From Western Balkans’ farms to US market shelves

USAID CATALYZE
4 min readJul 11, 2023

USAID CATALYZE helps women SMEs access new markets and grow

In the dynamic and interconnected world of global trade, the Western Balkan region stands as a promising hub for agricultural and food processing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These enterprises play a crucial role in the region’s development, but they face economic challenges due to the crisis in Ukraine and the post-COVID-19 shocks. This is especially true for women-owned, led, or managed SMEs, who struggle to access financial resources and face gender biases within the investment ecosystem.

Sandra Avramovski (left) started the Serbian company Cold Pressok, which produces fresh juices and natural spreads, in 2013 with her husband Branimir Krstic (right). USAID CATALYZE EoG supports Cold Pressok through its partnership with Filly Foods. Photo: Brian Oh/Palladium

To address these obstacles and help women SMEs thrive, USAID CATALYZE Engines of Growth (EoG) has partnered with Filly Foods, an importer and promoter of Balkan food in the US market. With EoG’s support, Filly Foods launched the Women-Owned Business (WOB) program, bringing 22 premium food products from 11 Balkan companies to the US for the first time. These products include natural jams, chocolate, gourmet mushrooms, natural juices, and spreads.

Filly Foods provides comprehensive support to these businesses, including branding, digital marketing, financing, and market placement, including placement on major e-retailers like Walmart and Amazon. Additionally, Filly Foods offers educational content through their e-commerce channel MezeHub to build sustainable capacities for Balkan women-owned SMEs in the food industry. By opening doors to the US market, CATALYZE EoG and Filly Foods empower women’s businesses, improve their e-sales, enhance competitiveness, and make them more bankable for future growth.

Meet Cold Pressok, one of the Balkan SMEs who entered the US market with EoG support

USAID CATALYZE EoG works in partnership with Filly Foods to support MezeHub, the company’s digital platform that promotes Western Balkan food and beverage SMEs to global markets. Photo: Brian Oh/Palladium

One of the 11 women-owned businesses that Filly Foods supports for US market access is Cold Pressok, a Serbian producer of fresh juices and natural spreads. The owner Sandra Avramovski started the company with her husband Branimir Krstic in 2013 when they returned to their home country of Serbia after working several years in the United States. With previous experience in the hospitality industry, they had recognized the unmet demand for fresh, healthy juices and food in the Western Balkans. The company is the region’s pioneer in the use of high pressure processing (HPP) as a preservation method. This cutting-edge technology helps them increase product shelf life to 90 days without preservatives or artificial sweeteners. This even garnered the business with the UK Great Taste Award — an equivalent to the “Oscars” of the food world. Despite their innovative products, Cold Pressok struggled to enter the US market due to a lack of contacts in the premium food industry.

Avramovski knew it was important to continue developing their products and expanding their customer base, so in 2019 and 2020, Cold Pressok participated in several programs supported by USAID aimed at the refinement and placement of premium food products. One such program was the Food Hub, a 360-degree assistance program that provided comprehensive support for companies looking to improve their products and grow their businesses. Cold Pressok also participated in an activity supported by USAID and led by a former beneficiary Desing Taste Center to develop innovative products from the Serbian Oblachinska cherry variety, and, in 2019, they participated at the Specialty & Fine Food Fair 2019 in London — one of the world’s top food industry trade fairs, resulting in several contacts in foreign markets.

Cold Pressok found their way into the US market thanks to the MezeHub platform and CATALYZE EoG support. Cold Pressok received guidance to improve marketing and branding of their products. With CATALYZE support, they obtained the necessary food quality licenses to enter the US market, improved logistics to ship the products from the Balkans to the US, and successfully placed the products on diverse US sales channels.

Western Balkans’ Premium Food Products Make Debut in the US Market with EoG support

Premium food products from the Western Balkans successfully arrived in the US and can already be ordered online via https://mezehub.com/ or in the Filly Food Balkan food store in Rockville, Washington DC. Photo: Ignacio Estevez/Palladium

Cold Pressok is one of the 11 women-owned Balkan SMEs selected by Filly Foods that successfully arrived to the US market with a total of 22 products. Their premium products are now available for sale on the MezeHub e-store and in the Filly Foods store in Rockville, near Washington, DC. Filly Foods is also listing the products on Amazon and Walmart. The new sales channel is expected to generate significant revenue for these SMEs, ranging from $20,000 to $60,000 per company, depending on product popularity. Products in demand will be reordered and will contribute to sustainable growth of the Western Balkans W-SMEs and brands.

This opportunity for expansion is a game-changer for these local women-owned SMEs, allowing them to reach their growth potential and contribute to the sustainable development of the Western Balkans.

SMEs are a vital part of the economies in the Western Balkans, and they are particularly vulnerable to external shocks. By improving their exports, SMEs can diversify their customer base and reduce their dependence on any single market. This will help to increase their resilience and ensure long-term sustainability.

Through its partnership with Filly Foods, EoG is strengthening the resilience, growth, and job creation of women-owned SMEs in the Western Balkans by improving access to finance. These efforts are crucial for the economic recovery and sustainable growth of the region.

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