Can you imagine an organic food product that could boost the health of your heart and overall immune system, is an excellent source of dietary fibre, vitamin C and vitamin K and contains a large number of antioxidants? It sounds too good to be true, but this is not the Elixir of Life. You can easily find this “superfood” product in your local market or nearest superstore!
Lowbush blueberries, also known as wild blueberries, were discovered 13,000 years ago and harvested by Native Americans, but the first highbush was developed and cultivated only around 120 years ago. Frederick Coville, an American botanist, was the first to start experimenting with wild berries, searching for the right plants to cultivate. The first commercial crop of highbush blueberries was sold in 1916. Little did Mr Coville know that, less than a century later, blueberry production would reach 45 million kilogrammes per year in the United States of America alone, and the berries would be shipped to South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe and almost every remote corner of the world.
In Ukraine, Amethyst Ole supplies local and international berry lovers with blueberries, the ultimate “superfood” organic product. The European Union (EU), as part of its EU4Business Initiative, and implemented by the EBRD, has helped the company to upgrade its production and boost exports.
Paving a path to export goods from micro farmers
Amethyst Ole is located in the picturesque village of Rudnya Bystra in northern Ukraine. It procures and processes wild berries – blueberries in particular. Local businesses and micro-farmers in the Zhytomyr, Khmelnytsk, Rivne and Volyn regions harvest wild berries and bring them to designated collection points scattered around various villages. By midnight, Ole picks up the berries and takes them to the production site. Every batch is processed within four hours of arrival. This ensures that the berries remain fresh and retain their healthy properties.
“When we started in 2011, we already had extensive experience of retailing berries, but with Ole we wanted to concentrate on quality over quantity and, even more importantly, create jobs for locals and give farmers an opportunity to have their goods sold outside Ukraine. With blueberry exports on the rise, we ship to Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Belgium and many other countries,” says Vasyl Chamor, Ole’s Chief Operating Officer.
Freshly picked berries are unloaded in a cooling corridor at -5℃ and then stored in a freezer room at -22 to -25℃ before reaching the processing line.
First, a spiral conveyor fans the berries and separates off the leaves, gravel and any other waste. The blueberries are then automatically sorted according to size before reaching the electronic cleaning machine. This state-of-the-art machine, is a custom-built photographic berry separator, has 16-colour video cameras that allow a 360-degree view of the processed berries.
“This machine is necessary to ensure that only top-quality berries reach the final physical quality check and inspection line before being packed and shipped,” Vasyl explains.
After a final quality check, the blueberries are electronically weighed and packed. Every package goes through a metal detector and is checked for radiation levels. In addition, every batch of berries undergoes regular spot checks for harmful particles.
“We take consumer safety very seriously. Our goal is to ensure that our processing machinery and methods meet the high standards set by the EU. That is why we have all our equipment and processes certified. This includes all relevant certifications for ISO, organic and natural product processing and hazard analysis standards,” Vasyl adds.
Lastly, the company stores the packed blueberries in freezing chambers at approximately -35℃ until they are shipped to customers.
The processes at Amethyst Ole show that the company is a well-oiled machine, reaping the benefits of evolving technology that streamlines the workflow and makes it more efficient. The EU4Business-EBRD credit line helped the berry processor to upgrade machinery and purchase crate-washing equipment, as the company was able to take out a loan through local partner institution Bank Lviv.
Boosting the private sector
Amethyst Ole is just one of the 470 Ukrainian businesses that have benefited from EBRD-EU4Business credit line funds.
Small and medium-sized businesses are vital for sustainable economic development in any country. For agriculturally focused countries like Ukraine, it remains challenging to access technologies and meet industry standards, especially for businesses that are located outside big cities and regional centres.
Through partner banks, the EU through the EBRD supports firms in Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries with finance and grant incentives to meet international standards and regulations. This unlocks new opportunities and markets for SMEs, boosts export volumes and builds better economies in the long run.