EBRD helps pioneer spearhead Ukraine’s gluten-free movement
The Kyiv-based company was founded in 1996 by Vitaliy Averkin, when premium grade rice was not abundantly available in Ukraine, and consumers had little knowledge of the existence of different varieties.
With a mission to fill an important market gap by provide gluten-intolerant consumers with wheat alternatives, Best Alternativa launched an initiative to source and import rice of high quality from Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and Cambodia to produce rice products, along with rice-based cereals, flour, pasta and oil.
According to the company, natural rice bran oil is acknowledged to be one of the healthiest, made from the cold pressing of rice bran to retain 10% protein, 80% thiamine, 70% minerals and cellulose, 50% riboflavin and 65% niacin of the entire grain.
Best Alternativa today owns three trademarks – Best Alternativa, World’s Rice and Risse Pole – and offers a new approach for cooking in bags, which retains all the nutrients.
Since gluten-free was a relatively new concept for the Ukrainian market, it required additional investment for new equipment and to get itself equipped to comply with international quality standards.
With funding from the US, the EBRD helped the small business implement a food quality and safety management system and enhance its competitiveness on the local market.
A wholesome motivation
“Produce quality and the health of our customers had always been our top priority. So, it was only a matter of time before we began making ready-made gluten-free products to help people who are battling celiac disease,” said Vitaly Averkin, co-owner and CEO of Best Alternativa.
“We looked at the market trends and decided to expand our product range to rice, which is naturally gluten-free, and gluten-free flour.”
Best Alternativa took full advantage of the EBRD’s advisory programme for small businesses to help it successfully meet the international AOECS gluten-free standards for people with gluten intolerance.
The knowledge gained through the project allowed the company to better structure its production processes, reduce costs and introduce new technologies in the packaging process of finished products.
The financial boost also enabled it to build a new facility to scale up production, along with new product lines for pressed sunflower oil and gluten-free mixes for baking. It also expanded its customer base, resulting in a 30% increase in turnover.
“The retail chains we work with have become more demanding of their suppliers. Today they prefer companies that seek to improve and maintain the level of trust not only through advertising, but also by ensuring the appropriate quality of their products,” said Averkin.
“The documentation for obtaining quality management standards helped increase employee involvement, increasing the level of individual responsibility they felt towards our organisation,” said Averkin.
“We were able to achieve higher KPIs as a result. We guarantee stable product quality and are confident that healthy and wholesome food is the key to success and harmony for every person.”
Despite its successes, Best Alternativa is not sitting on its laurels and plans to tap the EBRD again for further expansion.
“After the successful completion of the project with the EBRD, we plan to apply for another one and bring in consultants to develop project documentation for the expansion of production capacity.”