For this CorD special edition dedicated to women in business, Marija, Radenka and Vesna talk about their many decades of experience working at Mlekara Šabac, a major dairy company located in the city of Šabac. They are directors of production, quality control and sales, all key functions in this company that has been operating on the Serbian market for 90 years and which produces dairy products that can be found on markets from Russia, via Europe to America.
Although research shows that the path to gender equality is still not easy, Mlekara Šabac has shown that women achieve exceptional results in managerial positions, but also that the percentage of women in top management is on the rise. Here these lady managers talk about their work and experiences.
As someone who is most familiar with the production process, from procurement to placement, how would you briefly explain to a new potential consumer why they should choose Mlekara Šabac products?
Marija Panović, Production Director: I started getting acquainted with the production process as a young technologist, and I’ still here, this dairy and I are progressing and developing alongside one another. Joking aside, technologist is a masculine noun, and while some claim that the use of gender-sensitive language contributes to raising awareness of the importance of equality between women and men (in my case: technologress or alternatively technologitsa), I personally don’t think that leads to gender equality, because the female form of the word emphasises gender, and not what the person does and what results they achieve.
A lot has changed since 2008, when I started my career at Mlekara Šabac, in terms of production volume, technology and requirements. Progress is evident. We have implemented the highest standards in food production, which ensure the high quality and health safety of dairy products. Production processes are constantly being improved and perfected, but it should again be emphasised that we also jealously protect the traditional, the good. The priority of our production process, but also the key to success, is product quality, which we have not deviated from for decades.
I’m proud of the fact that I once grew up with brands like Sirko and A la kajmak, and today my children are growing up with them. These are completely natural products that we’ve produced according to the same recipe for more than 30 years, without the addition of preservatives, additives and artificial colours, just as we produce many other products, such as yoghurt, young cheese and Mediterranean cheese. Our Poppy chocolate milk isn’t only a favourite among children, although everyone would expect that. It stands out because it is made from the highest quality milk and Belgian chocolate, and has high protein content and reduced fat content. However, my favourite product is Šabac Mileram, which has a slightly sour taste, a specific aroma and a perfectly spreadable and creamy structure.
I’m proud of the fact that I once grew up with brands like Sirko and A la kajmak, and today my children are growing up with them. These are completely natural products that we’ve produced according to the same recipe for more than 30 years, without the addition of preservatives, additives and artificial colours
Most of your production ends up in the republics of the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Russia etc. Has the pandemic ruined your existing jobs and plans? Do you plan to conquer new markets?
Vesna Mitrović, Sales Director: Mlekara Šabac is an exportorientated company, with exports accounting for over 60% of total sales. We are present today on the markets of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, America, the demanding markets of the European Union, i.e. Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria, and, of course, in the region.
The quality of our products, as well as large capacities, have opened the doors of many markets for us, where we have been operating successfully for a decade and more. I have practically been in sales since the first day, when we started to conquer new, big and distant markets in 2008. Today we achieve enviable results in these markets, and that success has come as a result of investing in cooperation with local raw milk producers, production and certification, and the knowhow and enthusiasm of my entire team, despite all the challenges.
We have major plans, but like most businesses worldwide we are using the break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to consolidate and consider all post-pandemic scenarios. We want to conquer and continue using our tastes to entice new consumers in even more interesting markets, such as those of Libya, Israel, Austria, Hungary… But this time we’ll do so while taking into account all the changes that suddenly arose… Many countries with economies based on tourism have been hit hard, as well as those in which the HoReCa catering segment is at a high level, and that’s where our end consumer is, an end consumer who has become more rational for all these reasons, only buying what is necessary and spending money very carefully. I personally think that recognisable quality is one of the basic levers in the fight during the pandemic and the general crisis, and I am naturally enthusiastic and believe in a better tomorrow.
Your job is to work with colleagues to develop and improve production, control raw materials and products, as well as to participate in creating new products and flavours. How much have consumers and the market changed during the three decades that you’ve been at Mlekara Šabac?
Radenka Golubović, Quality Control Director: During the course of my 30-year career at Mlekara Šabac I’ve had the opportunity – through my work in production and quality assurance, as well as food safety – to deal constantly with the needs and expectations of buyers and consumers. When I started, market conditions were significantly different and can barely be compared to today’s conditions. Buyers and consumers have become more demanding year-on-year, and it is necessary to have ever more commitment and investment in knowledge and new technologies, but also the certification of various standards, in order to maintain and improve the recognisable quality of our products, expand the range and conquer markets at home and abroad. Everything happens fast today, and as a producer you have to intensively monitor the needs of consumers and quickly adapt to requirements, constantly offering the market something new, but also that which is constant – quality is always in the first place and that is recognised by our consumers. It used to be mostly women who did the grocery shopping, or at least made the list for it, while today you have ever more men who really read the label declarations and care about what both they and their loved ones consume.
At the same time, information technology and social networks enable everyone, not only us as a producer, to better monitor the opinions and needs of consumers, but also enables consumers to quickly spread bad news if you lack the kind of quality that they expect, so you have no right to make mistakes in that regard.
Proving that Mlekara Šabac has been on the right path throughout all these years is the trust of consumers, both domestic and on the 13 foreign markets to which we export our dairy products. I’m happy that for three consecutive decades I’ve had a nice feeling in my stomach when I wake up in the morning and head to work.