Everyone says 2020 was a year of ongoing challenges for businesses. We spoke to Efes Georgia GM Ertan Kurt to find out how his company made a success of it anyway.
How would you characterize what the 2020 pandemic was like?
2020 turned out to be a year of unprecedented challenges for business and the whole world. Many economies, including Georgia’s, have suffered greatly. That is why 2020 can be named ‘the year of turning challenges into opportunities,’ since crisis situations often help us discover new chances and new possibilities. We had to think about many things at that time. We had to keep up the pace of production and sales. We had to take care of the safety and well-being of our employees. We had to export products to the different markets and at the same time, we had to maintain a high level of quality. This year has been tough for everyone, and I think companies need to think more about how to bring more value to their customers.
Kurt tells us that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they implemented almost every project that they had planned.
“During 2020, our production did not stop; on the contrary, we offered products to customers focused on their needs and demands. We kept listening to our consumers to find out what they required from brands. With this in mind, we started a new limited series of Natakhtari with special packaging, inspired by Shota Rustaveli’s ‘The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.’ We also released Natakhtari with a thermochromic label and a series of special seasonal limited editions: ‘Natakhtari Amber’ and ‘Natakhtari Green. ‘Karva Radler’ is the first beer mix in Georgia with lemon and lime, also launched in 2020. It is also very exciting to brew Lowenbrau and Staropramen in Georgia. We’ve been trying to replace imported products locally over the last 15 years, and we’ve succeeded.”
How has the pandemic changed Efes Georgia?
All changes and transformations happened quite smoothly, since we identified three primary, clear priorities at the very beginning of the pandemic: Assuring the safety of our people, supporting our community, and ensuring business continuity. We did it in accordance with the recommendations and regulations of the WHO and the Government of Georgia. In early March, those employees who do not need to work in the field or in production moved to remote working. The production process became automated to the greatest possible extent, without human participation. We also reduced working hours and travel areas for field groups. External visitors were prohibited from entering the factory and administrative offices. The complete disinfection of industrial equipment, products and vehicles took place on a daily basis, for which special mobile groups were set up. Field workers, including distributors, were provided with gloves, masks, and hand sanitizers. In addition, informational posters regarding preventive measures against COVID-19 were placed in our brewery and other spaces, and special educational training was provided for our employees. These consistent measures minimized possible complications. Most importantly, despite the pandemic, we retained our employees and their salaries were not affected by the changes caused by COVID-19.
During this period of remote work, we had several initiatives to improve communication with our employees and to keep their motivation high. I personally held remote 1to1 meetings with all the managers and supervisors to listen to them individually and discuss all relevant business topics in detail. To keep the team spirit high and facilitate the information flow, we have regular Online Happy Hours and Online staff meetings.
If we consider last year from a business point of view, what was the sales rate and how much did the export volume change?
As the hotels and restaurants were closed, consumers switched to home consumption. We shifted our investments timely to serve consumers where they were present, and strengthened our market position in 2020. Production did not stop, went according to plan, and sales remained stable. In addition, most importantly, the customers remained loyal to the company.
Our exports in global markets is growing by the year. Currently, our beer and lemonade are being exported to 23 countries. The direction of exports in our company has been developing for years, both in terms of volume and in the number of markets, and is one of our highest priorities and most promising areas for business growth. We are going to increase investments in this direction and export Georgian products to more countries, and to intensify consumer communication in existing export countries to raise awareness of our brands, thereby strengthening our market position and awareness of Georgian brands abroad. We are also prepared to work with the government to enhance Georgia’s exports on international markets in the future.
Your company is distinguished in corporate responsibility, having received numerous CSR awards. How much has the global pandemic affected your responsible doing of business?
Efes Georgia has been implementing projects in the field of corporate social responsibility since 2008. But things have changed, and CSR standards have changed and improved as well. I think the pandemic pushed us to move to another stage and to restart our CSR. Efes Georgia won the Corporate Responsibility Award 2020 in the category of Decent Work and Economic Growth. As for public support, we have been assisting the most vulnerable groups in the fight against COVID-19. In total, the company has spent more than 200 thousand GEL on the implementation of pandemic support projects under the auspices of its CSR program. We provided financial assistance for the STOPCOV Fund and a two-month supply of disinfectants to the Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center. We also handed over rapid tests (SARS-CoV-2) to the government for preventive measures. Moreover, the company, in cooperation with the Georgian Bartender’s Association (its partner organization), provided financial assistance to bartenders. Around 500 bartenders who were left unemployed, received supermarket vouchers. Efes Georgia also distributed free products to people over 70, families below the poverty line, employees of the government’s ‘Hotline 144’ Center, quarantined citizens, and our distinguished doctors.
What is important is that we managed, and despite such changes, continued previous projects regarding corporate responsibility. The Natakhtari Fund supports beneficiaries according to their individual needs, with psychological consultation, rent, essential medicines, and resources required for remote learning. The company financed the Fund beneficiaries who lost their jobs. I would like to highlight this part of our CSR we are especially proud of. We established the Natakhtari Fund almost 10 years ago, and during the COVID-19 period, we increased our efforts there as well. The Fund aims to both empower and take care of adolescents without parental care and prepare them for an independent life. Since 2011, the Fund has helped up to 600 beneficiaries, more than 300 of whom gained employment, and more than 270 received higher education. These results were achieved through the unique methodology used by a project implemented by the NGO Association Our Home – Georgia. An individual development plan is created for each beneficiary, and the amount is allocated according to their specific needs. According to the goals of the fund, adolescents and young people receive care until their full independence.
I would also like to mention some of our CSR projects in the direction of environment protection. In 2012, we launched a wastewater treatment plant, which provides high-quality treatment of water resources used in the production process and significantly reduces the impact on the environment. In addition, in 2014, we received an energy management system certificate ISO: 50001. The company regularly delivers environmental training, constantly conducting both internal and external environmental impact assessments. Finally, our investments in improving environmental standards and implementing an effective waste management system have borne fruit and, in 2018, we received a special CSR award in the field of Environment Protection, and our wastewater treatment system has become a showcase for the Georgian bottling industry. It was a good start and, in the following years, in terms of corporate responsibility, we received three different awards.
What has the work during the pandemic taught us?
Working in a pandemic has taught us to listen to each other better, to become more customer-oriented, and to value relationships in general. I am optimistic that this challenge will recede, and we will slowly return to the usual rhythm of life. For me, as well as for Efes Georgia as a whole, the main lesson is that we need to transform challenges into opportunities. So, we continue to brew joy and to offer various novelties to our consumers.