An interview with Agata Kietla, Sales Director – Eastern Market
- You have been handling the eastern market for many years. How has the field of cooperation with eastern countries changed over the years?
- I have been dealing with sales in eastern markets at Libra Food Ingredients since 2012. Good relations with my Polish customers resulted in recommending me as a salesman and Libra as a proven producer abroad. The first contract was with a large meat plant in the Kaliningrad region. The beginnings were not easy. Difficulties included matching flavours and functionality to distinctive products, "doktorskaja" and "slivochnaya" sausages, and then sending the order abroad with properly prepared export documents. It was a period when I had to get familiar with complicated customs procedures in a short period of time.
Over time, service to other eastern markets came: Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Lithuania, Armenia, Russia. Developing cooperation involved listening carefully to customers' needs, testing flavours, looking for technological solutions. Meat products are a market segment very closely related to the culinary traditions of each country, so adapting to these markets involved a huge challenge for our Application Center. Different flavors, different textures, different technologies - we had to learn everything from scratch.
At the moment, in the eastern markets we work exclusively with the distributors. Even if an individual customer from that region contacts us directly - he is redirected to the appropriate distributor in his country.
- The war in Ukraine has significantly reduced business contacts, but has the food industry proved resilient to the crisis?
- We can clearly see the impact of the continuing war across our eastern border on cooperation with existing customers. The situation in which the world finds itself has significantly limited our trade contacts. It has also reduced visits, meetings at trade fairs, conferences, and customer training. This is true especially for our contractors from Ukraine. The conflict going on right next to us is not indifferent to our business. Galloping prices last year, problems with shipping and the availability of many raw materials, on top of the post-pandemic situation did not help the development of sales, but despite this, we managed to maintain cooperation and even in a few markets raise sales results.
- There are legends in Poland about the very different approach to business and sales contacts in the East. Is it difficult for a woman to find her way in this market, in the male butcher business?
- This question always makes me smile. I have been working in the meat industry for 21 years, where men dominate. This dominance can be seen both in the meat industry in Poland and, of course, in eastern markets. It doesn't bother me, in fact, because of a common character characteristic - concretism and pragmatism, it makes cooperation easier. And when it comes to gender, in turn, thanks to vigilance and repeated analysis of the issue, I can deal with possible problems. When dealing with customers from eastern markets, I always, and I emphasize: always, feel like a conversation partner. I think this is due to cultural similarities, in which mutual respect and understanding prevail. Besides, I am always prepared in terms of content for meetings, training sessions or conferences. Gender does not matter in business.
- Are the same trends evident in the east that are present in the west?
- The eastern market for meat products differs significantly from the west. It is characterized by different flavors, different technological requirements, and a clearer division between economy and premium products. In eastern markets, generalizing, there is a clear trend of high-performance products, which contrasts with meat trends in western Europe.
The culture of eating marinated meat in Belarus, for example, is different. There, marinated meat can be bought at the store all year round, not just during the barbecue season. Meat is often marinated in mayonnaise with spices. The situation is completely different in Uzbekistan, where the cuisine is mainly based on beef and mutton, fatty cuts, and vegetarian products still belong to the minority of vegetarian foods.
- Can you tell us something about yourself: career, education, personal development path?
- I have been associated with Libra Food Ingredients for many years. I started my career as a sales technologist. Then I was a regional sales manager for several years, handling customer service in Poland and a few years ago I took the position of regional sales director. My responsibilities include service and development of B2B business in export markets in the East, but also in some parts of Poland.
Apart of work - personal development is very important for me. Therefore, in the meantime, I am consistently pursuing my plans. In 2007, I completed the Human Resource Management Study, followed by a series of training courses at ICAN Institute. Last year, I completed an EMBA postgraduate program at the French Institute of Management, which has always been a dream of mine. I think this is not the end of my adventure in management and finance, which particularly drew me in during my classes. All signs point to the fact that this year I will be able to share my experience in sales with young students of one of Warsaw's universities.
- Thank you for the interview.