One Man’s Quest for Healthy Food…
Walnut butter from Vojvodina: Best Organic Shelf Product in Great Britain
In the small village of Hadjukovo, near Subotica, Ivan Percic’s health food company Suncokret (Sunflower) is quietly churning out award winning organic products. Back in 1976, Ivan had opted for a vegetarian diet, which he later transitioned into a full-on macrobiotic nutritional regime. Unfortunately, a distinct lack of pure, organic oils on the domestic market restricted his options. Knowing that others like him also had little in the way of dietary choices, Ivan decided to build a business based on the premise of healthy eating.
“In 1989, realizing that cold pressed oils, a key ingredient to a healthy diet, could not be found on the home market, I decided to found my own company to produce cold pressed oils. We purchased a hundred year old press and began pumpkin, sunflower and dark sesame oil production in a traditional way, thus preserving all the seed’s nutrients,” recalls Mr. Percic.
After a few years, the company expanded production to over twenty different kinds of edible, medicinal and cosmetic oils. As the business evolved, Suncokret started producing butters and seed bars, and today they boast over 50 products, while still honouring their motto, “Quality comes first.”
As awareness of environmental protection and the benefits of an organic diet grew, demand for organic products also increased, especially in Western Europe. Realizing the potential of this market and confident that his high quality products could stand up to the strongest competition, Ivan Percic focused on exports. Despite his determination, it was not an easy plan to carry out. At the time, Serbia did not have a law on organic products certification, which significantly hampered exports of organic foods.
However, Suncokret managed to get certificates of origin and quality for its products and Ivan began researching foreign markets in order to identify opportunities and find buyers. Understanding the importance of the right presentation and public image, Mr. Percic focused on improving the visual identity of his company and products. Together with USAID Agribusiness marketing experts, he revamped his marketing materials (catalogues, brochures, a presentational DVD…) and changed the packaging and labelling of his products—making them more visually appealing for foreign customers.
In addition, through a series of specialized USAID trainings, Percic learned how to better market and promote his products at international fairs, how to more effectively engage clients and, most importantly, how to close deals.
Ivan and his products take on the world
In addition to regional fairs, USAID assisted Suncokret to exhibit at the largest European organic trade fair “BioFach” in Germany and the “Fancy Food” fair in New York. Armed with the knowledge he had picked up, he decided on his own to exhibit at the “Slow Food” fair in Turin and the “Organic and Natural Food” fair in London.
Suncokret’s preparations for these fairs helped turn their years of hard work and dedication into concrete results. Suncokret products can now be found on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Hungary and Croatia.
In a competition of more than 50 products sold in the UK, Britain’s “Soil Association Organic Foods” awarded Suncokret’s Walnut Butter “The best organic shelf product” title in the ‘Store Cupboard Staples’ category. Percic believes that this prestigious award he recently received in London represents a culmination of his work in organic food production and a final acknowledgment of his commitment to high quality products. Comments from the competition’s judges included: “Good-quality, fresh nuts”; “Simplicity in a bottle”; and, “Finger-licking good”.
USAID’s Agribusiness Project will continue to assist Ivan in his future efforts. Currently, with USAID’s financial support, he is finalizing Suncokret’s new internet site. In keeping with modern times and aiming to make his products available to customers worldwide, Percic is introducing an online shop. The company has, thus far, been able to maintain its independence from large domestic retail chains which have a tendency to bargain down small producers to untenable profit margins.
Asked the secret of his success, the owner of Suncokret answers simply, “Do what you love! In that case, you will never run out of the ideas or motivation, and success is bound to come. By creating a range of high quality products our aim is to provide the consumer with the option of choosing a healthier diet. It is our hope to help people in our immediate and extended community to improve the quality of their life and their health.” Despite the prejudice that “healthy” means expensive food, Ivan is quick to remind people that, “It is even more expensive to be sick.”
You can purchase healthy, tasty and certified organic Suncokret products in Europe online at http://www.sunandseed.com/ and from September in the U.S. at http://www.sainvie.com/ http://www.suncokret.rs/.