Vitalii Voitovych about “Premier FOOD”: its history of success, innovation, and preservation in wartime
The group of companies “Premier FOOD” is a leading player in the field of food service companies, which has been operating on the Ukrainian market for over 15 years. It is “Premier FOOD” with its own brand “Mr. Grill” who started the culture of hot dog consumption in Ukraine and actively contributes to the development of the street food market. The company is Central Europe’s largest food operator and producer of hot dogs and burgers under the brand “Mr.Grill”, and is also one of the most attractive investment enterprises. In general, the group of companies “Premier FOOD” operates in several areas of business, including its own production in the Vinnytsia region, it also provides a full range of logistics services, has 7 distribution centers in Ukraine with its own transport, and its own chain of hot dog bars. The company supplies its products to more than 12 countries. Today we talk with Vitalii Voitovych, the founder and CEO of the group of companies “Premier Food”, about the development and realities of Ukrainian business and its preservation in wartime.
Mr. Vitalii, last year the company Premier FOOD turned 15 years old. Now your hot dogs are at filling stations all over the country. Tell us how you managed to develop such a business in Ukraine.
During this time, our company has undergone an impressive evolution. We started as a small team and rented a little warehouse of 50 m², and now we have our own 7,500 m² warehouse capacities and our own unique logistics, which has grown into the largest logistics operator in Ukraine. Now we make more than 50,000 deliveries per month by our own transport with a temperature regime of -18 to every corner of our country.
Also, the company “Premier FOOD” has a unique mono-production in Ukraine for making sausages for hot dogs and making cutlets for burgers under the brand “Mr.Grill”, which has a productive capacity of about 12 thousand tons per year. And, for true connoisseurs of hot dogs and burgers, we have opened our own chain of hot dog bars “Mr.Grill Hotdogs & Burgers”.
Fifteen years ago, it was us who offered a ready-made solution for filling stations at a time when our partners were just starting to develop foodzones. This is how the idea to create a truly high-quality product was born, and already in 2008, the first own product appeared — it was a hot dog. It was then sold at only five filling stations in Kyiv (Editor’s Note: Vitalii recalls it with a smile). And now we make more than 10 million hot dogs and burgers every month and sell them at more than 2,000 filling stations and 7,000 street food points!
Although it has not been easy, we have always done our best to ensure the quality of our products and complete service to our customers in all aspects of their business. This approach has allowed us to scale efficiently and achieve rapid growth. The formula for success is uncompromising quality, impeccable service and love for the product that you make.
Is fast food safe in Ukraine today?
We meet high requirements, our own production is ISO 22000:2018 and ISO 9001:2015 and НАССР certified. And we are simply obliged to adhere to the highest quality in products! The market does not forgive mistakes with product quality. As I have already said, for us uncompromising quality is one of the components of the success formula. We approach the selection of raw materials carefully and conduct many tastings every day in order to meet really high quality requirements, not in word, but in deed!
exclusively about our products of the brand “Mr.Grill” — ready-made hot dogs and burgers, then it is worth understanding that today this is the safest product from the point of view of fast food, which corresponds to the modern trends of “Grab-and-Go Snacks”. Because the very product that we offer on the market is made directly at the factory. Firstly, the sausage is made from real meat. Secondly, it has already undergone heat treatment. Thirdly, we store our products in shock freezing at -18°C, which eliminates all risks associated with improper preparation or storage. We deliver the order to the point of sale in the same frozen form, using our own specialized transport, and here it is worth noting that we can provide such delivery of the product six times a week! That is, the client does not even need to buy additional refrigeration equipment for storage, we will deliver even “tomorrow”!
And such quick snacks as freshly cooked shawarma can lead to negative consequences — food poisoning. Here we can see the cooking raw meat on the spot, which, for example, may not be fried enough, and violations of basic sanitary conditions, improper storage etc. As practice shows, more than half of such outlets are not adapted to such processes. Taking into account the large flow of people at fast food points, violation of sanitary standards is the biggest threat to people’s lives. That’s why we consciously took into account all such risks at the beginning of the business to make life easier for our partners and really help each other in business.
Tell us how your business has adapted. Have jobs and production been preserved in full?
At the beginning of the war, the company “Premier FOOD” was preparing to expand production capacity, but the war put this project on hold. We adapted to new realities. We started a new volunteer movement and resistance on the economic front. We did not stop our main work, but on the contrary, we were able to actively adapt to the new conditions. In addition to the main areas of work, we created mobile points for distributing food in areas affected by the war.
Also, during this period, we managed to increase production volumes, expand staff and continue to support small businesses. Even in extremely dangerous places near the front line, the company delivers finished products. And already 3 months after the full-scale invasion, we made a decision to invest in the development of the raw material base and the increase of storage capacity, despite all the risks that existed at that time.
Today, our company has increased the number of employed people at the enterprise and continues to support our partners in different regions of the country, giving them the opportunity to develop small businesses in the street food market segment, due to our range of services (product/equipment/marketing support/logistics).
In this way, we not only stimulate the economy of the country as a whole, but also provide our compatriots who were forced to leave their homes with the opportunity to find a job and a new place to live. As proof of this, about 40% of newly opened partner companies have joined our client base street food points.
What anti-crisis measures helped you stay afloat in wartime?
There were a lot of operational difficulties in the work of all areas of the enterprise, but I don’t want to talk about that now.
The main key to success in such a difficult time is our people and partners. They supported the company and treated it as it treated them for 15 years, for which I am sincerely grateful to them.
How important is partnership in business now?
The key to any business is a reliable partnership. It became so obvious during the war that a new stage of our relationship began. This is primarily responsibility not only for yourself, but also for your partner, readiness to quickly respond to each other’s needs.
How to maintain a balance between price and quality in such times and at the same time remain a profitable enterprise?
It’s very simple. You should look for additional reserves, optimization of production costs. The main task is to preserve the quality of products not at the expense of raising the price and shifting it onto the shoulders of the final consumer, but, returning to the word “reserves”, by looking for them among one’s own resources.
We are a certified production, and this status disciplines. Many business processes were automated, which allowed us to find additional reserves. This allows us to remain profitable while maintaining the highest quality and market prices for our customers.
Could your business provide certain civilian or military needs during wartime? Do you work in that direction?
Of course, starting from the raw meat to the finished product, which was created both for the civilian population and for the volunteer movement. These are special ready meals with a long shelf life for today’s needs.
Your company, as well as you, has received awards more than once. Which of them do you consider to be the most significant?
When you do a good deed at the call of your heart, when you understand and realize the realities — you simply do everything as you see fit, and people appreciate it. During this time, we received many thanks and awards. But, unfortunately, I didn’t count them (Smiles). I hope, when the war is over, we will look at them and remember “how it was in those days”.
Mr. Vitalii is a modest person and a responsible citizen, but we cannot help but say that during the war he and his company received an honorary award from the state: the medal of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine “For assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine” by order of the Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov.
Are you planning to enter international markets, maybe there are already some developments?
Today, the company already supplies high-quality products to more than 12 countries: Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Korea, China, Jordan, Kosovo, Britain, Bulgaria. Also, we are focused on expanding the range of products and services in order to increase large export rates to other countries. Now we are actively working on obtaining certification from the European Union, and this is our main priority. We have also created a vegan line, which has great growth prospects in the future, in connection with global trends. In addition, we are actively considering the possibility of expanding our business to filling stations and street food projects in the EEC countries and Britain, which will allow us to compete effectively on the international market and increase our presence.
How do you think Ukrainian products and companies can be competitive on the European market?
Thus, Ukrainian products are quite competitive in terms of taste characteristics, and in certain segments they are significantly superior to European products. In particular, not everything is so simple in the meat segment. Only a high-quality and tasty product is not enough. Thorough work must be carried out by the state for their prospects in Europe, because neither pork nor beef is allowed for export yet.
Do you see prospects for the development of the street food market?
From the point of view of the development of the fast food market, Ukraine has quite a good perspective. Out-of-home snacks are a trend all over the world. The active lifestyle of today leaves less and less time for measured food, and more and more of it is replaced by on-the-go food, so our mission is to make this food healthy and tasty. In addition, we offer ready-made solutions for business in Ukraine to future partners.
And finally, I cannot but ask you about charitable activities. You have been helping the Armed Forces, children and families a lot since the beginning of the war. What social programs do you currently support?
This is a separate topic for post-war memories. We are working hard to speed up the victory in this regard. Many of our guys are fighting, so we try to equip them as necessary, starting with medicines, scarce tourniquets and other necessary things.
The main thing we always helped with was, of course, food. Already on the third day of the war, we created our own food aid headquarters with the coordination of the Kyiv City State Administration and deployed a network of mobile points in the subway, schools and kindergartens for preparing and distributing food. Only in the first weeks of operation of such points, 100,000 hot dogs and more than 20 tons of sausage products were distributed to the civilian population and defenders of Ukraine. In total, last year we distributed more than 50 tons of finished products to the military, displaced persons, boarding schools and others who needed it the most. But our company is not limited to the food industry. We actively cooperate with charitable foundations and military units. Over the last year, the volume of our military aid exceeded UAH 5 million (Editor’s Note: around USD 135 000). We provided assistance in the purchase of cars, equipment for air defense forces, diesel generators, DJI Mavic 3 drones that were in short supply at the time, thermal imagers, specialized computer equipment, routers, communication equipment, and even helped with the sewing of military clothing. We have already closed over 300 requests from those who asked us for help, and we do not plan to stop there.