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Chocolate is truly an all-time favourite delicacy. It's a classic and much-loved product we remember from our childhood. Despite all the cutting-edge innovations introduced to date, nothing could make up for the true "chocolate delight". VIP-PRESENT Chocolatier has set an ambitious goal – to create premium chocolate, which will become a "trademark" of Belarus, offering the classic taste, healthy natural ingredients and confectionary art innovation. CEO of Vipresent LLC Elina Kuznyatsova is sharing her story of creating this unique, trendy and modern product, going to the store shelves in Belarus and abroad, and cooperating with the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
How was the idea to set up a confectionery factory born and implemented?
A chocolate factory of one's own is a dream for many people. But for a dream to become not just a reality, but to turn into a working business, you need a bright idea, a clear strategy, as well as a team of professionals and daily effective work.
We came out with the idea of setting up a handmade chocolate factory seven years ago. At that time we were still to gain practical experience and create a brand new product that would set us apart from our competitors.
Before launching the production process, we were thinking about what exactly Belarusian chocolate was as a product and in what way it could be of interest to customers. It didn't come to our mind all of a sudden. But the focus of the country's development on attracting tourists gave a strong impetus. After analyzing the market of local and imported chocolate, we took the courage to make a truly Belarusian product, fancy and up-to-date, introducing Belarus in a new way.
The emphasis was made exactly on the Belarusian roots and natural ingredients, so that to bring out unique and healthy products stemming from Belarusian nature itself. We realized that in combination with high-quality chocolate they could speak volumes about our beautiful country.
Then we put together a team of chocolate professionals, experienced technologists and imaginative marketers, and got the ball rolling. That's how the VIP-PRESENT Chocolatier was born.
What is the VIP-PRESENT chocolate like? Are there any distinguishing characteristics, and, maybe, secret ingredients? What is your product range?
The key products in the VIP-PRESENT Chocolatier collection are chocolate cards. The implementation of this idea began with a bright author's collection of watercolor drawings of Belarusian sightseeing attractions, which we designed in a chocolate form – delicious greeting cards in the national style, which are in high demand among Belarusians and visitors. Our product is a greeting card, a bar of chocolate and the history of the country's rich heritage. We are very attentive to the technical process and have mastered the innovative chocolate transfer printing technology according to our own recipe (the company is especially proud of). It helped us to significantly reduce the product cost and avoid importing expensive ingredients.
A VIP-PRESENT chocolate card is a gift, a delicious treat and a nice compliment. We have more than 100 prints in our collection. Printing is done on white, milk and dark chocolate.
Besides, Belarus is rich in wholesome, rare, and medicinal berries. Continuing to elaborate the idea of chocolate as a country name card, we have created a collection of chocolate with traditional Belarusian berries – cranberries, blackberries, cherries, black currants, strawberries, and sea buckthorn. An important point is that berries are processed as per a unique freeze-drying technology and retain their incredible flavor, taste and nutritional value. So it's fair to say that every chocolate bar we produce contains fresh berries.
VIP-PRESENT Chocolatier continues to develop new products every year. Last year we launched a healthy product line named EVERY DAY Chocolate. According to nutritionists, the daily chocolate consumption limit is 30–40 grams. The slogan of the new line is "Eat chocolate to stay healthy and enjoy the unique flavors".
In addition to the basic product range, we produce jelly beans, a special organic line for health enthusiasts and a limited collection of chocolate cards for individual pictures or photos. One can choose their own taste and design – dark, white, or milk. We also have a significant focus on corporate gifts.
Beautiful wrapper is just the tip of the iceberg with a considerable effort of a team, which needs to be inspired and managed. Our secret is simple – we are not only making delicious and high-quality chocolate. We create an emotion; we want to reach out to the heart of every customer.
Was it difficult for you to find clients, to enter trading platforms, where the competition in your segment is very high? What is your strategy for promoting your delicious and exclusive products?
Our company is unique as we do not only make the product, but we also maintain a direct dialogue with retailers. We avoid distribution systems, proceeding from the needs, preferences, and expectations of customers, which allows our brand to hold a leading position in its segment. Chocolate is a platform unifying me, the entire company and the customer. Each of our orders is a new story and a unique product.
Over the seven years, we have grown to one of the leading handmade chocolate factories. Today VIP-PRESENT Chocolatier products are successfully sold in Belarus, Russia and other countries. We cooperate with the largest chain hypermarkets, airport duty-free stores and border areas for tourists, souvenir stores, hotels, health resorts, gas station chains of "Gazprom", "Lukoil", "Belorusneft", HORECA shops, pharmacy chains, health and diet food stores, WILDBERRIES webstore, and many other partners. Our task is to keep our reputation, as well as to develop and offer the best solutions. We are trying to be flexible with all of our clients, including corporate ones.
At the same time, any business project, especially a private one, is always a long shot. There are always some specific factors that can affect the final result. Fortunately, relatives, experienced domestic and foreign partners have always happened to give a hand. I often rely on their experience: we share information, best practices, ideas and recommendations. And the most important thing that makes us better is the feedback from our clients, who are sometimes too demanding. And we are grateful to them because with each order we gain invaluable experience and expertise.
You've mentioned that your products are promoted to Russia and other countries. Could you tell us more about your experience in entering foreign markets? Are you planning to expand your export geography?
The idea of chocolate as a country card implies that foreign citizens can buy sweet souvenirs not only when visiting Belarus, but also on store shelves in their home countries. Therefore, after our products had appeared in stores throughout Belarus, our next step was to promote export sales, first of all, to the EAEU countries with which we have a free trade zone. We found partners who seized room for cooperation and established supplies of small batches of VIP-PRESENT chocolate at first. After that, when the consumers got to know and grew fond of our chocolate, we established partnership relations with big importing companies, which are promoting our product in their countries, thus enhancing the Belarus brand.
Our chocolate is available in Russia through the exclusive distributor "Viprezent.ru" LLC. Especially for the Russian market, we have made the collections of chocolate cards "My Moscow" and "My St. Petersburg". In addition, we have expanded the sales geography to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which offers new channels and solid sales perspectives.
Competition in foreign markets is surely very high. And to be successful, it is necessary to maintain a consistently high quality of products. The confirmation of compliance with international standards is of particular importance. Therefore, special achievement and pride for us was getting a Halal certificate. To date, a Halal certificate is the confirmation of quality and consumer confidence. This certificate not only allows us to promote products to the Muslim markets but is also highly recognized in the international arena. Therefore, we are confident that in the future we will experience an even more assertive foreign market exploration.
How has the 2020 pandemic affected the company operation? Was it a challenge for you or a way to discover new opportunities?
Last year was not easy for our company, but we made good use of this time and enhanced our performance. We streamlined technological processes, practiced new technologies, reached out to new clients and significantly increased our clientele. As a result, we approached the 2021 New Year's season fully prepared and received a lot of orders, which were successfully executed. And we hope the contacts established last year to become the basis for longstanding partnerships.
Since 2018 Vipresent LLC has been a member of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Could you tell us, what the BelCCI membership means for your company?
A win-win approach is the main key to the success of cooperation between Belarusian companies and the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The BelCCI is holding a large number of events and, importantly, they are free of charge for BelCCI members, which comes in handy for SMEs and provide great networking opportunities both at the very start and at any other stage of their activities. It is a chance to establish direct contacts with interested partners in other countries around the world, an opportunity to present your product or service, enter into dialogue, discuss terms of cooperation and sign contracts.
In addition to the opportunity to participate in foreign economic events, the BelCCI offers many other B2B interaction formats. For example, B2B Premium Club is a partnership program paving the way to new business cooperation horizons.
It is a unique opportunity to offer one's goods and services directly to members of a respected business community and receive in exchange exclusive offers and discounts provided by other BelCCI members. This format is not only a way of building new partnership relations but also a promotion tool, because by presenting a discount for its goods and services through this club, the company promotes its most popular and demanded services, which could be a competitive market advantage.
Having already gone quite a long way from an idea to a successful, well-established business, what advice can you give to start-up companies that are just at the very beginning of this journey? What should be done, what mistakes can be avoided, how to take one's worthy place in the market?
It seems to me that the most important thing for any producer, especially for a small business, is to have a good idea for their product, clearly understand the message to the consumer, what issue to address or emotion to spark off. And it's important to keep a stable balance between creativity and business processes. We wish it to everyone who is already steadily building up their business and those who are making their first steps in this direction.
I would say that for me work is always a very creative process. This is an opportunity to implement the most ambitious ideas and to thank everyone who chooses VIP-PRESENT Chocolatier.