Never give up: How an Azeri woman built successful gourmet service from the ground up

Never give up: How an Azeri woman built successful gourmet service from the ground up

Building a prosperous business from scratch is not an easy task. It requires diligence, patience and hard work—lots of hard work. "You just need to follow your dream,” says Afet Akhmadova, founder of Zira Natural & Gourmet. Set up originally in 2013 as a marketing company, Zira is now a successful maker of premium segment food. Getting the company to this new level, adds Afet, was possible thanks to support from "Eastern Partnership: Ready to Trade - an EU4Business initiative" project being implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC).

Never give up

Today, Zira Natural & Gourmet has dozens of employees and produces an entire range of canned foods: compotes, jams, snacks and sauces—all made from natural local fruit and vegetables. Half of the volume goes to the domestic market, while the other half is exported.

"Sales are rising," says Afet Akhmadova. "It wasn't always like that. There were serious difficulties at the beginning, but we handled them by working hard and improving the way we managed the firm.”

Running an agro-food company isn’t an easy task. Akhmadova stresses: “There is no such thing as the perfect time for starting or running your business. It’s very important to be patient and slowly overcome any problems. Never give up. This attitude helped me a lot.”

This approach also helped the company gain experience and set higher goals. One of them is to become a brand associated with the Azerbaijani food industry around the world—with help from European partners.

“We are actively benefiting from ITC support and the EU4Business initiative,” Afet says. “They organized for us to participate in a number of foreign exhibitions. They hired programmers to help us design a new website, while marketing specialists and financial analysts helped us put together business plans.”

The future looks bright for the company. In 2021, Zira Natural & Gourmet is planning to expand its product line and start working with local farmers to get more raw material for its own production.

Next destination – Europe

One of the main tasks for Zira now is to start exporting production to new markets, says Akhmadova.

"To do this, we need special certificates, particularly the ISO certificate,” says Afet. “This process is now stalled because of the pandemic, but the majority of the work is already done.”

Right now, Zira Natural & Gourmet is selling its products in countries like Poland, Russia, Ukraine, the UAE and the US. Due to the pandemic, however, exports went down to 40% of its output, from 50%. After getting the necessary certificates, the company plans to expand its export territory, with priority markets being EU countries, Canada, Norway, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China. “The goal is not only to sell our products, but to acquaint foreigners with Azerbaijan, and Azeri culture and cuisine,” says Akhmadova.

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