To the Belgrade-based company Ekofungi, Serbia is a country of small, expensive products. Since late 2017, their entire production of Portobello and oyster mushrooms has been organic, and thanks to new technologies and continued innovations, they also made a new product available in the market in December 2017 – a dehydrated organic vegetable mix.
The concept is based on the production of organic Portobello mushrooms at the company’s facility at Padinska Skela and the buyout of surplus organic vegetables from farmers in Serbia. By rehydrating the mixture, in only 3-4 minutes, a 40-gram mixture produces half a kilogram of fresh vegetables that can be prepared by everyone, from vegans to gourmets. Due to the fragility and the value of the product, the oyster mushrooms are packed separately in a 20-gram package.
Ekofungi now dehydrates 95% of the production of fresh mushrooms and only 5% is sold at bioshops, restaurants and hotels – their long-term customers. The new product belongs to the premium food category and was recently presented at the biggest fruit and vegetable show, FRUIT LOGISTICA Berlin. In mid-March, it had a prominent promotion at the Ben Akiba club in Belgrade, and all the 10,000 packages made last year as part of a pilot run were exported.
– In marketing our products, we will stick to 2 strategies – Ivanka Milenkovic, co-owner of the company, says in her interview with our portal.
– First, we want to market them in organic and health food store networks in Slovenia and Italy, which we have been working on a lot, and second, we want to maintain our production capacities, which are modest, and potentially expand the production through a franchise system.
An agreement with a distributer from Slovenia on the sale in the European market has been made, and the first quantities have been shipped outside Europe as well.
– All the goods are stored with our Slovenian partner, which is also our distributor, and we seek out new clients together. The dehydrated organic vegetable mix has already been shipped to the USA, Switzerland, Italy, France... Due to the capacities, we can’t expand anymore until the next year – Milenkovic says.
The production capacity of Ekofungi is 5,000 packages a month, which amounts to the sales value of around EUR 20,000 a month – which is enough for a small company like Ekofungi, our interviewee points out.
The main requirement for the company's new investment was the implementation of the technology of organic production of edible mushrooms under the circular economy model, where the waste from extensive farms and organic farms is used as the basis for the creation of the substrate/compost for the production of organic portobello and oyster mushrooms. Ekofungi believes that the model of using agricultural production waste is not just a useful business model for them, but also an excellent example of development, which should be studied and implemented in small farms in Serbia.
However, young people in Serbia, Milenkovic says, are still not sure about agriculture, although the implementation of the business model the kind of which Ekofungi is developing can lead to great results. Such companies undoubtedly contribute to a sustainable development of Serbia, which has been recognized by our portal as well, seeing how Ekofungi was shortlisted for the Aurea 2018 investment of the year award, handed out by eKapija.
– Serbia is a country of small, expensive products and this is what our competitiveness should be based on – our interviewee points out.
– Since its foundation, Ekofungi has based its work on close cooperation with science. Through our hard work, we’ve come to the point where our product is now being exported to America as well. We know how much we’re worth and we don’t want to sell only raw ingredients anymore – Milenkovic emphasizes.
Unlike young people here, young people in the world are interested in getting to know the business model of Ekofungi and implementing it. Ekofungi School, which the company has been organizing at its facility in Padinska Skela since 2012, has been attended by over 250 participants from all over the world. Using the knowledge they acquired there, the attendees have started small business and are still promoters and ambassadors of Ekofungi's products and the company's associates-subcontractors.
Ekofungi has protected its production model through a know-how model, believing it to be the most appropriate, whereas the Ekofungi trademark is in the process of being protected in the EU.
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