If you’ve ever bought a baguette or a croissant in one of the major supermarkets in Georgia, chances are that it came from the Food Alliance, which produces frozen pastry using modern European technologies.
Food Alliance is a French-Georgian venture started up in 2019 by Georgian and French partners who between them have many years of experience in business and processing. The main goal was to offer Georgian consumers high-quality frozen pastry in traditional and innovative French and Georgian confectioneries.
Goal #1: Supplying major Georgian customers
In the little village of Natakhtari, the Food Alliance produces pastry using the blast freezing method, a technology that’s widely used in Europe but is relatively new to Georgia. In fact, the only factory in the country using this method to freeze pastry is the Food Alliance.
Blast freezing is a rapid heat preservation technology that not only extends a product’s shelf-life, but keeps it fresh, safe and structurally stable. Compared to regular handmade pastry, Food Alliance frozen pastry is quick to bake, while maintaining all the desirable benefits and distinguishable taste.
From baguettes and croissants to traditional Georgian khachapuri and lobiani, the company now offers more than 50 types of products. The Food Alliance’s first aim was to sell its high-quality pastry to key major customers in Georgia and that goal has been reached. Food Alliance pastry can now be found in some of the country’s biggest and best-known supermarkets, such as Carrefour and Spar, and in restaurants, hotels and cafés, as well as Gulf gas stations throughout Georgia. It’s a very convenient way for restaurants, hotels and cafés to offer pastry to their daily flow of demanding customers.
“We’ve reached our first goal—supplying some of the main Georgian companies, and now we want to have our own client base,” said Jacques Fleury, CEO of Food Alliance in an interview on Imedi TV.
Expanding production with EU assistance
When the company finished building its factory and was set to launch operations in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, causing a major health and financial crisis in Georgia as well. Businesses began to struggle financially, losing customers and employees. Similar to other startups, the Food Alliance had no other choice, but to change its business model in order to survive. Fortunately, the company was able to adapt to the challenging new reality and operate under strict restrictions and health guidelines.
At this critical juncture, Food Alliance received a loan of through the EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line, which includes a 15% cash-back incentives funded under the EU4Business initiative. This enabled Food Alliance to add necessary inventory and equipment to its factory in Natakhtari, expanding production while increasing efficiency by 50%.
“I can honestly say that, at that moment, this support was life-changing and played a major role in the company’s survival and growth,” says CFO Natia Khelaia.
The results came in soon: within a month, the company’ financial state was much better, it was distributing products to more customers, and sales were up significantly.
The EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line is a joint initiative of the EBRD and the EUthat helps Georgian SMEs, like Food Alliance, finance investments, upgrade services and production processes and seize new market opportunities in sectors such as manufacturing, retailing, services, agriculture and more.
Going from 4 staff to 70 employees
For a company like the Food Alliance, growing production meant a need to expend its workforce. A company that started with just 4 staff now employs 70, about 90% of them are locals from nearby villages and most from the IDP community in Tserovani. As it grows, the Food Alliance benefits not only itself but also the entire region.
“Because we grew so much in two years, we hope to expand more and become a major regional employer,” says Khelaia.
Food Alliance is able to constantly expand its product range, with the aim of offering 150 assortments in the future. The company is also introducing the internationally recognized Food Safety Management Systems Scheme (FSSC).
Today, the Food Alliance is only present on the Georgian market, but the company does not plan to stop at this point. Its founders intend to open the doors to foreign markets, considering the fact that frozen pastry is very popular throughout Europe.