The FINANCIAL -- “Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate”, said Titus Maccius Plautus around 22 centuries ago. But the fact is, you still need the spices to augment the taste of any dish. Various herbs and spices are associated with different ethnic foods but you also have other spices like salt, garlic and basil that are universal and can be used in just about every dish across cultures.
Those of us old enough to remember the renowned “Spice up your life” song by the iconic Spice Girls should easily recall the effect it had on the world spice industry when many tried to incorporate the slogan in their marketing campaigns with or without respecting the intellectual property rights. But that is not the focus of the article. In this issue, we will be zooming in on the current spice industry situation in Georgia in a global context.
Before unveiling the players related to Georgia, it is worth reiterating that humankind has known all along about the benefits of spices and the fact that a certain combination of them could help boost your health.
When harvested and dried properly, the spices can last almost forever, provided they don’t get wet or contaminated. They are very low in calories, yet do contain proteins and other organic compounds that are necessary in tiny amounts to balance much of our body’s behavior. For those of us that enjoy cooking, it is truly exciting when you can liven things up with ingredients that are colorful, tasty, fragrant and on top of that, beneficial!
The problem is that once the spices get harvested, grinded and go through the entire value chain to the end user across countries and continents, you do not really know for certain how much of that powdery substance is the actual spice you bought. Do not forget even for a second that cheap spices are cheap for a reason. The health regulations for ground spices are vague and the chance that you end up having in it rice, mold, animal poo, dead insects, rat hairs and other ‘foreign matter’ is higher than you would want it to be.
More about that dreadful circumstance later, but let us now unveil the key actors on the Georgian market. The country has only a handful of players involved in the distribution of spices and Experto talked to the three main ones. Ltd. Shvidi was founded in 1995. The Company focuses on the import and sale of food ingredients produced through utilizing the world’s leading technologies. In 2009, they incorporated a daughter company Shvidi Meat to better answer the demand on ingredients, packing materials and disinfection detergents. Mr. Kakha Patarava, in charge of sales informed us that: “Shvidi Meat is an official representative of world leading spices and ingredient processing companies, such as: Wiberg, Vaan Hees, PTI, Goyal Protain and Nesse. Every year we develop modern and innovative achievements in this field”. He further elaborated on the initiatives the Company is currently implementing: “we have invested GEL 500,000 to initiate the manufacturing of natural (herbal) additives actively used in the production of juices, confectionery, ice cream, fish, cheese and other food products”. In addition, Shvidi Meat will shortly open the production facility for packaging materials: “the investment in this project amounted to GEL 350,000”, explained Mr. Patarava.
When asked about the overall quality of spices sold in Georgia, the representative of Shvidi Meat underlined that they import goods from over 10 European countries and the products they distribute are of high quality: “each of these leading European companies hold respective ISO and HAACP certificates so we are confident the goods are of high quality”, even though the quality of spices sold in Georgia elsewhere vary drastically.
Moving on to our second respondent, GEO has been operating on the Georgian market since 1998. The Company's main activity is the import and realization of spices from Europe, Asia and Africa. GEO has a large assortment of spices, over 50 varieties, distribution cars and warehouses across the country. The representative of GEO, Mr. Malkhaz Simonishvili told Experto that they import spices mainly from India, Vietnam, Egypt, and Bulgaria: “we import from the countries and suppliers that offer quality products with competitive prices. We also source spices from the local market. Our repackaged spices can be purchased across Georgia in chain and non-chain stores, as well as agro-markets”. Mr. Simonishvili also claims the spices they carry are of high quality: “since the inception of GEO, we have been oriented on quality and we have always been a reliable partner to our clients”.
The third company Experto got insights from is Ltd. DABI. They have been operating on the Georgian market since 2010 under the brand name Ojakhuri: “we produce and distribute ecologically clean Georgian products - mainly spices, pickles, ajika, mustard, etc. We process raw materials and offer our customers ecologically clean products without any extra supplements”, elaborated Mr. Leri Kiparoidze, the Deputy Director of DABI.
“We export mainly to five countries: Latvia, United States, Sweden, Germany and Russia. Three years in a row we have been exporting our products to Latvia and in the nearest future, we plan to enter other Baltic countries as well”, revealed Mr. Kiparoidze to Experto. DABI holds the FDA registration certificate and has been exporting to the United States for over two years. As for the Russian market, they have recently started exploring it and so far, DABI has delivered their products to a handful of cities only. The Deputy Director has proudly declared that they hold a leading position on the spice market: “we are practically present in all food shopping facilities throughout Georgia”.
Returning to the topic of dreadful situation caused by distributing/consuming low quality and contaminated spices, it can be combated by sourcing spices from suppliers that have meticulously committed to following the hygiene norms throughout the production processes. If you want to taste nature through technology, the AKAY Group claims to offer exactly that. AKAY is a 20+ year-old, versatile ingredient manufacturer dedicated to produce research-backed and clinically-evaluated innovative natural ingredients that are non-GMO, Halal, Kosher, Vegan and allergen free.
Ms. Anette Winstroem, the Managing Director of Akay Europe located in Hamburg, Germany visited Tbilisi to explore the opportunities the Georgian market offers. “AKAY had no touching point with the Caucasus region in the past and with the help of Experto we got a chance to discover Georgia. For me this was a trip with no pre-perceptions or expectations other than that the country was small and the volume of spices used in Georgia would expectedly be relatively small. I was pleasantly surprised that the chili / red pepper seems to be the most commonly used spice, especially in your Ajika”, said Ms. Winstroem. As for the heavy consumption of black pepper per capita, this should by all means not be surprising in the home country of Khinkali.
She further elaborated: “from what I have seen, there are many different qualities of spices on the market in Georgia. Some qualities are very good, especially when you look at the whole spices. But as soon as grinding takes place, the risk of adulteration increases. This is the case not only in Georgia but all over the spice world. Unfortunately, I certainly saw spices of very inferior quality as well.”
AKAY’s manufacturing facilities are in India. They offer a wide range of value added spice-derived ingredients including oleoresins, essential oil, natural colors, phyto-nutrients, sterilised whole/ground spices, seasonings, etc. “We are one among the very few companies who own certified organic farms for ultra-scan traceability. We own 1,500 acres of a certified organic farm in Cambodia”, explained Ms. Winstroem. AKAY has world-wide presence with sales offices and warehouses in the USA, Germany, China and Japan. They supply to more than 50 countries. AKAY sources the raw materials from India, but also Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bulgaria, China, Nigeria and now Rwanda as well. The Managing Director revealed to Experto that “AKAY joined hands with International Trade Center (ITC), through its Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) project, and Rwanda’s National Agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB) to develop premium quality, high value chili varieties in Rwanda”.
Ms. Anette Winstroem was particularly excited when talking about their Spiceuticals®, a unique brand of nutraceutical ingredients from spices: “it is a flagship of AKAY’s commitment and research to generate clinically validated ingredients/ formulations from bioactives like curcumin, capsaicin, polyphenols, gingerols, etc. Here we unlock the nutritional secrets of spices through years of research and generated novel functional ingredients for high-end applications. We developed a patented GREEN technology - FenuMATTM – for the targeted oral delivery of phytonutrients. Highly cited articles published in peer reviewed high impact journals serves the proof for efficacy, mechanism of action, safety and tolerance of Spiceuticals®”.
To conclude, we could not stress enough that as the use of spices continues to expand and develop it is now even more important to ensure that all stages of the supply chain play their pivot role in ensuring only spices free from potential hazards reach the end users across the world.