The EBRD and the EU help boost competitiveness of bay leaf producer in Georgia
It all started with a humble idea and a little experience as a supplier of raw materials to one of the fruit and herbs producers in the Guria-Adjara regions of Georgia. When Giorgi Melua registered as an individual entrepreneur back in 2017, he never imagined that his business would grow to the scale his current company “Black Sea Laurus” now has. “The region of Guria-Adjara where “Black Sea Laurus” is operating, is full of bay leaves. Local farmers are producing the bay leaves and selling the harvest to the big producers. So, the idea of trying this myself was born” says Giorgi Melua, the founder of Black Sea Laurus.
Typical for the majority of start up and SME companies, finding funds was the main obstacle to business expansion and development. Since the eligible bank loan and his own finances were not enough to finance the business idea, Giorgi Melua applied for the “Young Entrepreneurs” programme funded under APMA and won the competition. With the combined resources of the bank loan, his own finances and the support provided by APMA, Giorgi Melua was able to build a bay leaf production factory. In the first year the factory only produced 80MT of the leaves, but production almost tripled in the second year.
Bay leaves are rich sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium. They also contain enzymes that help breakdown proteins, digest food faster and calm the indigestion – it is no wonder the demand for highest quality bay leaves produced in Georgia skyrocketed. In order to satisfy the increasing demand for the product and to meet the export requirements, Giorgi Melua was once again faced the need to expand the business and find the funds for this expansion. For the new expansion a new business idea created where production starts with growers who share the belief in sustainable agriculture and social responsibility. “Only by combining these two principles we would be able to obtain consistently high quality raw materials suitable for export and, at the same time, create safe and prosperous conditions for our community.” Says Giorgi Melua. This time the funds for the project were sourced through the EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line.
Discovering a window of opportunity
The EU4Business-EBRD Credit line the most advantageous SME financing programme available on the Georgian market. Eligible SMEs can apply for loan funding via partner banks. In addition to the loan, SMEs receive free-of-charge technical assistance as well as a EU-funded grant of up to 15% of the loan amount, which is paid after successfully completing the project verification process.
When looking for a loan to finances the business expansion, one of the partner banks offered Giorgi Melua the EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line. “The first year of operation showed us that production capacity could not satisfy the growing demand – we needed a larger production space and more modern production equipment. The EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line was just right for us. With the free-of-charge technical support we managed to get advice on the HACCP practises, compliance with EU practices and best-in-class equipment available for bay leaf production. The 15% cash-back grant gave us the opportunity to reinvest this sum into further expansion.” Says Giorgi Melua.
After the completion of the investment project, “Black Sea Laurus” has a world-class production space, employing 15 highly skilled permanent workers and 130 seasonal workers. The equipment upgrade, which has brought the production facility into full compliance with the relevant EU standards, increased the production capacity to at least 400MT superior quality dried leaves.
Currently, bay leaves produced by “Black Sea Laurus” are recognized in many countries for their consistent quality, remarkable flavour and intense aroma. Highly sought after as an essential ingredient in a wide variety of products, they perform equally well in processed foods, medical supplements, cosmetics and aromatherapy supplies. “Grown in plantations along the environmentally pristine Black Sea coast of western Georgia, our bay leaves are 100% natural and completely free of chemicals and additives. They are carefully collected, sorted, and packed by expertly trained teams of farmers, agricultural specialists and technicians.” says Giorgi Melua, proudly.