direct connection between product quality and entrance to one of the most demanding and at the same time more profit-making markets,” shares Ivan.
Through its Advice for Small Businesses programme, supported by the EU, the EBRD helped Atlas Export to introduce a food safety and quality management system that corresponds to international standards, which allowed the company to expand its export geography and sign contracts with leading European companies.
Quality yields results and open doors
The Atlas Export team together with a business consultant developed a detailed submission plan for international certification, conducted an internal audit and implemented daily controls of production standards. “We could see improvements in our production processes from day one of implementing the recommendations,” says Ivan.
The introduction of production process control and automation allowed the company to improve not only product quality but also labour productivity, and also significantly reduce costs for resources such as water and electricity. The company increased its sales by 30 per cent and expanded its client base in Western Europe (mainly in France, Germany and the Netherlands). “It opened a lot of doors that were previously closed for us,” notes Ivan.
Coming to a supermarket near you
Increasingly, Atlas Export’s clients want to track the entire process of berry production – from growing berries to freezing them; from transportation to delivery – in order to be certain that high standards are met at every production stage. To satisfy the demand and meet changing market trends, Atlas Export has decided to start growing berries themselves. “We have started with testing a land plot, but already have a clear understanding of the development direction and scaling,” says Ivan.
So, give it a little time, and you, too, may be picking up ‘grown in Ukraine’ berries from your local supermarket shelf.