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Mr.Belyavsky, this year marks a first milestone for the company – its 10th anniversary. Congratulations! But tell us, please, how did it all begin and how did production develop? What difficulties did you have to face at the early stages? How did you manage to overcome them?
It all started in 2012 with a field overgrown with weeds. This is how the new whey processing plant in Shchuchin was launched from scratch. Construction was completed in 2016, but the first years after commissioning were quite challenging.
The project was completely new and there was a shortage of skilled people who could grasp the essence of technology for the production of innovative, import-substituting products that meet the highest quality standards. In addition, there was a heavy debt burden – almost EUR 50 million had been invested in the project. The technology was not fully adjusted, the raw materials were definitely not enough to load the plant to its full capacity... All this had a negative impact on the quality of the product, and made it difficult to make a breakthrough to the market.
A new phase of development began in 2017. We thoroughly analyzed all costs and optimized production, which had a tangible economic effect. Another of my managerial tasks was to assemble a team of like-minded people. The demands on the employees were very high. Only those specialists who were most motivated and dedicated, who truly loved their profession and worked with full dedication stayed with us.
Month after month of hard work, and we proved the quality of our products, obtained the necessary certificates and strengthened our company's position. We set up the plant that did meet international standards and was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery. Next, we conquered markets and attracted potential customers. Together, we developed and established the manufacture.
At the first mention of the company's name – Primemilk – those unfamiliar with your company might think that it is a premium milk producer. But is it really so? What is the specialization of the company? Who are your main customers?
based products. I can now leave modesty behind and say that Primemilk is the No. 1 company in Eastern Europe in this segment. Demineralized whey powder, non-dairy creamer on vegetable basis, whey product enriched with vegetable oil, fat filled whey powder "Incofat"... The capacities for dry ingredients production are now 100 percent utilized.
Our products are a godsend for the food industry – dairy, confectionery, bakery and meat processing. We also make ingredients that have been effectively used in the feed industry.
Continuing the path of innovation, in 2021 we commissioned a soft cheese production line. This is how the Chef Works brand was born – soft cheeses and protein products in the "medium+" segment. EUR 8.5 million was invested on this ambitious project. Today, the company processes about 900 tons of whey and produces up to 20 tons of protein-rich soft cheese a day from concentrated whey and more than 80 tons of powder.
Food products containing the ingredients produced by Primemilk are on everyone's table: bread, pasta, confectionery, dairy and meat products, as well as food for babies.
Could you please compile the top 10 achievements of the company during its 10-year history?
The achievements of the company are well reflected by the awards of prestigious national and international contests, exhibitions of food products, quality awards. And our company has much more than 10 such awards!
We won Grand Prix for exploring new markets and the high quality of products at the republican business prize "Leader of the Year", the prize of the Government of the Republic of Belarus for the achievements in the field of quality, the prize of the Commonwealth of Independent States for achievements in the field of quality of goods and services, the diploma "Best Product" at the exhibition "Prodexpo-2022" in Russia, the award of the national competition "Entrepreneur of the Year" in the category "Stable Success", the gold medal and diploma of the winner of the international competition "Best Quality" in Belarus. And all these are just a small part of the titles and awards that our young plant has received.
For two years in a row, the company has been among the winners of the "Best Exporter of the Year" competition, indicating a considerable success abroad. How did the company develop its export business? Where are the products supplied nowadays?
We started exporting in 2017, when 75 percent of our finished products were shipped to Russia. Since then, the export structure has changed significantly.
Thus, in 2021, the share of sales to the international market was 95 percent already. At the same time, there was a decrease in the share of Russia and an increase in shipments to the Middle East and Asia. The South American market was also explored – we shipped to Chile and Brazil.
Over the entire period of operation, the company has established itself in Belarus and Russia, but also supplies on a permanent basis to China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Mauritania, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Türkiye, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Guinea.
Participation in international food fairs and exhibitions has greatly contributed to the expansion of our presence in foreign markets.
Since 2018, we have been a regular participant in the Prodexpo exhibition in Moscow, the national expositions of Belarusian producers "Belarus – The Taste of Nature" at the Gulfood food fair in Dubai, and since 2019 we have participated in the international food industry exhibition SIAL in
Our participation in the "Made in Belarus" exhibitions in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) in 2018 and 2021, and in Almaty (Kazakhstan) in 2019 has allowed us to expand our partnerships.
Among the interesting "far arc" destinations, opened due to the status of a participant of exhibitions, I would like to single out Algeria (DJAZAGRO 2019), Nigeria (National Exposition of the Republic of Belarus "Made in Belarus" at the international exhibition of agriculture, food, beverages and packaging technology "Agrofood"), Angola ("Made in Belarus" at the international multisectoral exhibition FILDA – Luanda), Oman (international exhibition of food industry "Food and Hospitality Oman" in Muscat), Brazil (exhibition "Food Ingredients South America" in Sao Paulo), Vietnam (National Exposition of the Republic of Belarus at VIETNAM EXPO – 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City).
In addition to exhibitions, we take an active part in business events in Belarus aimed at establishing contacts with foreign partners (export forum "Dairy Belarus" in Minsk, "EUROREGION NEMAN" event in Grodno), as well as in business trips abroad.
One of the top priorities for the food industry is to ensure the highest quality and safety of products. What activities are carried out at Primemilk in this area?
Quality control is one of the main conditions at all stages of our production.
The raw materials come from all over Belarus. Therefore, the laboratory in the reception area works around the clock to carry out incoming inspection of each batch.
The next stage of monitoring is the physical-and-chemical testing laboratory, where the quality of the finished product is assessed. It also monitors the quality of raw materials and semi-finished products throughout the entire production process.
In addition, all stages of production, process equipment, personnel and the production environment are strictly monitored by specialists from the microbiological laboratory.
We also pay much attention to packaging. Depending on the product type, we use multi-layer paper containers with a polymeric inner liner or hermetically sealed polymeric buckets. The packaging is filled with inert gas to ensure the best possible protection of the contents. The use of high-quality packaging enables the products to easily withstand transcontinental transport without loss of quality.
The company's products are fully compliant with food, milk and dairy products safety requirements, veterinary and sanitary regulations. Modern European equipment makes it possible to manufacture products in accordance with the strictest international standards and the requirements of international product safety management systems. A unique feature of the plant is the full automation of production processes and the possibility of visual monitoring of the key technological parameters at every production stage.
The company is currently HASSP, FSSC 22000, ISO 45001 and ISO 14001 certified. Promotion to Middle Eastern markets is facilitated by the right to label products with the Halal mark.
Another important criterion for ensuring product safety is the GMP+ certificate of the fodder safety management system of Primemilk LLC. The production of safe fodder for farm animals lays the foundation for the safety of food products for human use.
Recent years have not been easy for business. However, difficulties are known to give a boost to development. Do you agree with this? Have the challenges of recent years been a way of opening up new opportunities for you?
In spite of all the difficulties of recent years, the challenge was to keep moving and developing, to maintain production rates and financial stability. This required reorientation of export flows, establishment of new transport and logistics routes, search for new suppliers of raw materials and equipment and exploring new markets. The company turned its attention eastwards, to the Persian Gulf countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria) and Türkiye.
Another difficulty is that due to broken supply chains in the Baltic States and Ukraine we had to look for a substitute for palm oil, an important ingredient for creating whey-based dry mixes. Therefore, we attempted to introduce rapeseed oil into the technological process, gradually reducing the percentage of palm oil in the product. Eventually, the equipment was adjusted to run on 100 percent rapeseed oil. And now we do not depend on imported raw materials at all.
In this way, the crisis was a kind of driving force for the company's development. We have strengthened our position, left many competitors behind us in terms of quality indicators and price factor, and managed to retain potential customers and find new ones. In these difficult times, we do not only work sustainably, providing our employees with a decent salary and a full social package, but also think optimistically about the future and lay a real foundation for our new successes and victories.
Primemilk LLC has been a member of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2016. What services of the Chamber are in demand by your company? What else would you expect from the membership in the BelCCI?
Apart from effective and efficient participation in the exhibitions and international events I have already mentioned, Primemilk LLC is in demand for such services from the BelCCI as certification of products, works, services of own production, organization of professional translations, work with individual translators, providing information on the conditions of goods access to the country of destination, issuing certificate of origin, as well as business education. Thus, the cooperation can be described as intensive and active.
For the future, our company would benefit from the assistance of the BelCCI in carrying out the registration procedure for Belarusian companies as suppliers of products, works and services to foreign countries.
Approaching the end of the anniversary year, what plans do you have for the future? Which areas will be a priority next year?
Having successfully established ourselves in the whey-based ingredients segment, our main task is to reach 100 percent capacity utilization in the production of soft cheese and expand the range of these products.
Our plans include conquering not only the restaurants and confectionary shops in Belarus that produce soft cheese-based desserts, but also wide presence in retail chains – in our country and abroad. We are going to successfully move forward into new markets and deepen and expand our influence there.