Representing the Greek food and beverage (FNB) industry at national, European and international level, SEVT’s mission is the development of a friendly and enabling business environment that attracts investments in the sector. Working with its members and with the EU, the Federation’s main priorities are food safety and quality, nutrition and health, consumer trust, competitiveness, research and development, innovation and environmental sustainability. In this interview, president, Evangelos Kaloussis, gives his insight into the potential of the Greek food industry to build lasting growth in Greece, lauds the new government’s efforts in removing barriers to business in the FNB sector, and explains how SEVT is facilitating SMEs to access capital, R&D and avenues to boost their exports
The Greek food and beverages (FNB) industry suffered during the crisis but has bounced back in the past few years. Can you give us an overview of the industry, its contribution to the economy and its importance in building lasting and sustainable economic growth for Greece moving forward?
The food industry in Greece is very dynamic and our job is to facilitate the sector to improve competitiveness, exports and R&D capabilities in order to match the new demands from consumers both in Europe and worldwide. There are about 1,000 structured companies in the food sector, which represents around 25 percent of the transformation industry. In Europe the sector represents around 13 to 14 percent, so you can see its importance to the transformation industry and the contribution to the growth of the Greek economy. The contribution to GDP is around 8 percent.
We believe the way to move out of the crisis of the last 10 years is by building growth, creating jobs, making new investments and new opportunities. This can be achieved, firstly, by improving the competitiveness of the Greek products, strengthening exports, promoting R&D to create new products that correspond to consumers’ needs; also by collaborating with the government to remove all the blockages, which will help the smooth development of the industry. This is the main framework.
We are very much involved both at the Greek and European level. We are working very closely with the European Federation in Brussels. We are actively following all the challenges that the food industry is facing today in Europe. One of the big directives is related to health and wellness, regarding the reduction of sugar levels, trans-fatty acid levels and salt. We are very confident things will improve. The general expectations of the food industry are positive. The signs from these first few months show that the new government means business. They are oriented towards the growth of the economy. And we believe that everybody will come together and push towards the right direction.
You mentioned the new demands of the consumers at the European and global level. How do Greek products compete within the market defined by these new demands?
The big trend at the moment is health and wellness. The consumer understands now the relationship between good nutrition and health. In that respect, Greece can contribute a lot and our main products are contributing to this because, first of all, we have the basis of the Mediterranean diet and Cretan diet. And that is based on the main products that we are exporting – olive oil, olives, milk products, special bakery products, fruits, etc. So it is about working in collaboration with the agricultural sector, taking advantage of the excellent local raw materials and investing in creating products of high quality that satisfy consumer demands.
The second trend is related to the respect of the environment. The European directives aim at reducing Co2 emissions, controlling packaging and plastics, reducing food waste, for a more sustainable development. We are committed to implementing a long-term environmental strategy, respecting the planet and the people.
What can be done to boost exports in the food and beverage industry?
What we are asking is the removal of the blockages making business difficult and the current government seems to be committed to this. This will allow private enterprises to thrive. It is important to present and promote the Greek products and the Greek diet abroad and of course to facilitate the root to new markets for the different companies of our sector.
The contact with importers is also of crucial importance. For this reason, our Federation has developed a platform where anybody from around the world can enter and make direct contact with all the companies in the sector.
That leads me to my next question: In this era of digitalization, how is the Federation adjusting to this new era, to further promote the Greek products abroad?
Frankly we are very much ahead of some of the sectors. We encourage the digitalization and we are employing competent people that are educated both in Greece and abroad. The state also is making a major effort in that direction. So, yes, the Greek industry is very much involved in the use of new technologies, as this may also facilitate other procedures, limit bureaucracy and unnecessary burdens.
Apart from the sector’s contribution to the growth of the Greek economy, another very important aspect of the FNB sector in Greece is the fact that it represents the Greek identity at an international level. And this is something Greece needs more than ever right now as it is coming out of the crisis. Do you believe the FNB products do indeed have a distinct Hellenic identity?
It is important to promote the Greek products, their special characteristics and nutritional value, taking advantage of the benefits that the European internal market has to offer. For the Greek Food industry it is our priority to produce safe, innovative, competitive and tasteful products of quality, at the best possible price. So in order to create the identity, the first thing you need is high-quality products. Number two is to contact, offer and make these products known to different countries. So this requires un umbrella support – general advertising of the philosophy of the Greek food tradition, etc. The next thing – and this is something we do in collaboration with the tourism industry – is trying to show the visitors some aspects of the Greek food and high-quality Greek products. There are a lot of efforts now to offer Greek breakfasts in the hotels, to explain the Greek food tradition, etc. We have a lot of initiatives like this to expose tourists to high-quality Greek cuisine and food traditions.
You mentioned also the importance of R&D and innovation, which is very much in line with investment in the sector. To what extent do you see opportunities for foreign investment in the FNB sector and how these opportunities can be opened up, particularly to German investors?
This goes both ways. First you need someone who is interested and has the technologies, the capital, etc. to invest in Greece. And on the other side, you need to have Greek companies that are ready to open up and to collaborate.
As a federation, we are trying to support the companies of our sector, because the majority or our companies are SMEs. If you make a comparison between SMEs and the big companies, what is mostly needed is access to financing. Also access to research and development. The idea is to develop certain collaboration between the SMEs and the research institutes and universities. We are undertaking initiatives to facilitate this. Access to management expertise and access to trade are also very important. So, yes, we are welcoming foreign investment. Yes, the Greek companies are open to discussion, not only from the point of view of money but also in terms of technology and new products.