interview with Nawaf Salameh, President Alexandrion Group.
With Romania being severely affected – same as many other countries – by the economic and financial crisis of these years, what are your advantages in maintaining a prosperous business?
I believe that the most dangerous thing which happens in times of crisis is the fact that people lose their trust. Our approach was a direct one, with the owners of companies we collaborate with. And we decided that we need to offer more credit on the market. During crisis, one should be careful: neither do too much profit, nor lose. During this particular crisis, which we hope Romania will overcome next year, consumption was the worst hit sector. To be more precise, highend consumption went towards medium, and medium towards low. However, we were able to sustain it all, because we only offer quality products.
In the context of recent excise duty increases for alcoholic drinks, can you tell us what changes occurred in your business?
Yes, they do affect us. For example, there are countries where excise duties and VAT are much lower. This creates growth opportunities for these countries, because they can export to Romania. Such an example is Bulgaria.
As the biggest producer and exporter of alcoholic drinks in Romania, what novelties do you bring on the Romanian market in 2012?
Except for beer, we cover the entire range of consumption options existing in the market, from wine up. This is what we intend to do in the future as well, so consumers can find in our portfolio precisely what they want.
Your products are very well known; yet, which is the most successful one?
Alexandrion is the creator of the brandy market in Romania, and also the undisputed market leader. It distinguished itself, through the years, due to quality and the promise made to the consumer. It generated trust, and the consumer appreciated the constant quality. If Alexandrion embodies the spirit of Greece as essence of the brand, then our best known brandy – Brancoveanu – is purely Romanian.
As foreign investors, I know that you once again brought traditional Greek recipes on the Romanian market. What other “little bit” of Greece can be found in your successful business?
I am Romanian and I grew up in Romania. This is where I wanted to succeed. I came to Romania when I was 17, to study Medicine. After graduating in 1990, I passed my weaver exam in Greece. Then, I became a businessman in Greece, dealing with food export. In 1993 I was approached by a producer of alcoholic drinks from Crete, in order to import products to Romania. Gradually, I became majority shareholder in Greece, and later on I decided to relocate the factory to Romania and turn a small factory from Crete into a big factory in Romania, which would cover the entire region, and also export to the former USSR and China.
To what extent was the prosperity of your company influenced by the fact that you are Greek investors, knowing that Greece has always had a good name both in Romania and in the world?
As a company born in Crete, Alexandrion preserves the Greek spirit. Of course, through the years, we kept elements of the Greek culture. I speak Greek very well; I passed my diploma weaver exams in Greek, so the essence has been preserved.
What results do you expect to have at the end of this year?
With God’s help, we hope we will do well. Storms usually come unannounced, don’t they?
Do you have plans to develop your business in other towns of the country, over the coming years?
Did you think about expanding abroad?We intend to sign contracts with entrepreneurs from all over Romania in the next five years. We want to set up a system through which Alexandrion Group Romania will offer all products – except beer – from wine up. We will continue to bring new products, niche products, on the market. As part of a large-scale campaign we initiated this year, we sign direct dealer contracts with horeca and retail units – this enjoys much success and is still going on. I want to sign 20-30,000 contracts with business people from Romania. Internationally, we want to expand regional exports, increase our presence on the alcoholic drinks market of China, enter Brazil, Argentina, and resume the export to ex-Soviet countries – Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus.