Andriy Olefirenko, Director of Organic Original, gave an interview on the specifics of organic food production and in particular, about an innovative product - organic corn sticks

What prompted him to to start producing organic snacks and the meaning of the European "Euroleaf" on their packaging:  read more in the material of "Ukrainian Truth"

What associations do you have with corn sticks?  Many associate this product primarily with a "carefree Soviet childhood."

And such nostalgia did not sit well at all with Andriy Olefirenko - he is confident that corn sticks will become a modern, perhaps even fashionable product.

Based on the principle "if you want to do something good - do it yourself", Olefirenko developed an innovative product - organic corn sticks.  And, apparently, the quarantine played into the hands of Andriy, because, according to statistics, the demand for "breakfast cereals" has shown a large increase.

Ukrayinska Pravda SOS asked Mr. Olefirenko whether this is really the case and how organic corn sticks differ from "Soviet" ones.


- Your company has been producing organic cereals, flour, oils and honey for several years.  Where did the idea to make corn sticks come from?  Is this simply a marketing move to exploit the nostalgia for a “Soviet childhood”?

- No! (laughs) On the contrary!  Quite the opposite!  Let me explain.  Ordinary corn sticks, which are sold throughout Ukraine and advertised as nostalgia for the Soviet Union, are a low-quality item.

When you are involved in this business, you start to understand what you can eat and what you can't.  I would not recommend eating a "nostalgic" product, because its quality leaves much to be desired - all sorts of questionable sweeteners and artificial flavors.

Personally, I am a supporter of a healthy lifestyle, so I take responsibility for my words, in contrast to various amateur dietitians, when I say:  corn sticks are harmless to the body, but the product must be of proper quality.

These two factors - repulsive associations with the USSR and the poor quality of the product on the market - forced me to develop the corn sticks myself.

First, no nostalgia - we have a cool, modern, even fashionable product.  Well, what nostalgia can there be when you buy olive corn sticks?

Secondly, we have been developing the recipe and packaging design for almost three years to prove to people that such a seemingly simple and familiar product can surprise even those who are very meticulous about what they eat.


- Well, you use only natural products - no sweeteners…

- Which, by the way, are much cheaper than natural sugar…

-… and no flavor enhancers.  And that's all?  Why "organic" and not just "natural"?  As far as I know, corn sticks are made from foamed corn flour.  Do you mean that you use some ultra-pure raw materials?

- Yes, all our products have an organic certificate and are marked with the EU organic logo.  What does that mean?  That means that the fields where corn was grown, from which we make flour, are clean - no pesticides or herbicides.

And in order for your land to receive organic status, you have to go through 3 years of a so-called transition period.  During this time, your land is repeatedly inspected, soil samples are taken for analysis, and the proximity of the field to industrial facilities and even highways is assessed.

And every year you pay for each visit of an inspector, who, by the way, may come unexpectedly - this is the so-called unannounced inspection.

And each of the components of an organic product must have such an organic certificate.

For example, our coconut sticks are, by the way, very interesting.  They taste like "rafaello" candies and consist not only of organic corn flour, but also of organic powdered sugar, organic coconut flour and organic coconut oil.

No artificial flavor enhancers or heaven forbid palm oil.


- You apparently had a large increase in sales during the quarantine.  What else do people do while in quarantine.  How can you not watch TV and eat corn sticks?  Admit it – the quarantine played into your hands?

- You know, it was the corn sticks that didn't see as much of an increase as they say.  Yes, demand has increased, but not dramatically.

Apparently, those who sell sunflower seeds have won much more.  And our corn sticks are not a basic necessity.

And also, the quarantine resulted in an economic crisis;  many people lost their jobs, and, accordingly, purchasing power fell.  In these conditions, people buy only what they need.  But the flour and cereals of our company - yes, in this sector there was a certain rise, but, unfortunately, now it is offset by a decline.

- Why?  For what reasons?

- Panic set in at the beginning of the quarantine.  As a result people bought a lot of cereals and flour to stock up on.  Now the demand has decreased because people still haven't eaten what they bought then.

Moreover, today no one understands what will happen in the fall - will there be a second wave of coronavirus, will they be able to feed their family if the quarantine is reintroduced?  That is, everyone will now think three times before buying something.

- But your company continued to work.  That is, you did not lay off anyone and didn’t send them off on a vacation off at their own expense?

- No.  We didn’t lay off anyone.  But from the beginning of the quarantine, 50% of the company's work structure changed.  We closed the main office and transferred people to the production area and gave them new responsibilities.

For example, yesterday you were sitting in the office, and today you are repairing the premises, but you have a job!  This is the internal redistribution of personnel.  All the processes that were in place - packaging, delivery - had to be changed.

Someone worked from home, quarantined.  I needed to take all this into account to reorganize the work processes - who has the greatest risk of getting sick with age, who gets to work and how, how to minimize employee contact.

It has become clear that this new system must be much more flexible than the old one.  The work schedule was constantly changing, you needed to constantly keep an eye on events, with maximum concentration at all stages.

We have learned in all of these processes to leave some room to manoeuvre, to expect the unexpected.  The company, which recently operated like Swiss time piece, has become, in a sense, a living being that constantly responds to the stimuli of its surroundings.

- Didn't that irritate you?

- This is the new reality.  I believed that my employees’ comfort must come first.  And this helped us a great deal during the coronavirus.

Our employees did not depend on public transport - we organized everything ourselves, because we took care of it in advance.

- Apparently, you were not bored during the quarantine…  I won’t ask about Zoom parties.

- Oh yeah! (laughs)  You know, before the quarantine my time was structured in a certain way - I arrived at the office at 8.30 when the working day would begin, in the evening you go home and rest.

And with the quarantine, my schedule has floated - there is the feeling that the work day will not end.

I was quarantined at home for a few days - and even then it was not a vacation at all.


- And about expectations of the help from the state – perhaps I shouldn’t ask about this?

- Aid from the state? (laughs) We did not expect and do not expect help from the state.  At the least they shouldn’t interfere.  Better yet, have them make some global decisions.

When Olha Trofimtseva was the Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food responsible for European Integration, she understood what organic was and understood the importance of the organic sector.

When she was removed, all issues related to organic products and the development of this market from the legislative side began to slow down, and when the pandemic began, it stopped altogether.

It is important for the government to understand that organic production creates three times more jobs than the regular sector.  Shouldn't the state help those who create new jobs?

- What plans - yours personally and the company’s – stopped because of the quarantine?

- Our company had just started our international activity.  That all just stopped.

Prior to the pandemic, we participated in an international exhibition of organic products in Germany.

There were some contacts, we planned to enter the European market.  And this is a very difficult process:  Europeans, to put it mildly, do not trust Ukrainians.

Why?  We sing such beautiful songs!

- Because the law on organic products in Ukraine was adopted only a year ago.  And until then, whoever wanted to, marked his products as "organic".

Therefore, Europeans are quite cautious about the finished Ukrainian organic product, but they will gladly take our organic raw materials, process them themselves, pack them and keep the added value.

As for my personal plans…  I didn't have any specific vacation plans.  When the quarantine started, I realized that there would be less risk for the company if I forgot about this year's vacation altogether.  Moreover, autumn is coming, and we don’t know what to expect.

- But very shortly your organic watermelons will appear on the shelves.  Maybe this profit will become your financial airbag?

- Yes, our watermelons will go on sale in a week, but we’ll see whether the client is ready to buy them.

Organic watermelons are more expensive than ordinary ones, and the question of the public’s purchasing power, as I said, is now a very delicate issue.

So I have very doubts about the financial airbag.

- Have you made any conclusions for yourself in the last six months?

- Yes, I did.  I realized that you can set up a working system without gathering people in a single office space, because many processes can take place quite effectively remotely, online.

I realized that at this stage one should not try any experiments - you need to pay maximum attention to what already exists.

- And finally.  Soviet corn sticks had one remarkable property - if they were set on fire, they burned with a beautiful blue flame.  Do your organic sticks do this too?

- What a strange question! (laughs)

You know, I've been trying corn sticks for over two years and I've never tried to set them on fire.  It never occurred to me to try this kind of scientific experiment.  I'll be sure to let you know as soon as we do.

Andriy Taranenko