Marina Milovic, owner of Maja Promet, a honey brand from Serbia, radiates the positivity and energy so often associated with inspiring leaders. Maja Promet is a honey processing and distribution business and one of the very few in Serbia to export its products. But just as honeybees are nature’s unsung heroes, visiting over 1,000 flowers in a single trip to collect nectar, so is Marina a driven, spirited entrepreneur, working hard to expand her business into international markets.
An advisory project supported by the European Union (EU) helped Marina devise a new business strategy for acquiring new markets and developing her brand.
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family
Marina recounts how, at an early age, she developed her instincts watching her family work in the honey business her father had started back in 1991. She grasped the importance of risk and personal sacrifice in entrepreneurship, seeing everyone around her juggling multiple priorities and investing all their efforts into growing the enterprise.
In 2007, after university, Marina started working at the family company. But after her father passed away, she and her brother felt they had been left to their own devices.
“I faced an uphill battle the moment I inherited my father’s company,” says Marina. “Although I was generally familiar with how the business worked, I lacked the skill-set and know-how in operations and anything to do with contracts, tenders, and so on. It was all elusive to me.”
A busy bee in the honey chain
As a honey processing and distribution business, Maja Promet purchases a wide variety of honey from over 2,000 different producers, processes it, conducts quality control and sells the final product to retail chains and confectionary stores across Serbia, as well as international markets.
When Marina took over Maja Promet, she and her team relocated to a very small space in Belgrade, Serbia. “My team was very brave at the time, learning by doing,” she says. “We had to fight in earnest, but we managed to start exporting honey to North Macedonia and acquired a few private labels in Serbia.”
The first production facility Marina purchased helped buoy her business, encouraging her to work towards meeting EU standards in honey production and apply for a certificate in order to export to the EU.
Although demand was strong and business had picked up, Marina faced several challenges in the market. With high operational costs on the one hand and an uptick in the price of honey on the other, she was caught between a rock and a hard place.
After hearing about the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses programme in Serbia, Marina reached out to the Bank’s representatives in Belgrade for help with a project she had in mind.
“I realised that I needed to find new sales channels for Maja Promet and change my strategy if I wanted to increase my turnover and grow my business,” she says.
Marina was matched with a consultant who worked with her to strengthen her position on the local market while uncovering new revenue streams. As a result, Maja Promet acquired new customers within the networks of the biggest retailers in Serbia and increased honey exports to the EU.
“The project provided the wind in our sails that we needed to start thinking about our business differently,” says Marina. “When you do one thing for so long – when you’re involved in a single industry for so long – there is a lot that passes under your radar.”
Reflecting on what motivates her personally, Marina adds that she draws a lot of inspiration from her team, who demonstrate love and passion for what they do. “Products will always be good if they’re made by happy people,” she concludes.