Features, STARTUPS

Probiotics gaufre, microbiologist’s business

In 1999, Svetlana Khomicheva started to produce in Novosibirsk a new product she developed, probiotics gaufre. The first lot of 50 kilos was instantaneously sold out via retail shops while buyers’ demand kept growing ever since. Over the nearly twenty years of its existence, Dia-Vesta has withstood various crisis, launched production facilities of its own and expanded the variety of its products. These days, Dia-Vesta produces special series of vitamins-rich products such as gaufre, jams made of deep-frozen Siberian berries, fruit jellies with added juices, muesli bars with nuts, berries and fruit.

Svetlana Khomicheva had worked at a research center in Novosibirsk. When she had spare time, she experimented with creating healthy food. She was keen to produce food which would help people live long lives without taking medicines. She had no intention to start a business, but was focused on an idea to manufacture healthy food.

Trained as a microbiologist, in her laboratory Svetlana Khomicheva was dealing with microencapsulated probiotics, primarily bifidus bacteria, which were later used for confectioneries production. To produce the first 50 kilos of probiotics gaufre, some facilities of a confectioneries manufacturer were rented. The money paid for the rent was quire sizeable, but the first lot of gaufre was a failure and the money just covered the experimenting.

Having analyzed her shortcomings, Khomicheva developed a new technology for producing probiotics gaufre and a detailed description of all ingredients, their treatment, components’ mixing processes, timing and temperature requirements, etc. Svetlana Khomicheva had left her research center by then and founded a joint stock company which was named Dia-Vesta.

To produce the second pilot batch, Khomicheva had to get a loan. She had an intention to succeed, and gaufre produced that time were perfect. They were sent to three local medical institutions for testing. All three institutions reported that their patients who consumed the gaufre noted their usefulness since their metabolism improved and bacterial flora grew. The doctors also confirmed the product was absolutely safe to use.

Later, special design for goods was arranged, products were individually packed (35 grams per piece) and delivered to retail shops in small quantities. Customers were given explanation and advice regarding the new products which were sold out very fast, and new supplies were much requested, but requests were for products with no sugar. Svetlana Khomicheva started producing fructose gaufre which became much popular with diabetic patients.

At the beginning, Khomicheva had agreements with 15 shops. The demand was stable. In a coupe of years, a broad line of diabetic products was manufactured. Later, she started producing jellies and jams, using local berries and fruit for production. Alternatively, they were brought from Altai Territory or Tomsk Region, while dried fruits were imported from Tajikistan. By 2001, company revenues doubled, by 2004 quadrupled with new products appearing in the market yearly and the turnover steadily growing.

Production orders were placed with various manufacturers where raw materials were delivered, process managers present (they were employed by the company on a regular basis by then), and entire manufacturing process supervised. Initially, Dia-Vesta had no equipment of its own, it was only acquired in 2005, but facilities still had to be rented after that.

In 2005 supplies of gaufre and other products to neighboring regions were started. Svetlana Khomicheva acquired her own production facilities by 2010. A loan of RUR 35 mio ($ 1.17) was obtained in a bank to purchase an unfinished two-storey building, to finish it and to install a production line (which was partially manual, though).

We still had a long way to go to get automated production”, Khomicheva says.

At the moment, Dia-Vesta employs 37 people.

Khomicheva sees no tough competition in the healthy confectionary market.

Healthy food market is so vast that it is even good for it to have many competitors, as buyers will get broader choice”, she notes.

Still, Via-Vesta was unable to maintain its sales to Moscow, because

Moscow buying agents prefer dealing with local manufacturers”.

Besides domestic market, Dia-Vesta supplies its products to the Customs Union member-states and, according to Khomicheva, plans to establish itself in China and Vietnam.

Together with the country, the company of Svetlana Khomicheva had to live through economic crisis. In 2008 it faced arrears in payments by stores. Over the years of its operation, the company had to write off some RUR 15 mio of bad debts. In 2008 equipment for the factory was to be bought, but the company had insufficient money to buy ripping and crosscutting machine for muesli bars production, so it had to be designed and assembled by company-hired engineers.

These days we have to operate in the economic instability times”, Khomicheva says.

Few years ago Dia-Vesta started manufacturing special series bars intended for school kids, athletes, military. That was an option to target educational establishments and sell them bars for school meals. Svetlana Khomicheva also sells her bars to drugstores, health resorts, summer camps, wholesale companies, and she also has an online shop. Advertizing Dia-Vista’s products does not cost much, merely RUR 1.5 mio ($ 25K) per annum. Internet is company’s main promotion instrument.

By Nadezhda Rumak

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