Croatian Brand Rajska Rajčica Expanding But Struggling with Labour Shortage

Lauren Simmonds

As Lucija Spiljak/Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 23rd of June, 2019, In Kerestinec, near Sveta Nedjelja, in the modern greenhouses belonging to the Croatian company Rajska rajčica, the best type of tomato variety is produced and sold under the company’s director Zvonimir Belić and 74 hardworking employees.

The Rajska brand operates within the Zarja Group, it is the largest tomato producer in the Republic of Croatia, and not long ago it changed its name after more than ten years in a new business move and in the scope of rebranding. Annually, Rajska produces three million packs of tomatoes which are currently sold in Croatia, it also exports 25 percent of its tomatoes to neighbouring Slovenia, and preparations for exports to Serbia and plans for Bosnia and Herzegovina are now also in progress.

In 2018, revenues amounted to about 17 million kuna and net profit amounted to 1.3 million kuna, while they expect growth of sixty percent for 2019. When it comes to these outstanding results, it isn’t just the product and the quality of work involved which are responsible, this Croatian company’s rebranding, in which around 700,000 kuna was invested, is also the key to their success. This includes costs such as creating new packaging and accompanying promotional activities. Rajska’s rebranding was stimulated by the expansion of their capacity, which included an increase in their greenhouse area of ​​2.5 hectares.

“As we’re the largest producer of special types of tomatoes in Croatia, and we cultivate a specific production method where we don’t use pesticides and herbicides, we wanted to create a brand that will clearly showcase our specialties.

In this endeavor, we turned to the Fabular branding agency which thought up the name Rajska (eng: heavenly) and helped us to send out the message that we’re cultivating tomatoes full of flavour with a natural process without sprays with our very packaging, and we’re sure that this whole story will attract new customers and delight our already existing ones. The indicators we’ve had so far are promising and rebranding has been a great move for us,” Zvonimir Belić stated.

Croatian Rajska tomatoes are otherwise the only licensed producer of special sorts of tomato varieties in Croatia’s immediate region. Rajska’s most charming specialty is that they are assisted by 10,000 bumble bees when the tomatoes are growing, and the tomato variety they grow is among the best in the world.

“We decided to produce these tomatoes because they’re the best and the most tasty. The delight of visitors when they enter our greenhouse gives us the most satisfaction. They tell us that you literally get the impression that you’ve stepped in to heaven for all of the senses. The scent of our tomatoes takes them back to their childhood and we’re proud of the fact that our products are a symbol of a healthy, home-grown diet that we all should try to get back to,” he added.

However, the challenge facing this business is the same one facing most of types of industry in Croatia – the lack of a qualified workforce.

“At present, we have 74 workers, and we need to increase that number by another twenty percent, but finding people is a big challenge for us. Until 2016, there was no problem, but in recent months, it’s extremely difficult to find new workers because there are no locals. As we’ve increased our capacity by one hundred percent, we have less skilled workers so we’ll have no choice but to turn to the foreign labour market. We’re aware that our competitiveness on the market depends primarily on the quality of the people we employ and that’s why we always try to provide the best possible conditions for our employees,” Belić stated.

The process of training and educating new workers lasts about three months, so that at the very beginning, according to the director of this Croatian company, there’s a real need to properly invest in employees.

“We want to give every employee a chance for development and progress, and this approach has been rewarding to us and we’ve got people who have been with us for years, we’re particularly proud of them and we’re delighted that they’re a part of our story and success. There are open quotas for foreign workers in the agricultural sector, but importing workers involes considerable costs for accommodation, education, and more, as well as the time needed to adapt.

Of course, the simplest solution is to employ local people, we’ve always made them our priority, but as there aren’t any, we were forced to look at other options. We’re currently working on the import of our first [foreign] workers, and there are no problems with getting them their permits because we’re using the services of a foreign employment agency,” Belić explained.

”We’ve also come across the long-known problem of importing low quality tomatoes and lowering prices that endanger Croatian producers with bad product declarations. Some products clearly state the country where the products are packaged, but not where the food was produced or grown, so customers can’t identify what is and isn’t a Croatian product, and some don’t even have a quality mark,” Belić said.

In the near future, as they have stated from this Croatian company, they are planning to expand to other markets and recruit an additional workforce, and their most important and long-term goal is to provide their faithful and new customers with continuous quality and freshness of their products, with an awareness placed on the benefits of healthy eating and the importance of ecological sustainability.

“These are the principles and standards that we won’t give up on. Rajska tomatoes aren’t just tomatoes, they’re also part of a global effort to return to nature and to local, healthy nutrition,” concluded Zvonimir Belić.

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