Interview with Iskra Vetadzhokoska - Mucunska
Family, motivation and inspiration
Her restless spirit, desire for success, career advancement, the overcoming of even greater challenges, analytic and precision engineering have proved useful in the management of Vitali and her passion for business ,undoubtedly inherited from her father, was used in the successful creative solutions and development strategies that many thought impossible.
Iskra Vetadzhokoska - Mucunska, manager and co-owner of Vitalia, wife and mother of three children, MA in Mechanical Engineering whose first professional experience was in the field of education as an Assistant at the Mechanical Faculty in Skopje, has for two decades successfully developed the company’s story that produces healthy food. Strengthening the brand and opening new markets for placement is only another stimulus that factored over the years and proposed a challenge by itself.
What was the toughest period in these past decades, and of what are you particularly proud?
The story of the growth and development of Vitalia appears as if it was taken from an entrepreneur’s textbook. Almost two decades Vitalia has been constantly revealing a new world to the Macedonian consumers - a world of healthy food. In our small shop in Skopje, for the first time, buyers could buy macro-biotic and vegetarian products, whole grains, soy products, refined sugars and other food items that were yet to be introduced. Looking back, nostalgically I remember the beginnings of Vitalia. When we founded the company, clearly we knew what challenge that idea proposed - the market had no perception of the importance of healthy nutrition and the response from the consumers was still unpredictable. With very hard work, however, we strongly held on to the idea of creating healthy future generations and strive to have a positive impact in the continuous development of the awareness for this important segment of society. We started our own production by creating competitive products available to the general population. Thanks to our successful development strategy that included innovation, quality and professional service, we have created a strong and established brand that has claimed the leadership position not only in Macedonia but in the whole region. Today Vitalia export to over 30 countries worldwide. I am proud of the fact that Vitalia products are on the shelf at world famous retail chains like Carrefour, Metro, Billa, Spar, Mercator, Konzum ... We regularly participate as an authentic Macedonian brand in the largest established fairs around the world such as Anuga – Cologne, PLMA Amsterdam, Fancy food USA, SEAL Paris. However, we have successfully achieved our primary goal-the development and marketing of healthy food as a prerequisite for a healthy society and achieving complete customer satisfaction which we see as an important asset in the field of nutrition.
Vitalia is a family business. Would you say that it is an advantage or a flaw?
Vitalia is a family story in which my father and brother are included – my father being the founder of the company whose valuable experience coupled with new strategies and ideas for developing a capable young management team are an additional and vivid guarantee of success.
The positive side of Vitalia being a family business is the development of the company. The connection between us is very strong and emotional; our readiness for unconditional sacrifice is in the limelight as is our motivation for success.
The founders’ motivation, our motivation, is successfully transmitted to our employees who equally cherish and live the story of Vitalia.
The business world here is predominantly male. Is there a collision of prejudice regarding you as a manager and is there a recipe for a woman to succeed in a private business?
In European terms and in our country, female managers are still fewer than men, but that trend is changing. Here in Vitalia, I can say that 70% of the employees are women and that this structure may have contributed to the success of the company. If you possess the essential characteristics of the successful manager with perseverance, dedication, constructiveness, leadership, partnership and if it is added to the women's intuition and optimism, then there remains no room for the prejudicial male/female dichotomy.
What makes a good manager?
Live the brand values you represent. That is my principle. In my life and work I integrate values which make Vitalia successful and accepted - leadership, integrity, passion and quality. It is a big responsibility. We lead the way when it comes to the courage to create a better and healthier future for generations to come, we are authentic, we are committed in heart and mind, and of course, what we do, we do for the sake of our consumers.
You are constantly changing products. How do you decide which ones stay and which ones don’t?
From the initial idea to the final product Vitalia pays attention to every detail, the quality of ingredients, the originality of the recipe, the benefits, the taste, the design of packaging and its availability. To create a new product is a really complex process that begins by exploring the market needs of consumers, to its practical production and promotion to the end buyer. New product development shouldn’t be improvised, but must be accurately directed towards its intended targets and its comparative advantage must be known. We constantly monitor trends in healthy foods, the latest developments in the food industry and most importantly – we closely monitor the needs of customers. Today consumers are well informed and have clearly taken a stand what product they want for themselves. I recognize the quality of our products because Vitalia monitors their needs, and that means healthy, quality, tasty and practical product.
How do you distinguish your healthy products from the rest?
Vitalia is the only company in Macedonia which is fully committed and specialized in producing high quality healthy food. As leaders in our section we are usually those who are followed by others in the domestic market. But we understand competition as useful and encouraging, helping us get even better at what we do. Vitalia will remain faithful to its commitment to be always a step ahead of the rest by offering variety of original and high quality healthy products according to international standards.
The ingredients are carefully chosen for their quality, origin and method of processing so that they create an optimal blend of essential nutrients that only thus combined give the consumer a maximum effect. Our team of technologists, nutritionists, doctors and pharmacists is dedicated to the research and development of innovative products and our mark of quality is Vitalia - made in Macedonia. Each product is our creation made out of our ideas. These are our hallmarks in the food industry. Our products are the result of expert recipes created from top-grade components, which are distinguished by their rich nutritional profile. And not only that. Special attention is given to the design of the packaging as an important element for good communication with consumers. The recognizable packaging conveys our products’ energy, quality and uniqueness to end customers.
Our market has long shown "resistance" to this kind of food. What is your part in changing the "traditional" eating habits?
Vitalia as a socially responsible company for 20 years, is fully committed to introducing consumers to the benefits of healthy foods and present it as an investment in their health. With much effort we managed to positively influence the changing habits of consumers and introducing healthy food into the homes of every family. But of particular importance is the fact that parents today face the problem of obesity as a real danger, they pay special attention not only to their own but also to their children’s nutrition, and Vitalia helps them accomplish this`. Under the motto 5-tion of healthy food, Vitalia for 4 years in a row organizes lectures with primary schools that help in educating young people and changing the habits of children to practice healthy eating. The expert team of Vitalia composed of physicians, pharmacists and nutritionists with interactive lectures according to European recommendations for good nutrition, the fun way to introduce children to the world of healthy food habits. With great commitment and investment we do it because children are our future.
What does your daily meal consist of?
My menu is a harmony of healthy products that beneficially affect my body and give me the energy to complete my daily activities. I begin my morning with a light breakfast of Vitalia muesli enriched with dry fruits. Cereals are an excellent source of dietary fiber and improve peristalsis. Most often I consume milk from plant origin (soy or rice milk), which is an excellent source of protein and slow combustion sugars. I love the vivacity of the work, and to achieve it rather than ply caffeine, I drink green tea or cranberry tea. I respect the rule for consumption of at least two liters of fluid per day, with Maple drink is my formula for body detoxification. For snack I always choose something easy and healthy, something that gives me instant energy. For lunch I avoid fried foods and always chose mashed and not fat food. Best replacement for meat is soybeans that are rich in plant proteins. Therefore, it is regularly present in the menu of my family at least three times a week. Sweet things are kept to a minimum, and if I need something sweet I go for raw brown sugar Muskovado which is abundant with minerals and vitamins. I usually avoid dinner, but when I feel hungry I consume freshly drained juice and oats with yogurt.
What do your kids eat? Are you facing burgers, pizzas, chips ... How do you deal with their wishes?
According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, the biggest problem is obesity among young people due to improper diet. Our children are our future: let's enable them to face their future healthy. And this is exactly our responsibility as parents. Creating healthy eating habits of our children is a process. The sooner we start this process the better. But let's not forget that the best effects are achieved if education takes place at school and at home in the family. In the menu of my children, I regularly bring healthy products. Like all children, mine are also exposed to the temptations of fast lifestyles and junk food. Therefore always I am always striving to satisfy the desires with a healthy alternative. Instead of chocolate my children regularly have PingVi bars as a healthy snack in their school bags. Their menu is always full of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and they regularly start their day muesli, a healthy meal that will give satiety and energy to successfully deal with school obligations.
Many people tend to say that the so-called healthy diet is boring...?
To eat is a necessity, but to eat smart is art. We have refined the art. We have adapted to the demands and needs of consumers and created products for everyone’s taste and this resulted with great response. We showed that healthy food does not have to be boring. Vitalia is a manufacturer of over 200 healthy products divided into 11 categories and Dietetics, cereals and muesli, cereal plates / bars, soy products, vegetarian milk, refined oil, natural variation of vinegar, natural sweeteners, spices, teas, dried fruits Really ... a rich palette for every taste and for every type of meal starting from breakfast, snacks, lunch or dinner. In reality, with Vitalia you have an opportunity to simply introduce health in every meal.
How do you deal with stress?
In order to achieve harmony in the body, in addition to proper nutrition it is necessary to maintain physical fitness. Therefore, I regularly exercise aerobics and Pilates and team up with my colleagues. It helps us to overcome the tension after intensive work. Socializing with peers in an informal setting helps me relax after working day. However, the most precious moments I spend with my family who fill me up with positive energy. I enjoy joint cycling and long walks in nature. I use every moment to talk, to strengthen our emotional connection. My kids are my motivation to succeed, and my husband is my biggest inspiration and support in the implementation of ambitious plans in my personal life and career.
How much time and money do you spend on outward appearance?
My motto is beauty comes from within. Healthy food is my daily life and fills me with delight both privately and professionally. The diet based on cereals, vegetable protein, unsaturated fats, fruits and vegetables keep my vitality and skin freshness. I take special care for my face and use only natural cosmetics. The mask of green clay with a few drops of olive oil is my natural eye cream. As an advocate for healthy food and a healthy lifestyle, I take maximum advantage of natural ingredients. Oats are beneficial for body and hair. For years now, I have been preparing masks with oatmeal, milk and coconut oil for maintenance of skin glow and vitality.
Do you have any advice for young women who want to be successful?
As they say-every mountain has its own weight. Perhaps one thing is physically difficult and another mentally exhausting but the responsibility and the expectations are equally high. Regardless of whether you are a manager, mother or wife, the most important is the personal attitude towards work, the passion introduced to that work as well as the style and manner of facing challenges. Vision, faith in one’s own ideas is universal element for successful work. Don’t forget that management is in the woman’s nature. She bears it inside. My own mother, a university professor, even in my early childhood confirmed the fact that she is the best manager in the family with all its complexity. Regular practice of multitasking helps women easily extend their horizon and successfully affirm themselves outside the family home. Women’s ability to manage the home, children and work together with all the challenges they bring, make them even more focused, more concise and success oriented. And in this dynamic course support and understanding from the loved ones are very important. Teamwork, again, is the key to success.