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From Struga to Switzerland: Macedonian organic hazelnuts on Swiss supermarket shelves with IME support

Nelkoski Organic is a family run business in the Struga region. They started with 500 trees of hazelnuts on their family orchard 10 years ago, which over time expanded to 10 hectares and a small plant for calibrating, breaking and packing. Today, they are strictly focusing on organic production, becoming the first Bio Swiss certified hazelnut producer in the country, and developing their brand of organic hazelnut products Zaum.

The Increasing Market Employability Program – IME connected Nelkoski Organic to the well-known Swiss supermarket chain Coop, who were interested to source organic hazelnut from North Macedonia. While the quality, taste and organic growing practice of Nelkoski’s hazelnut satisfied strict Swiss standards, the company still faced challenges to supply to Coop. Namely, they lacked suitable machinery to pack the nuts according to Coop’s requirements and they requested support from IME to co-invest in new packaging machinery.

“Thanks to IME’s Opportunity Fund instrument, we managed to purchase a vacuum machine and now we can pack hazelnuts in large 15 kilos bags, while retaining the moisture and flavour of the hazelnuts and prolonging their shelf-life. With IME’s co-funding we also purchased a palette-wrapping machine to transport the hazelnuts in line with Coop’s logistic guidelines.” Boshko Nelkoski, owner shared. Nelkoski made an additional investment and purchased a metal detector which is mandatory for supplying to EU markets and an air compressor for the machines.

The machinery recently arrived, and the pilot production went smoothly. “We are now preparing the first shipment of Macedonian first-class organic hazelnut to Switzerland. The first ton of hazelnuts should be on its way to Coop in mid-June.” Nelkoski adds.

This is only a small part of the Swiss buyer’s demand for Macedonian organic hazelnuts. Since Coop wants to source more than seven tons in the first season only, Nelkoski is trying to expand a pool of local farmers that will start organic hazelnut production. Info sessions on the use of the new machinery and Coop requirements were held with local producers, to encourage them to acquire Bio Swiss standards and start supplying to the Swiss market. Nelkoski’s longer-term goal is to have up to 30 cooperants from the Struga region.

Despite the global covid-related crisis, Nelkoski were working full steam. “Challenges are there, but we have managed to retain all our employees and not have any salary cuts. We expect that with the export contracts coming up, we will be ready to sell well in the upcoming two to six months. We continue on our mission to produce food from the heart”

With this investment, Nelkoski will enter a new high-earning market, opening the way to more local producers, too. “If we manage to export Macedonian products to Switzerland – known as one of the strictest markets in the world – then we are steps closer to any other market“, Nelkoski concludes.