In the world of yogurt, perhaps no type is more globally recognizable than Greek yogurt, and MEVGAL is one of the most well known of Greece’s brands. With one in every five yogurts exported from Greece bearing the MEVGAL name, the company has become known as a reputable purveyor of high-quality Greek dairy products. MEVGAL is now planning a €10 million investment in the next three years to upgrade and expand its facilities, a move that will work to solidify its global position. Here, Mary Chatzakou, President and Managing Director of MEVGAL, explains MEVGAL’s global reach, product offerings and greater ambition to raise the profile of the Greek agribusiness
MEVGAL was established in 1950 and today is one of the leading dairy producers in Greece. What are some notable milestones in MEVGAL’s history and what is the company’s competitive positioning in the sector today?
MEVGAL has a long tradition in milk production, which predates even the company’s founding in 1950. The family of the founder, Konstantinos Chatzakos, worked in the dairy industry for many generations. Today, the company’s production facilities are located in the heart of North Greece, in an area where 70% of fresh milk in Greece is produced. MEVGAL began as a small plant that handcrafted cheese, which, thanks to its flavor and quality, gradually became a favorite with the public. In 1967, the company relocated to new larger facilities and four years later began to make traditional Greek yogurt. In 1974, it started to sell packed fresh milk. In 1985, we expanded our activities outside the country’s borders, and in 1989 we became the first company in Greece to commercialize pre-packed feta cheese. In 2010 we installed an Extended Shelf Life (ESL) milk production line and in 2018 we invested in a new production line of strained Greek yogurt. Throughout MEVGAL’s history, there have been many important milestones, with innovative products, pioneering business initiatives and global recognition. In these 70 years, the Company has been able to build a strong brand name, establishing a tradition in milk production, unrivaled quality, authentic tastes, expertise and respect for people and the high values that we have served since the beginning. These are the elements that have accompanied us throughout our history and connect the present with the past while providing a solid foundation for positive prospects in the future.
In 2016, you returned to MEVGAL, assuming its leadership and the difficult task to revitalize the company. What have been your main priorities and how do you assess MEVGAL’s performance from an operational and financial point of view for 2019?
In 2016, MEVGAL turned a page with new management whose goal was to consolidate and turn around the company, which at the time was facing financial difficulties. It drew up a five-year business plan and increased its share capital by €10 million, two moves that persuaded its banking partners to agree to a restructuring of its bank loans. Since then, MEVGAL, with its strategic initiatives, cost reduction, streamlining of processes and the increased productivity of all its employees, has generated positive bottom lines. Emphasis was put on investments, to improve and increase our production capacities, and to support and promote our products. Particular attention has been given to designing new products that are innovative and which respond to special nutritional needs, such as lactose-free and high-protein dairy products, with the main goal of satisfying the needs of today’s consumers for quality, taste and added-value food products.
MEVGAL started as a family business and has grown to become a leading company in its sector. How do you evaluate MEVGAL’s role and direct and indirect contribution to Greece’s socio-economic development, and how would you describe its commitment to Greece to share an aligned vision for growth and sustainable development?
Today, MEVGAL is the largest milk producer in Northern Greece, with 620 employees and over 3,000 direct partners all over Greece. This gives MEVGAL an active role in the economic and social fabric of the region and the country. The company’s headquarters, both production and management, are located in Koufalia, a provincial Macedonian town, and we have logistics branches in Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as in other smaller towns. Our employees live in these regions, thereby bolstering the economic growth of the regions. Stable economic partnerships have also been developed with several local agents, farmers, and suppliers. The market created by the movement of goods and products around MEVGAL’s facilities is vibrant and valuable.
When it comes to supporting society, MEVGAL provides backing in collaboration with the local authorities to organizations and associations that are active in the fields of culture, sports, and education. We also work with vulnerable groups in the community who have been involved in advocating for environmental policies since its founding. The concepts of social responsibility and sustainable development are ingrained in MEVGAL’s principles, philosophy, and activities, and the company aims to apply practices that are consistent with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.
Since 2016, you have invested about 5.3 million euros in the company with yogurt being at the forefront of your strategic plans. What is a future investment and commercial growth strategy and what are your main objectives for the next two years?
MEVGAL is a vibrant company that continuously aims to evolve and progress to the benefit of the people who choose our products. Between 2017 and 2018, we invested €5.3 million in the Greek yogurt sector, aiming at increasing our production capacity by 30 percent and rearranging all our Greek yogurt production lines into a new ISO 8 “clean area”, which will further protect the safety of our products. Moreover, an investment of €10 million is planned through the next three years to expand our facilities and further automate production processes. We aim to expand further in Greece and, through new partnerships, overseas as well, designing new and innovative products that offer added nutritional value, further enriching an already diverse range of approximately 500 SKUs that are produced daily.
MEVGAL’s export orientation is very strong, with exports accounting for 33 percent of the company’s production. How are your exports evolving and what will be the company’s export philosophy product-wise and location-wise? What is the company’s presence in the German market and its importance for the company?
MEVGAL was one of the first Greek companies in the sector to operate overseas, with our products acting as ambassadors for the renowned Mediterranean diet. Today, our products can be found on the shelves of the largest retailers in more than 30 countries, while exports comprise approximately 35 percent of our total turnover. The company has a significant market share in the Greek Yogurt segments in Germany, Austria, Norway and Italy. One out of every five yogurts that Greece exports bears the MEVGAL logo. Our products have won international awards for innovation, such as the 2017 Innovation Award for our lactose-free yogurt at the Wabel Chilled & Dairy Summit in Paris, France, and the taste and innovation award for the Harmony Gourmet with mint at the Anuga Taste Innovation show in Cologne, Germany. Many MEVGAL products have been awarded the Superior Taste Award of 3 stars by the Brussels’ based International Taste Institute (formerly iTQi).
How does the “Made in Greece” branding benefit Greek products and raise Greece’s profile as an exporting country?
Greece is a country that lacks the heavy industry that other European countries have and its economy has been based mostly on primary production, farming and livestock, as well as processing. By extension, the largest share of its exporting businesses is active in agri-food. The country has products that are globally unique, in variety and quality, with features and characteristics that can be attributed to its climate and special geological conditions. In recent years, Greece’s outward orientation and our export performance have continuously improved, strengthening the position of our products in the global market. Consumers recognize “Made in Greece” products for their authenticity, the added nutritional value that they offer and their excellent quality. Greek Yogurt is a characteristic example, with its authentic Greek taste that has been a hallmark of the country for centuries. This is reflected in the work of Greek exporters who, in addition to their contribution to the national economy, prove that the opportunities exist to boost Greece’s reputation and prospects through the high-quality products that they export.
The current government focuses on enabling value-added sectors, particularly those with export potential. How would you evaluate the competitiveness of Greece’s agribusiness, and what initiatives should Greece undertake in your opinion to attract more foreign investment?
Greece still has many problems caused by bureaucracy, the deficient institutional framework and the complex tax system. These conditions create high operational costs for businesses and impose a comparative disadvantage in contrast with foreign competitors. Even so, the government now appears to understand the need to take drastic measures and implement reforms to correct these problems, along with a national strategy that seeks to support production and entrepreneurship in Greece. This gives us cause for optimism.