Lia Tsikarashvili: “Without Enthusiasm, I would not have been able to face the challenges of turning my idea into a business”
Lia Tsikarashvili, a pediatrician by profession, came up with a business idea when it became hard to sell off the apple harvest. One year, being unable to realize, her family even had to dispose of several tons of apples. Many farmers had to do the same that very year. Lia had managed to relate this difficulty with her hobby and, as a result, ended up with a production of a 100% natural apple cider vinegar, which turned out to be easy to sell.
“I have been serving as a doctor mainly at non-governmental organizations lately. My family is in the farming business. Part of our agriculture consists of a several-hectare apple garden that yields several tons of apples each year. We used to sell the harvest to the government, but it is no longer possible now, making it quite hard to realize the product by our own means. Even though we leave some part of the fruit to ourselves, give it away to friends and relatives, and feed the fruit to the cattle. Still, there is so much fruit left that it gets spoilt, and we have to dispose of it. I have this hobby: after a long day, I relax with cooking; I love baking, coming up with different recipes, and trying out new ones.
So, once I decided to make vinegar out of apples. At first, I tried to make just a small amount, but it came out to be so good that my friends asked to make them at least half a bottle for the next year. Grape vinegar is very common in Georgia since one can find wine in almost every family, and as you know, wine can easily turn into vinegar. In contrast, apple cider vinegar is quite rare, for fruit wine is not that popular in our country. Also, apple cider vinegar is rather beneficial, and its demand is growing fast in Georgia.”
Having made apple cider vinegar for the first time, Lia got interested in its production methods. As it turned out, there are several methods – using yeast, adding water, etc.; however, these are not natural options. So, Lia decided to use only natural methods of making apple cider vinegar.
“I make vinegar only using a natural fermentation method. I crush apples myself, then squeeze out the juice – the fruit juice, which, similarly to grape juice, starts boiling in the heat. After boiling, you get apple wine that adds its own fungus or “mother” of the vinegar. It is a mere film that forms on the top of the vinegar. Wine will turn into vinegar without this film as well; however, unlike the usual wine, it takes apple wine two years to transform into vinegar. This is how I make natural apple cider vinegar.”
The garden where Lia Tsikarashvili’s family harvests apples is located in an environmentally clean area. The apple gardens are located near the village Oraveli in the Akhaltsikhe region surrounding the family-owned trout fisheries. The garden lies at the edge of the forest, which is followed by the Erusheti National Reserve. Due to its location, there is no need to treat plants with pesticides in this area and the whole of Samtskhe Javakheti. Products that are made with such raw materials are by all means 100% natural.
“I have purchased the equipment to process raw materials and eco-friendly, stainless steel containers. The latter became feasible with the help of Enterprise Georgia’s micro and small business support program. Nevertheless, I received four half-ton containers after having had apples harvested and dried. Accordingly, the juice came out to be thick, and I could not fill reservoirs. I could accumulate 300 liters in the first year – I gave away 200 liters to non-governmental organizations, enterprises, and friends. Now, if you ask where to buy apple cider vinegar around, everyone will direct you to my house. I have been making vinegar for three years already, and I can’t complain. The product that I make is perfect for health. During the pandemic, people started to care about their health even more, which significantly increased the demand for apple cider vinegar. As it turns out, the pandemic did not harm my business activity.
Currently, I am working on labeling. I have a cork and bottle cap machine, but it took me a long time to label. I wouldn’t say I liked the first version that I came up with. Then I consulted with my friend, a psychologist working in Germany, about the color palette and found out that each product made with a certain fruit should be labeled with a corresponding color. You should use green and red colors with apple-related products to conjure up with apples. I have made the sample already. I believe the sales will increase once I have a properly chosen and designed label.”
Lia could have completed the labeling process, but she ran out of funds. She has purchased a building located near the apple garden to relocate her enterprise from her house. Thus, she will be able to meet production standards, and there will be no need to allocate funds for the transportation of raw materials. She has not gained enough profit from the vinegar making business yet to develop it more. So, at present, Lia has to spend the income obtained from her family’s agricultural activities on vinegar making. Her husband and children support her business endeavor, which encourages her to go on with her plan despite several difficulties and mishaps.
“I have purchased raw material processing equipment by my own means. I have paid quite a large amount of money as I chose only eco-friendly options. By that time, I could not find a fruit press and bought an ordinary grape press, which could not squeeze the juice out of apples properly. The apple pulp removed from the machine still had some juice in it. Then, I purchased stainless steel mesh and placed it in the winepress for better results, but it also did not work out. I was determined not to fail, placed the apple pulp into the flour sacks, and squeezed out the juice properly. However, I should have obtained 600-700 liters of apple juice out of a ton of apples, whereas I only got the third. A fruit press of medium productivity that processes 70 kg of raw materials per hour costs about GEL 8000. I could not afford to purchase this machine, and part of the apple harvest again had to go to waste.
My family tries to support me as much as they can. We have large agriculture; my husband is engaged in finishing – he has trout fisheries, and we had to spend the income earned through the fishing on apple cider vinegar production. I am not going to give up as making apple cider vinegar is not just a business to me – it gives me a lot of joy and incentive. A start-up entrepreneur should not focus on making a profit only as at the outset. The profit may be much less than expected. If you don’t find the activity you set out to do fascinating, you will quit after some time. You have to love what you do to be able to face all the challenges ahead of you.”
Lia Tsikarashvili does not have the qualifications connected to entrepreneurship; however, she believes that her field – medicine, especially being a pediatrician, is very much related to healthy eating and organic products. Hence, she feels rewarded doing her new job. She is somewhat content with the obtained results and plans to further her business in the future.
“My objective has not been fully accomplished. I will consider myself successful when I have managed to transfer my enterprise from my house to the factory, complete the labeling process and distribute the product to the chain of supermarkets. Most likely, I will need a year to do this.
At present, I am placing the vinegar into 800 ml dark glass bottles. The dark glass bottle is vital to keep a living organism, i.e., fungus in vinegar responsible for its acidity safe from the sunlight. You will notice sediment at the bottom of a bottle, and it is OK as it will lose its qualities if being filtered. I have done a lot of thinking and decided to keep the vinegar with the sediment at the bottom. What’s more, unlike wine, it is completely normal to have sediment in vinegar.
To ensure a continuous supply of the product in shops, I will first focus on my region. I have a small enterprise for now, but it is possible to expand it. For the time being, I can make 3 thousand liters of apple cider vinegar out of raw materials harvested in my family garden. If the demand grows and we decide to supply other Georgia regions as well, it will be quite feasible as today’s apple market is declining so much that my relatives offer us their apple harvest even for free of charge. Our family owns a 7-hectare land, and it is quite possible to make a new garden, which is quite reasonable because apples yield the first harvest as early as three years.