EBRD know-how helps export Mongolian 'Artichoke'

The FINANCIAL -- Tugsuu Tseepil, Vice Director of Mongolian canning company Gazar Shim (official name GBT Trading), is a woman with an unusual passion: artichokes. The coordinator of the Mongolian Artichoke Association and the Artichoke in Mongolia Project, her company has recently become the first in Mongolia to sell an artichoke-based health drink, called, appropriately, “Artichoke”.
“My background is in food analysis. We wanted to produce a healthy drink and artichokes are very good for the kidneys,” said Ms Tseepil. “At first, it was a hobby and my focus was on improving the taste.  But now, it’s certified, patented and released onto the market.”

Having opened a new automated production line only last year, Gazar Shim sold more than 1 million bottles of Artichoke in 2014 – both the original and the new sugar-free version. The artichokes themselves are grown in Mongolia, in greenhouses. The main drink is high-end, best served hot and produced in glass bottles. It’s often taken for medicinal reasons.

Gazar Shim’s main business is canned fruits and vegetables, of which they produce over 30 varieties, from peppers to pickles, tomatoes or compotes and jams, according to EBRD.

“When we started in 1999, it was the transition period in Mongolia and there was a real lack of commodities – everything had to be imported,” she explained. “My brother and I saw an opportunity and started the business. Then, we produced 20,000 jars a year. Now, we can do that in a day.”

In 2013, the business first worked with the EBRD’s Small Business Support team in Mongolia  who connected them with a local consultant to help them introduce professional accounting software. Then, with an ambitious expansion plan in the works, they worked with a local consultant on developing a business plan for a new factory in a project with a strong market research component.

“We learned that we are competing well in the salads segment, but that we need to develop our compotes segment more,” she said. “We need to refine our production methods to improve productivity.”

Thanks to donor funding from the Early Transition Countries Fund, Gazar Shim is now working with an international adviser from the Netherlands under the Advice for Agribusiness programme, which links EBRD potential and existing banking clients in the Agribusiness sector with business advice through international industry experts.

“This is a perfect example of how the EBRD can take an integrated approach to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises”, said Matthieu Le Blan, EBRD Head of Office in Ulaanbaatar. “The advice and the financing are complementary, providing the tools businesses like Gazar Shim need to grow.”

“Kees Koeleman, our international adviser, is very professional and very helpful,” said Ms Tseepil. “He is the fourth generation in his family to run a vegetable canning business.”

“He has been very involved in everything, helping us select the right equipment to improve our production line, advising on how to improve the quality and taste of our products and how to design better storage for our new facility. He’s also linked us to a European ingredient supplier, which has changed our mixed pickle product for the better.”

The company has just begun exporting to Russia for the first time in January 2015, exporting 20 tons of products from Artichoke to different kinds of salads to over 50 shops through a Russian chain. They are now looking at raising the investment needed for the new factory.

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