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Pandemic-proof local food shopping in Montenegro

By Cecilia Calatrava

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With EBRD and WBEDIF support, Voli launches the country’s first online supermarket

When the Covid-19 pandemic first gripped the world, the first thing many of us thought was, we must buy provisions. It came as no surprise, then, that as lockdown pressures grew, supermarkets were quickly overwhelmed.

Our longstanding partner and business leader in Montenegro, Voli supermarket, was no exception. It knew it had to make changes.

With the EBRD’s help and donor support from the European Union-funded Western Balkan Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WBEDIF), therefore, Voli successfully launched an online grocery service.

"Love (Voli) me fast, I'm in a hurry"

Supermarkets are very efficient at providing a lot of food for a lot of people, but the pandemic made everything a bit less straightforward. While some customers rushed to the supermarkets to stockpile, others wanted to shop from the safety of their own homes. 

“At Voli we quickly understood that to keep up with the latest trends in retail, protect our customers and businesses and be more customer friendly, we needed to make our products available online and we needed to act fast,” says Voli Chief Financial Officer Branko Brankovic. “So we turned to the EBRD for help.”

“Thanks to excellent cross-departmental cooperation between the EBRD’s banking and advisory teams and with donor support from the WBEDIF, we could provide timely support in bringing the right solution to the market,” says EBRD Head of Montenegro Jaap Sprey.

Voli partnered up with Amplitudo, a leading digital innovator in Montenegro – and another EBRD client and local consultant – to launch the country’s first online supermarket.

Inspired by the song, Voli (which means “to love" in Montenegrin) introduced the campaign "Love (Voli) me fast, I'm in a hurry" (Voli me brzo, žurim), which became a trademark of the Voli web shop platform.

“Voli’s e-commerce platform is one of Amplitudo’s best products so far,” says Amplitudo Chief Executive Officer Nenad Novovic. “The platform is easy to use, responsive, safe and fully integrated with Voli’s operations.”

The easy-to-use platform now offers customers an array of more than 5,000 products for collection or delivery. This has made it easier for people to remain safe at home, a crucial step in the fight against Covid-19.

Committed to the local community

Shoppers were not the only ones who had reason to panic when the pandemic hit, however.

“When leaders around the world began to announce lockdown measures at the end of March, many farmers were left with tonnes of produce at risk of going bad because of restaurant closures,” says Mr Brankovic. “In countries such as Montenegro, where there is a considerable number of small agricultural producers, protecting farmers became a key concern.”

To this end, Voli decided to partner with small Montenegrin agricultural producers and has developed core supplier relationships. Without Voli, it would have been almost impossible for these small local producers to reach consumers.

The supermarket promotes a local system with fewer steps between grower and consumer. It is committed to paying a fair wage, is community-driven and diverse. The system also supports organic and sustainable farming and promotes transparency ‒ something extended supply chains cannot always do. 

One important way in which Voli achieves this is through its newly developed online tagging system, which assigns local producers a “produced in Montenegro" label in the online supermarket. This has encouraged more local producers to engage through online platforms

What’s in store?

Voli’s impact will not end here. With EBRD financing, the chain is opening new outlets, which will be located in underserved regions outside the major urban areas, where such store formats are still less frequent.

The Bank’s funds will also support the training of at least 750 students in sales and customer service, supporting young people’s access to skills and employment and providing new economic opportunities for Montenegro’s younger generation.

And who knows, maybe one day we can see Voli spreading its “love” in the neighbouring Western Balkan countries.

In the meantime, though, happy shopping!

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