Armenian juice company SIS Natural goes international

By Nick Thompson

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SIS Natural is a market leader in Armenia, specialising in the production of quality juices and fruit and vegetable preserves. With support from the EBRD and the EU, the business revamped its branding and product packaging, and developed a new B2B website and portal to reach a wider audience and help it to grow.

Founded by entrepreneur and CEO Armen Hakobyan, SIS Natural was the outcome of many years of hard work, arising through the culmination of Armen’s formative business ventures in the 1990s.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armen was involved in many different consumer goods companies before settling on SIS Natural in 1999, which he perceived as having the most potential. “During that period, many Armenian producers were trying to copy European products, so we went against the tide and sought to stay true to our roots and create something truly ‘Armenian’ in terms of branding and flavours,” he says.

The ‘SIS’ in the company’s name is a reference to Mount Sis, a volcano located on the eastern flank of its massive neighbour Mount Ararat, the region where most Armenian fruits and vegetables are grown, and the ‘Natural’ reflects its focus on using natural ingredients to produce healthy products. The company’s main product line is called ‘Yan’, which is the suffix of most Armenian surnames.

Armen is committed to demonstrating that Armenian products can be attractive to international markets, and his business has proven that demand exists in spades across multiple geographic areas, vindicating his intuition.

As it entered these new markets, the company’s main objectives changed to attracting investment and advisory support in order to help it cope with this increased demand, diversify its product portfolio, and maintain competitiveness.

A blueprint for growth

The company received support from the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses team in Armenia, before becoming a client of the Blue Ribbon programme and taking a new strategic approach. This relationship has been instrumental in successfully creating and launching the new ‘Yan Sparkling’ brand and a B2B-oriented website, providing a better purchasing experience for customers and distributors around the world.

Armen is grateful for the support from the Bank. “Sustainable development requires consistent investment, so we are glad have a partner with the reputation of the EBRD,” he says.

Indeed, since becoming an EBRD Blue Ribbon beneficiary, the company has hired more employees, nearly doubled its turnover, and recently received equity financing to support its efforts to grow and continue to expand into new markets.

Novel packaging

The company’s product designs have achieved international recognition and the branding on its ‘Yan Sparkling’ range of bottles is particularly unique. The top of the packaging is spherical and depicts the rounded fruit contained inside, with a playful typeface and complementary colour scheme below.

“Yan is our premium brand of pure juices with extraordinary flavours and ingredient combinations,” says Armen, “whereas the SIS brand still produces quality juices, but at more affordable prices.”

Sustainable goals and economic challenges

SIS Natural also invests in sustainable business practices. “As a business, we dedicate a lot of resources to ensuring Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles are met, and have recently installed a large-scale solar power system to mark our commitment to the environment,” says Armen. “We also invest heavily in digital solutions to increase our operational efficiencies.”

The main challenges for the business are currently the price of international logistics, the lack of cultivated agricultural land in Armenia and a shortage of qualified labour.

In response to recent currency crises, the company has implemented a hedging system with a partner bank, involving different currency credit lines to allow it to mitigate the risk of FX fluctuations. Despite some uncertainties in the international marketplace, the business continues to thrive, propelled by the EBRD’s support and the receipt of equity investment.

SIS Natural now employs 220 people. “Our brands are already represented in more than 20 countries worldwide,” says Armen. “We would like to develop these markets and enter new ones in the future. Our main goal is to become a well-known, established international brand.”

A realistic ambition, given what he has already achieved.

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