“We Satisfy Consumers’ Requests Who Consider the Food Safety Very Important”

Tatyana Zlobina, CEO “Mit Star”

Tatyana Zlobina, CEO of “Mit Star”, thinks that the consumers’ trust is the most important thing in food production. The company started by producing premium deli meats, which immediately set high quality requirements.

For a modern company, the safety and quality issues are more important than ever, while for a production facility that manufactures gluten-free products they are even stricter.

In 2019, “Mit Star” became the first Russian certified production company for gluten-free meat. Tatyana Zlobina told us about the market situation, the work of her company and about the production control.

Tatyana, tell us what does the Russian meat market look like as a whole?
– Our market is quite saturated, and the competition is high. At the same time, however, it is a conservative market. I think that it suffered a lot, so to speak. At the time, the meat market was badly affected by the negative information flow in mass media. For a long time, it was hindered by the lack of experience in consumption of diverse products. The older generation still thinks that the word “GOST” means “quality”, and the products that have not been made according to GOST are often considered counterfeit and substitute.

However, nowadays, the word GOST on the label doesn’t mean that it is a quality product. Our consumers have to go through a lot of things, learn a lot, and this process has already started. They become more informed now, they learn to make better choices, to pay more attention to the producer, and they don’t expect anymore that all manufacturers produce the same “Doktorskaya” sausage. Times have changed.

People often say that Russian meat processing is 15–20 years behind the other countries. Do you agree with this statement?
– Not exactly. It’s just that our market is different, it has a different culture of meat consumption. After all, what’s good for Germany or Spain may be unacceptable for Russia. We do not copy the European market. Surely, they have some interesting things for our consumers, but not everything, of course. I often visit exhibitions, seminars, production plants and stores in Europe. They tell me which products are popular there, but I understand that it can’t fit in our country.

For example, the meat bread that you can buy in almost every grocery store there is not a mass product in Russia.

What is the current production volume of your company, what is the production rate?
– We almost don’t have any growth, everything is stable, so to speak. Whereas in the past we produced 6–7 t per day and delivered them to the stores using six trucks, now we have almost the same volume, but we use fifteen trucks. The orders become smaller. The stores once ordered 20 kg of products per three days, while now they order 5 kg each day.

Now the stores want fresh products in smaller packaging. Not like before, now they order 500 g of rolled ham fillet instead of 2 kg. Consequently, this leads to the increase in our overhead expenses. However, we are not chasing big quantities, we want to keep the present volume and to achieve a bigger turnover.

This is not easy because we have to regularly renew our product range while keeping the popular products in it.

How often do you renew your product range?
– We launch new products once a month or so, but it’s a creative process, that’s why we don’t plan it. The ideas for new products come from different sources: sometimes a technologist brings news from the spices or casings suppliers, tells us about his developments, and we change our products. There can also be a customer request for changing a product.

Let’s change the subject. As we know, all your products and the company itself became the first Russian certified producer of gluten-free meat. Please tell us the story behind it.

– About six years ago, we began receiving requests from consumers for checking our meat products for gluten content. Meat itself obviously doesn’t contain any gluten, however, during the production process the meat producers use various ingredients that may contain gluten. We wanted to investigate this matter, so we asked the suppliers to give us information about testing ingredients for gluten content and documented proof of its absence. We also performed laboratory tests of our products in accredited laboratories, and they confirmed that our products do not contain this allergen. After that, we began receiving requests for the production of gluten-free sausages, and we started producing them in small quantities, observing all the rules and regulations for gluten-free products.

All our employees have received training about what gluten is and why it’s important to follow all the rules in order to prevent it from getting into the products. The labels say that the products do not contain any gluten, however, during the production process manufacturers use ingredients that may contain this substance.

Saint Petersburg Coeliac Disease Foundation “Emilia” became our partner and offered us to certify our entire production as gluten-free. Our team persistently followed that path for a whole year, although almost all our products were gluten-free, however, two items still contained it. When all ingredients containing gluten were removed from the production line, when we received documented proof from the suppliers about the absence of this allergen in the raw materials, and when we performed the necessary laboratory tests, then we decided to take this step.

And what happened next?
– We told our suppliers that we decided to remove gluten from production and that all ingredients should come only with a confirmation of its absence. After that, the representatives of the “Emilia” Foundation conducted an audit of our company and based on its results, we received a certificate that “Mit Star” production company produces sausages and deli products according to the requirements for gluten-free products. We have also been granted the right to use the symbol of “Crossed Grain” which is the international symbol of gluten-free products.

What level of control do you implement?
– “Mit Star” has a food safety management system based on HACCP principles. Our company is also certified according to ISO 22000:2005 standard. We perform control of the inward raw materials, finished products and throughout all stages of production. We train our employees. There is also production control, including for gluten content, performed by accredited laboratories. We also perform constant control of the hygienic quality of the production.

What can you say about the potential of the gluten-free market?
– Compared to the total meat consumption, it’s very small. There is a small number of people with gluten intolerance. Of course, our products can be consumed by people who don’t suffer from the Coeliac disease. This certification guarantees safety not only for us, but for the consumers too. Now we can proudly say that not only our products but the whole production process doesn’t contain any gluten, and the consumers don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Does this mean that your products can be consumed by people with Coeliac disease?
– Yes. We want to provide maximum guarantees. That’s why it was so important to have a third-party organization’s confirmation that our company works in accordance with all the rules and regulations for gluten-free production. It is important to note that our products are not intended for therapeutic use and for diet and preventive nutrition.

But not only people from Saint Petersburg need those products. Where are they sold?
– For now, mostly in Saint Petersburg, Leningrad region and in some cities of the Northwestern District.

Our products have a short shelf life, that’s why not all of our products are presented in the retail chains. We also work in the retail business. We have three meat stores that work under our brand. Customers can taste and buy our products there.

In order to distribute our products in other regions, we must find solutions that will allow us to perform long-distance transportation of our products without compromising quality. Moreover, we plan to modernize our packaging facility and introduce new types of packaging. Either way, it is important for us to keep the quality of our products as high as before.

How do you plan to promote your gluten-free products?
– We publish materials in newspapers, we have adverts in the subway. We also plan to conduct promotion campaigns in the retail chains and to highlight the shelves with our products using promotional materials. However, honestly speaking, I think that the most effective promotional tool at the moment are our branded meat stores where people can taste and buy our products. This is not a business project, it’s not profitable. We put a lot of efforts in it but the rent that we pay for the premises is what we invest in the advertising. People come to our café, taste our products, talk with the seller – this is remembered a lot better. In two years, our recognisability increased considerably.

Does the government support you as a manufacturer of gluten-free products?
– Yes, the government supports us but this support program is for small and medium-sized entrepreneurship. They subsidized the interest on our loans, as well as the interest on acquiring equipment on lease. But this has nothing to do with gluten. After all, it’s not so socially important. You can just buy a piece of meat and it won’t contain any gluten. And this is not bakery production which involves more risks. However, we satisfy the requirements of those consumers for whom the food safety is extremely important, trying to gain their trust.