Moldova’s Fruit Basket Ready for the Global Market

February 22, 2023

By Kateryna Chechel and Tirna Ray

A few years ago, Ion Tulei was leading a fruit company that started as a family business, growing apples on just 10 hectares of land and exporting a small share to Romania. Today, as the Commercial Director of Farmprod, Tulei is in charge of a company that grows plums, cherries, and apples on more than 130 hectares of land, with buyers from across Western Europe and the Middle East.

Ion Tulei, the CEO of Moldova’s Farmprod. Photo courtesy of Farmprod.

Tulei believes that IFC’s advisory program has been a key factor in his company’s transformation. He remembers, it was 2018 and the government was already trying to increase Moldova’s export of high-value horticulture products given a growing demand for healthy, fresh, and locally grown food products in Europe.

Tulei wondered how he could make the most of this opportunity to grow his business and increase its revenue. First, he tried to understand why the volume of fruits exported to the European countries remained low despite Moldova’s Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), which allowed the export of plant products. Soon, he realized the major reasons. First, the export products were required to adhere to EU quality and safety standards. Second, Moldovan companies were expected to have insights of the EU local markets, know their players, and contact actual buyers.

Complying with EU quality and safety standards, according to the World Bank Group, could help Moldova more than double its horticulture exports to the EU as well as to the post-Soviet and Middle Eastern countries—increasing revenue from $200 million to almost $500 million annually. In addition, it was vital for companies in Moldova to understand the way the EU market works along with knowing how to build long-term partnerships with international buyers.

To help people like Tulei and enable more agri-food companies to boost their exports to the EU markets, IFC launched an Export Coaching Program as part of its Investment Climate Reform Project.  It was implemented in partnership with the Dutch Center for Promoting Imports from Developing Countries (CBI), a governmental organization in the Netherlands specialized in assisting with export promotion.

Aware that Farmprod would have to up its game, Tulei applied to IFC’s program without any delay. Over the next three years, he learned the ropes of the EU export market.

The results are already showing. Equipped with smart marketing strategies, new partnerships, international benchmarks, and refined branding and packaging, Farmprod harvested 3,000 tons of apples, cherries, plums, and other fruits in 2022. The company also built a 4,500-ton cold storage unit while introducing sorting and packing lines for an assortment of fruits.

“IFC’s program helped us increase our market reach. Thanks to our international certification, we are now able to inspire trust and confidence among European consumers,” says Tulei.

Standards Matter

Tulei remembers that the program was rigorous and started with a focus on strategic export planning and business compliance with the EU food safety and trade requirements. Participants also had to work on acquiring internationally recognized certifications, for example, Global GAP/GRASP (GLOBAL G.A.P. Risk Assessment on Social Practice), HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), or IFS (International Featured Standards), among others.

IFC’s program equipped Farmprod, along with 17 other participants, with the right tools and knowledge. The aim was to boost their visibility in international (primarily EU) markets, help them establish new buyer connections, and ultimately increase exports to new markets. Initially, the companies were trained to develop their individual export marketing plans. There were also other export-related trainings that were custom-tailored for key company personnel and important for well-targeted market entry efforts.

The participants of IFC’s Export Coaching Program at the field visit. Photo by Felicia Pricop.

After completing the courses, the companies got an opportunity to connect with buyers during their visits to the Fruit Logistica, Anuga, SIAL, and several other prominent European trade fairs. This allowed participants to establish new partnerships and send trial shipments to EU markets.

“The program taught us to engage with EU buyers in a professional manner and helped us apply our product presentation skills to attract new buyers. We also learned how to conduct market research and how to use those findings,” says Tulei.  

Fortunately, the program managed to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. It quickly adapted to the new normal through innovative approaches such as virtual buyer missions, digital marketing events, and remote tasting competitions.

The participants of the IFC’s Export Coaching Program during their virtual training session. Photo by Felicia Pricop.

From helping update the national food safety legislation to improving compliance with the EU export requirements, IFC—in collaboration with the Moldovan Ministry of Agriculture and the National Food Safety Agency—continues to support Moldova’s agriculture sector. This project is part of IFC’s regional program that previously helped Ukraine and Georgia, among others, increase their agricultural capacity.

Tulei is optimistic that Moldova’s fruit basket is ready for the global market. “Four years ago, nobody in Europe knew much about Moldovan fruits, for example, plums. Today, they want a taste of it.”

Published in February 2023