Despite the optimism that existed in early 2021, and which was mainly related to defeating the pandemic, the current year has turned out difficult for everyone, including businesses.
As such, it is interesting to discuss and evaluate how commercial organizations operate when faced with such challenges. We decided to talk to Ertan Kurt, General Manager of EFES Georgia.
Among the brands EFES Georgia produces is popular beer and lemonade Natakhtari. It is a leading beer company, which brews local beer brands such as Natakhtari and Karva. Additionally, the company brews international beer brands Lowenbrau and Staropramen, and imports the biggest international premium brands, among them Stella Artois, Corona, Hoegaarden, and Leffe. Since 2006, the company has been presented in export markets and, currently, Georgian beer and lemonade are exported to 23 countries.
Businesses, and your company, will already be used to working during the crisis. Please tell us about it, with your company as an example.
At this stage, we can say for sure that we don’t know when or how the Covid-19 pandemic will end, or what its economic consequences will be. We will all have to live and work facing this great challenge. And we’ll have to take into account the various restrictions and problems in different sectors of the economy.
During this period, we had to take care of several important issues at the same time. We had to maintain the rate of production and sales index; we had to take care of the safety of our employees; we had to think about product export to different markets; and at the same time, most importantly, we had to maintain the high quality of our products. However, we already had the experience of 2020, when the crisis hit us totally out of the blue.
Last year taught us a lot. Now, once again, the development of EFES Georgia is more sustainable.
We spent more resources on studying the potential of domestic and foreign markets, which helped us to make a realistic prognosis and get immediate results. The first half of 2021 was a period of growth and development for us. Slight growth was seen in the beer market in the first half of this year, compared to 2020. Beer sales increased by single-digit growth. In the HoReCa sector, we also saw a noticeable increase. It is also noteworthy that as of 2021, we are the only company with 100% penetration in retail. The growth trend is noticeable in the lemonade segment too. But the best results were achieved in export countries, which increased by almost 50% and also had a positive influence on the country’s economy.
To date, we have been able to implement all the projects that were planned for this year. Moreover, we brought important innovations to the market. New products, innovative marketing and sales projects, activities to support the development of our employees, new CSR initiatives – all of these were achieved in the first half of 2021. So, we can say that we have adapted quickly and introduced new mechanisms for sustainable development. As a result, it will make us stronger in the future.
Big news was Natakhtari beer appearing on the market with a new taste and new packaging. Wasn’t it risky to make changes to such a well-known and already established brand?
The world is changing rapidly; we saw it over the past year. Our lifestyle, work-life, perceptions and tastes have significantly changed. The brands and companies have to follow these changes; we should embrace this opportunity and continue development.
It was not an easy decision to make those changes. Natakhtari beer first appeared on the market in 2005. Since then, our brand has maintained a leading position. It was a driving product for our company. However, considering many factors, we focused on the future and used existing perspectives, taking this step and presenting Natakhtari with a new taste to Georgian consumers, as well as foreigners.
Of course, it was risky, as big steps usually are. But to be honest, we were pretty sure about what we were doing. Preparation of the new taste began by listening to the desires of beer lovers and carrying out various studies, followed by selecting the ingredients and many stages of taste property evaluation. Now we can say that we, as one team in EFES Georgia, are very proud of the result. Feedback from the public is very positive, and we’re now sure the risk was justified.
Innovation is crucial for competitiveness, especially now. As a leading beer company on the market, for our company, it is always essential to invest in innovation. That’s why we launched Natakhtari Platinum and Natakhtari Green as a seasonal series. This project was meant to meet the needs of people with different tastes. Later, we released 100% Cold Natakhtari with a thermochromic label. It is one of the latest innovations in the field of labeling. The special limited edition of Natakhtari decorated with illustrations and aphorisms of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin was also very popular. Then we had a logical continuation to the innovations, introducing new exceptional brewing technology for beer – slow fermentation. As a result of using this method, we have a smooth and balanced taste, created with a combination of special fresh hops and aromatic malts.
Tell us about your employees and how they were helped during the pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, EFES Georgia issued a list of safety measures for our employees. We are all obliged to follow them strictly. Currently, most of our meetings are held in an online format or limited to small groups.
Additionally, we started to carry out new employee motivation programs, implementing special activities that facilitate teamwork and the generation of initiatives. We also took measures to develop internal communication. Employees are the main asset of our company and we will always take care of them.
Everyone says that there is a deficit of professional staff in Georgia today. How does your company respond to this challenge, given the fact that your number of employees is increasing?
To my mind, when it comes to finding professional staff and hiring them, there are two main approaches.
The first is headhunting, which is when you try to find a specific qualified, experienced and professional person. The second approach involves the internal development of human resources. Actually, this is a higher priority for EFES Georgia. We are focusing on trainings to develop our own talented staff. We recently filled two director roles with internal promotions. Moreover, we are proud to announce that the company has its first employee working in an international role within the group.
This year, we also intensified the youth internship program. We already have a pretty good group that goes through internships in different departments under the supervision and coordination of our staff.
We also started cooperation with universities to interest students in our internship programs. We’re now looking for motivated and open-minded young people who are happy to study and work. We seek to educate, employ, and grow professionals. As part of the support program for universities, our experienced staff conducts lectures at various universities and shares practical knowledge with students.
Your company is distinguished in terms of CSR. You have received numerous awards. What has changed concerning this and how active are you in CSR today?
Indeed, corporate responsibility has always been an important priority for our company and it remains so, and I am sure it will be in the future as well. We have been implementing CSR projects in various fields since 2008. These projects are sustainable, and our employees are proud that we contribute to the community and the environment. We believe that business should be done with a high sense of responsibility. It means that no-one else should be harmed in the process. And if you give some support as well, it will be beneficial for everyone. We want a stable environment for business to develop, and aim to do our best to promote the creation and maintenance of this environment.
The first half of 2021 was no exception for EFES Georgia. We were active in CSR during this period as well.
Our company uses the guidelines of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the basic standards. Along with taking care of our staff, we carry out CSR activities to support vulnerable groups, as well as to protect the environment and empower women.
We have a well-known and popular project ‘Take care of the future.’ This project has been implemented by the association ‘Our Home – Georgia’ for 10 years with help of the Natakhtari Fund. Now, it continues to support youth without parental care in preparation for their independent life. In total, since 2011, about 600 beneficiaries have received services in the fields of education and employment, as well as psychological assistance.
In addition, we continue to use a special wastewater management system. It is a noteworthy direction of our CSR. On World Environment Day, with the involvement of employees and with the help of an environmental NGO, we planted greenery in our industrial area. This process will continue in the future.
This year, we became more active in terms of women’s empowerment. Besides the activities we were working on with our staff, we collaborate with women’s empowerment organizations in Mtskheta-Mtianeti, and we have funded projects aiming to ensure gender equality.
In brief, the pandemic served to strengthen our sense of responsibility, instead of reducing it.
Interview by Team GT