Mzia Bendeliani: “Business and Financial Security Makes You a Free Person …”

Mzia Bendeliani: “Business and Financial Security Makes You a Free Person …”

Mzia Bendeliani is 55 years old. She supplies almost all chains of Kutaisi supermarkets with bread made from Georgian bio-raw materials. Mzia started baking bread with a unique technology in 2017 and, initially, managed to make bread from only 5 kilograms of flour a day. Today, this number has increased by several hundred. However, she will not stop there and hopes that consumers of the capital will soon love her product – durum wheat bread.

“I come from one of the oldest families in our town, Kutaisi. After graduating from school, I started studying at the Faculty of Technology of Kutaisi Polytechnic Institute. I always wanted to make a product that would surprise and please customers. I ran small bakeries at different periods of time, but in 2016 I decided to participate in the government project “Enterprise Georgia.” So, I started thinking – what innovations there were possible to introduce in the field, which I had some understanding of due to my qualifications and a little experience. I learned that there is a bio-agricultural union – Elkana, which has restored some endemic varieties of Georgian wheat – Grey Flour (Tsiteli Doli), dark durum wheat, Tavtukhi, Dika, and others. Organic farmer Anzor Maisuradze was a pioneer in this business – he was the one who managed to cultivate a unique hectare of the cornfield from just a few grains of wheat granted to him as a gift. This story inspired me a lot. I wanted to bake bread from bio-raw materials, and to make it 100% natural, I decided to make a dough with natural yeast and, as a result, got a completely unique product, both in terms of its natural properties and taste.”

Mzia Bendeliani got her project funded. The production started in March 2017. She built a bakery in the yard of her detached house on Baratashvili Street, in one of the central districts of Kutaisi. She opened a point of sale nearby and named it “Bread House Tavtukhi.” The products are made with crushed flour, and thanks to this method, bread retains all the useful properties of wheat. Laboratory studies have also confirmed the high quality of the product. Nevertheless, the enterprise still had to face some problems.

“At first, consumers were reluctant to accept our product. The point is that the bread made without artificial yeast has a considerable weight but is smaller. The necessary raw materials are quite costly, which obviously boosts the price. Hence, consumers would complain that our product was too expensive for its size. What’s more, we used to pack the bread in a paper bag at the beginning, which made the crust harder, and consumers were not happy about that. When taking the product into shops, we had to explain that our bread was a healthy and natural product. You cannot imagine how much loss we had at the outset. Having taken 10 loaves of bread in a shop, we had to take 8 loaves back. Then, we decided to use more airtight packaging and sealing, which kept the crust soft for a long time and made the product visually more attractive – this slightly increased the sales. However, this was not enough for the proper operation of the enterprise. Despite not having enough finances, we still decided to offer consumers free sampling, and we started this process in several large supermarkets. The sampling process attracted consumers, and in 6 months’ time, the sales significantly increased. We first introduced our products to a supermarket chain – Daily. We also supplied the Hotel Plaza in Tskaltubo. When the awareness increased, we already entered the Green Market. At first, it was tough to negotiate with the store managers as we were often told that it would not be sold. In general, a shop manager’s attitude towards a product is essential. If they display our product in a good place in a shop and recommend it to customers, it definitely affects the sales. At present, we are happy to say that you can find our products in almost every chain of Kutaisi supermarkets.

However, I would not consider this to be the best of our abilities. To maintain the results already attained, constant development is needed. An entrepreneur should constantly try to meet the market’s new demands and should be studying the market. For example, if I see that a new sale point has opened and they offer a new product, I should also include something new to keep my customers excited. Even from a financial perspective only, a business that is operating well cannot last long without newness. The main driving force, in my opinion, is enthusiasm and love for the work you do.”

Along with enthusiasm, her qualifications also helped Mzia Bendeliani to realize her business plan. However, she believes the education received during the Soviet Union is not sufficient and plans to study a new profession – marketing and management in the near future.

“Most women know how to bake a loaf of bread, but being knowledgeable of the technical side of the job is vital. There are many machines in the bakery, and they sometimes go out of order. In cases like this, the dough cannot be left for a long time; it is necessary to bake bread. Otherwise, it will spoil. These technical details would have been complicated and confusing for me if I had not learned them before. It would have been great if I had also studied marketing and management in my youth. However, I do not think it is too late now as I am still going to study. It was not easy to acquire computer skills, but when I realized that it would increase my business opportunities and make it easier to reach consumers and let them know about my products, I learned them very quickly. I believe that proper education is key, and it is never too late to learn.

At large, it isn’t easy to find professionals and well-qualified staff in my business. Almost all bakers are self-taught, but there is only one technician in the entire city. For example, yesterday our stove broke down, and it turned out that the only electrician in town had Covid-19, so we were in great trouble.

Obviously, the pandemic has had a negative impact on our business as well – sales have declined. I cannot say, however, that we suffered too much. According to today’s data, we already bake bread from three hundred kilograms of flour a day, and considering that this number was just 5 kilos of raw materials in the beginning and we had difficulties even selling that amount. This is a good indicator. Still, I do not consider my enterprise to be very successful. It would be fairer to say that we are on the right path to success. If I had business in Tbilisi, we would definitely be more successful. Exploiting our region – Imereti’s market with expensive products is a bit challenging, especially during the pandemic. We are more or less known in the capital as well as we go to exhibitions, bread festivals; we are also members of the label – Gemovani. We try to attend all training available, if there is a chance to gain knowledge and develop further. We also have big plans – negotiations to enter the Tbilisi market are already underway.”

Mzia Bendeliani does not find it difficult for a woman to start and manage production in Georgia; on the contrary, she thinks that in the negotiation process, a woman has more flexibility and feels exactly when it is better to give up or put her foot down.

“They get pleasantly surprised when they hear that I – a woman – have succeeded in entrepreneurship. This fact earns people’s respect. If a woman is diligent and has an education, too, nothing can stop her. There have not been any obstacles on my way to realizing my business plan just because I am a woman. In my enterprise I am the head of production; Maia Maisuradze is a manager, and my spouse is in charge of logistics. I believe that if not for Maya and me, the enterprise would have closed once we got the very first loaf of bread back from a shop.

We managed to use the failures to our advantage and keep on moving forward by correcting our errors. Each unsuccessful day has helped us to learn more about what we do and to find new opportunities. Therefore, I would advise young people not to be afraid of mistakes, set a goal, and work hard to achieve it. Luckily, there are so many opportunities to set up a business today, and I must say, it was not the case when I was young. Business and financial security make you a free person, and there is nothing of more importance than freedom!”