Svetlana Shmakova: New Food Wave
The APEC BEST AWARD international contest of women’s entrepreneurship projects takes place as part of the APEC forum every year. Participants from different countries present their initiatives in different sectors and business areas. This year, Svetlana Shmakova from Russia won the contest. The entrepreneur has organised a full-fledged gluten-free food production, which is unique for the whole country.
Vice President of Sapsan group of companies, inspirer of Ivanovo Delo charity foundation, founder of FOODCODE
Svetlana Shmakova is a person with incredible strength of spirit and energy. Despite her rather young age, people admire her wisdom and great scope of life and professional experience. Svetlana Shmakova has almost 30 years of business experience. During this time, she has implemented dozens of successful projects, headed several companies, and founded a charity foundation.
“I am 7 times mother and 8 times grandmother”, says Svetlana Shmakova with a smile on her face. The family has always been a focus of her life. Family values and principles were necessarily reflected in every business project. The same happened with the initiative presented at the APEC BEST AWARD contest.
– Please, tell us about your contest-winning project. Why is it unique? How did its idea appear?
– Within the APEC BEST AWARD contest, I was glad to present the FOODCODE project to the international audience and jury. This project is about the production of bakery and confectionery gluten-free products. It is the first large-scale certified production of this kind of products in Russia. Production of FOODCODE is certified for compliance with the international standards of FSSC 22000 quality management system. The absence of gluten in FOODCODE products is confirmed by the certificate of the AOECS (Association of European Coeliac Societies) and the Crossed Wheat Head mark.
Today, the range of products includes more than 25 items: various buns, bread, cakes, cantuccini, and other desserts. We plan to start producing mixes for baking and grocery products in the near future.
The idea of the project appeared in my family. Our children had an allergic reaction. We began to analyze the situation and came to the conclusion that food that we eat determines 90% of the impact on the human body. Our family decided to switch to a gluten-free diet for several months. The results of this ‘experiment’ amazed us! We got more energy and strength, increased immunity, and, most importantly, our children no longer needed antihistamines.
Of course, we cooked most of the food at home during such a diet. But we tried to find some gluten-free products in stores. It turned out to be quite challenging! Despite the fact that gluten-free products can be on the shelves of supermarkets, they are often either flavourless or have no documents confirming their quality or are made in mixed production, which devalues their main characteristic. This is how the idea to try and change the situation in the market appeared.
The world demand for gluten-free products grows by 20% every year and Russia is no exception. However, this market is not so well developed in Russia yet. We decided that we could offer a worthy product to the consumer.
Why is this niche almost not occupied in the market? Production of gluten-free products is very difficult in technical terms. It requires special equipment and well-thought-out recipes making it possible to preserve the texture of products without artificial additives. However, we were ready to face difficulties because we created products for ourselves, our children, and many other people who really needed it.
We organised our production facility near Volokolamsk, about 100 kilometres away from Moscow. Now the plant has 100 employees and a very high level of automation. In the future, when we expand the range of products, we plan to increase the number of employees up to 500. That will be a tangible contribution to solving the issue of employment in the Volokolamsky District.
All products at our plant are being made using only gluten-free technologies. To make that possible, we developed a number of our own recipes using natural ingredients.
The start of production was scheduled for April 2019. It seemed to us that we had foreseen all the risks and possible challenges. Who would have thought that a pandemic could happen to the world? However, we did not give up our plans. We conducted online interviews, received all the necessary documents confirming safe working conditions, and launched production. We continue to develop it to this day. It is a very difficult but useful experience.
We created our project with great love and enthusiasm. I believe, that sincere positive energy helped us win the international contest.
– Today, people in Russia and other countries talk a lot about abstaining from gluten. However, it seems that this is more of a fashion trend than a conscious choice. As an expert, could you to tell us about the features of this substance?
– You are right. Indeed, I see two main problems in the ‘gluten issue’. The first one is low public awareness about what it is and why it is harmful. The second problem is a low level of diagnostics of diseases caused by gluten use in food.
Gluten is a vegetable protein contained in wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Most modern industrial products contain it (at least, in the form of various thickeners, stabilizers, etc.). Although people have been eating gluten-containing food for centuries, the gluten load on modern people has increased many times.
Today, a gluten-free diet is a vital issue and the only way to solve medical problems for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. At the same time, gluten-free products are relevant not only for them. Our analysis has shown that about 50 percent of the population is interested in gluten-free products. When we launched the project, we tried to bring the characteristics of our gluten-free products as close as possible to traditional ones. We wanted to ensure that no one would have to give up their favourite usual dishes. Judging by the satisfied feedback from our consumers, we succeeded.
We even had such an expression ‘new food wave’ in our team. It became a slogan of the project. We hope that a healthy diet will indeed become a ‘wave’ that will cover the whole world.
We call not for a complete rejection of gluten but for conscious consumption. It is important for a person to buy not something imposed by advertising but something that really corresponds to his or her lifestyle and needs.
That is why it is important to inform people more about how gluten affects the body. We often don’t even think about the causes of feeling ill. Meanwhile, increased anxiety, apathy, regular headaches, and constant fatigue can be caused by gluten intolerance.
– How do you distribute your products? Where can people buy them?
– We have an online store where you can order products for home delivery. In this case, it is more convenient to make large purchases, for example, by thinking about a diet for the whole family for a few days.
In December, we will open our first offline store where the whole range of products will be presented. Now you can buy several products on the shelves of our retailers. We cooperate with Lenta, Azbuka Vkusa, Perekrestok, Utkonos, and Ozon stores. Today, we are also negotiating with HYPER Globus and Okay retail chains. We are actively distributing our products in all possible networks.
Maximum production volume of FOODCODE is 30 tons per day. That is why our products can cover the demand and become an alternative to imported goods. We are planning to enter international markets. The demand for high-quality and healthy products in today’s world is really very high.
– Women’s entrepreneurship is always more than a business. Those are projects with a special meaning. What principles are put in the basis of your business?
– I believe, the main feature of women’s entrepreneurship lies in special energy. We always create a cosy environment around us, a strong corporate culture that resembles the atmosphere inside the family. I often can feel intuitively whether a company’s manager is a man or a woman. It seems to me that this is reflected literally in everything.
Women love beauty and carry it into the world through their businesses, projects, and products.
It is very pleasant and valuable that the development of women’s entrepreneurship is now one of the global trends. Women in business are not inferior to men. They demonstrate a completely different approach. As a rule, women entrepreneurs choose more socially oriented areas for themselves. They feel a special responsibility before the next generations and society in general.
Women entrepreneurs have great potential in terms of developing a conscious society and improving its quality of life.
As for me, I am reflected in my FOODCODE project not only as an entrepreneur and manager but also as a mother. The health and well-being of my children are extremely important for me. Before launching large-scale production, we try all the products and make sure that they are the best things that we can give to our children. This is a new and even more serious level of control. We put not only the knowledge of our highly-qualified specialists but also a part of our soul and family values into FOODCODE products.
It is also vital for me to ensure that the project inspires our customers. For example, it’s important for us to show that good products can be tasty and beautiful, not boring as many people might think.
– Why is it important to hold contests like the APEC BEST AWARD today? What impressions and opportunities did you get from participating in the contest? How did you prepare for it?
– My team and I were thinking for a long time about how to present our project at the contest correctly. On the one hand, we presented bread as a symbol of Russian traditions and the family’s unity at one table. On the other hand, we emphasized the innovative character of our business. Thus, in my opinion, we managed to convey the spirit of Russian entrepreneurship: modern, rapidly developing, and based on universal human values.
Understanding that we, women entrepreneurs from Russia, are able to not only compete but also win is amazing.
I am very glad that today there is such a wonderful initiative. Thanks to it, women entrepreneurs and leaders from all over the world can present their projects on the international arena, exchange experiences, get valuable feedback, and charge with inspiration for new achievements. Participation in such a contest helps them expand their horizons and compare their businesses with projects in other countries. It is a unique opportunity to learn more about other business models and distribution channels, find like-minders, create partnerships, reach new levels, and expand the geography of sales.
It is also important to note that advice from the jury members contributes significantly to business evaluation and development. Sometimes experts asked us questions related to the prospects of our projects, which we did not even think about during the strategic planning phase.
The process of preparing for the contest was very serious but it brought real pleasure. My friends, colleagues, and like-minded women, the members of our large women's community, helped me all the time. They worked with me on my language and speech, provided me with moral support. That is very valuable.
I would like to express my special gratitude to Nadia Cherkasova, Deputy Chairperson of the Board of Otkritie FC Bank, and Irina Saltykova, co-organizer and head of the APEC BEST AWARD international contest of women’s entrepreneurial projects. These people motivated me to participate in the contest and supported me in that.
– What projects were the most memorable for you at the contest? What ideas inspired you?
– Interestingly, the contest featured another gluten-free business. Its author is Ms. Fabiola Ortiz Ruiz, an entrepreneur from Mexico. We have the same approach to our activities and I find that amazing. Her project also appeared thanks to her desire to create healthy diets for her children.
This similarity of projects shows that the topic is very relevant and important for the whole world. It is great that we are doing the same business together.
The project by Ms. Hanna Kim from South Korea also echoed in my heart. She is a 16-year-old girl who has created a fashion business and invited children with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome to take part in the photo shootings. It’s difficult to express in words how inspiring such activities are. I am really happy that there are people in our world who have such a highly-developed sense of social responsibility despite their young age.
Ms. Cherrie De Erit Atilano, an entrepreneur from the Philippines, presented another interesting project. She created a platform for the sale of agricultural products, which can be used by any willing farmer. Now, when the world is going through a particularly difficult time, farmers have the opportunity to earn money even before harvest by making safe deals.
All the projects presented at the contest were socially-oriented. Every business was not about money but about people, the opportunity to change the world and build a better future.
The level of each project was amazing! Now I think about how the cases and practices that we saw can be used in our business.
– What can entrepreneurs from different countries learn from Russia’s women entrepreneurs?
– A Russian women entrepreneur is trained to be ready for anything, to look for original solutions, and to act as efficiently as possible in the existing realities. Russian businesswomen are notable for their perseverance and flexibility of thinking at the same time.
I don’t want to say that it’s easier for somebody somewhere. We all just have different business models, challenges, and development conditions. When launching the FOODCODE project, we were also guided by the best international experience because there is no Russian analogue of that today.
– What would you like to wish women entrepreneurs from all over the world? What advice would you like to share?
– The most important thing is to believe in yourself and your team. Do not doubt that your product is the best one. Be sure that the whole world should learn about it.
If your project is useful to the world, implement it! Do not wait for a convenient moment. The convenient moment is here and now.
I would also definitely advise every entrepreneur to find a mentor, an experienced person you can trust. This is useful even if your project is very successful. The mentor helps you look at the business from a different perspective and prepare for the possible pitfalls. The mentor’s experience will be especially useful in moments of stagnation and when you experience the feeling of a ‘glass ceiling’. In my practice, mentor support proved to be indispensable.
I advise everyone to prefer cooperation, not competition. I am always a supporter of partnership in solving any issues in business and life. When we help others pro bono, the benefit will boomerang back onto us many times more.
I recommend all women entrepreneurs and managers to participate in such international contests with their projects. It is necessary to use this unique opportunity to assess the current situation in business objectively, see new prospects, raise the level of your own competence, and exchange experience with international partners.
Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov