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Fruit Producer Bets on Quality in Conquering Foreign Markets (interview)

Ljubljana, 09 August (STA) - The CEO of a country's leading fruit producer Evrosad, Bostjan Kozole, has highlighted quality as the main motto of the company, which strives to become one of the best fruit producers in Europe. Top apple producers in the world say Slovenia is not that far behind in this respect, he told an interview with the STA.

Kozole, who also chairs the fruit section at the Chamber of Agricultural and Food Enterprises, highlighted that Evrosad sells its products, 70% of which are intended for exports, under its own brand.

"Last year we developed a new brand Slovena for one simple reason - because we've entered the British market in wholesale. The name Evrosad doesn't really sound good in English, so we've reached an agreement with our partner to launch a new brand, so today we're selling under two brand names," he explained.

"Since 2004, we are selling our products at the British market only in retail chains which do not emphasise individual brands but top quality, whereas it is irrelevant whether the fruit comes from Slovenia, Germany or Chile," Kozole added.

In his opinion, Slovena is also a great opportunity for Slovenian producers to unite and sell their products abroad under one general brand name, which features Slovenia's national symbol, the Triglav, in its logo.

Evrosad has been adjusting to the needs of the British market in the past years, including by planting trees yielding smaller size fruit, which are more sought after on the British market. Subsequently, the sales tripled in 2010, but Kozole is not happy with the prices for the fruit.

"The British market has no match and is the most demanding in the world. In line with this, we expect higher prices, but this was not the case last year."

Apart from Great Britain, Evrosad is mostly selling its products, primarily apples but also pears, to Russia, the Baltic countries and Romania. It is also selling peaches, but only in season, usually on the domestic and sometimes Romanian markets.

Sales to the Scandinavian countries, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina meanwhile change from year to year. "There is also some demand from Spain and France. Our goal for this year is to sell first products to the United Arab Emirates."

Evrosad can never be among the biggest producers in Europe, Kozole said, adding that the company is therefore focusing on buyers who are aware that top quality comes at a higher price.

Set up in 1996 in Krsko (E), Evrosad recorded positive results every year, except in 2004 due to a 2003 drought and during the crisis years. Profit surged to EUR 800,000 on EUR 7m in sales revenues in 2008, but then crisis struck and the company operated at a loss in 2009 and 2010.

"The first half of this year brought quite nice profit, so it's realistic to expect that the year 2011 will be profitable again," the CEO said, adding that the expectations for 2012 were positive as well.

The company, together with its subsidiary Sadjarstvo Blanca, currently employs 106 people, but another 320 or 350 are hired additionally every year for seasonal work.

There were no lay-offs during the crisis. On the contrary, the company even increased its workforce in the past couple of years, Kozole said. This was due to last year's construction of a EUR 3.8m sorting and packaging facility.

"This centre which is important for the final part of fruit business, is also a point where Slovenian producers could unite. We have a dispersed production, plenty of cold stores around Slovenia and for a year we've also had a packaging centre, which in a way is the last required facility."

At the centre, the entire Slovenian production of fruit could be sorted out and packed up to reduce the costs "and use up the potential we have on the markets".

Kozole thinks it is important that Evrosad is planting sorts which are very sought after in Eastern Europe. "In this respect we're using our geographical position. Transport-wise we are slightly cheaper for this part of Europe than Italy and France, while also offering high quality apples."

Crucial for the success of the company is that in the 16 years of existence, Evrosad has always put development first, Kozole pointed out. "All the profit we've made has always been invested back into development. And that is what we want to do in the future as well."

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