Maja launched the brandy “Maja” on the Dutch market and made a real boom!

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Maja Kooistra, a Macedonian who moved to Netherlands when Covid crisis started, have launched Tikves yellow brandy on the Dutch market under the “Maja” brand. Her choice was based on a traditional Macedonian product which for foreigners is a real surprise that they accept with admiration. She took our brandy to the tables in the Netherlands. She used her latent entrepreneurial spirit to bring the best of Macedonia to this market.

Interviewer – Verica Jordanova

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Maja, tell us how it happened that the Tikves brandy “Maja” was “born” in the Netherlands?

I have always loved my name. But of course, that is not the only reason to brand Maja yellow brandy. When we did market testing, we found that Rakija or Lozova Rakija is not an option because people identify it with Greek rakii whose production process is completely different. Grappa was also not an option for the same reasons. On one occasion when we were testing the product in a local bar in a nice atmosphere, a man asked me: ‘What is your name? Why don’t you use your name?!’
It is a coincidence because somehow my name originates from the Netherlands. While my father was on a student exchange in Amsterdam long years ago, he watched the famous Russian ballerina Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya and was impressed with her performance. He decided if he has a daughter- to be named Maja. Interesting right?

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Where is brandy produced and packaged? How much do you import, do you plan to increase it?

It is about yellow brandy, which is produced in “Tikves”. Tikves is the oldest and biggest winery in Western Balkan located in Kavadarci, Central Macedonia. We registered the business on September 8, 2020 (the Independence Day of Macedonia- another coincidence?), and so far, we have made one import. We plan continuous import because we want to be present in all major cities in the Benelux region. We work B2B and already have meetings with large supermarket chains that have liquor stores throughout the region.

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How did you come up with the idea to offer just such a product on the Dutch market?

Netherlands is a beautiful country. People are cultured, beautiful and straightforward, something I really like because you know what you are up to and there are no hidden games. In the Netherlands you can find literally everything you want. But finding zolta (grape Macedonian brandy) is difficult or impossible. Myself and all our friends (including my husband hahah) who had the opportunity to taste the brandy (zolta rakija) during their visits to Macedonia were missing this drink during our gatherings. This was an impulse for me to contact Tikves and discuss the business opportunity. From the management of Tikves, with which I worked for a long time, I received information that so far no one has imported brandy for business, which additionally gave us an incentive. We wanted to choose the best from Macedonia and to bring the Macedonian myth to this region.

In Macedonia, brandy is always associated with socializing and always has its own story. How do the Dutch experience the story of brandy? Is it a new and unique experience for a new person?

There is no person who has tried it and does not like it. So, an absolute hit. The market responds well. When we reach potential buyers each of them buys Maja. We explain the production process nicely and explain that the intense yellow colour, the delicate oak aroma and the harmonious taste are the result of the ancient way of producing grape brandy that has existed for centuries and matured in oak barrels where the wine distillate matures for at least one year.
We also advise that “Maja” is best with appetizers and good company. Our promotion is based on the fact that “Maja” connects the people. We ourselves initiate friendships where we promote “Maja”, but of course we are limited due to the pandemic. But there is time for everything. I hope the pandemic will ends soon.

The development of brands in our country is slow, but still, the ones we have are tied to top quality, often with traditional preparation and clean and natural raw materials. What is the way for our food and drinks to reach the European markets and beyond and get the place they deserve?

I agree. But Macedonian and Western Balkan producers in overall, deserve to be present on the European market. It is a pity that good economic policy has been lacking for many years and the private sector has been neglected. In Macedonia we have excellent products that can freely compete with the European ones. I would like to reveal to you that my vision is to bring the best from Macedonia and the region (Western Balkan). It is very easy to sell a top-quality product in a market where there is no such product. I receive daily requests from the region to operate as a trading agent, but I think carefully about my next steps.
The next products will surely be Macedonian wines. But as I said I am thinking carefully for my next steps and overall what I would like to do next. Presence in the field (target markets) is important as well as having good partners. Nothing happens without a hard work. Common for people living in Balkan is to talk, and sometime to waste valuable time on long conversations but the trick is to actually work hard every day and use all the opportunities. The good think is that the Netherlands and the Benelux region in general are not well explored by businesses from Macedonia and the Western Balkans. That is an opportunity.

You have worked for a long time at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a small business support and development program. Today you are an entrepreneur. How do you feel in this role?

I worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development London for 18 years. In the last decade I was the National Programme Manager (Principal Manager) for the EBRD SME Advisory in the country. I managed a local team and recruited and worked with international advisors with which we taught businesses to grow and succeed. I had a very successful career, and I loved my job. But I always believed that I can be also a good entrepreneur. I was a single mother at the time and did not dare to take risks and cause turmoil for myself and my son. In business there is no time for unproductive conversations, decisions are made quickly and two plus two is four. I want simple and powerful conversations. Nevertheless, I remain close with banking sector and in particular  close to the international development banking in this or in another role.

What are your general plans for the future, do you plan to promote another product in these markets?

I am aware that conquering the EU market with new products is usually difficult process, but the plan is ‘Maja’ to be present in the largest liquor stores in the region. With entry comes trust and long-term cooperation.

I am a great patriot. My father Dimitrija Brezovski was a great patriot. In our family library we have over two hundred books only for the history of our country. My plan is to apply the brand “Maja” to as many products as possible. I would also love to organize trade missions and to contribute to a better cooperation between this part of the world and the Western Balkans. I am personally developing several other projects that are already at an advanced stage. It is about providing advisory and consultancy assistance to companies in the Western Balkans. I have already signed several project agreements with companies from the region. These projects are for innovative solutions for cost savings, renewable energy sources, new product development and development of international brands. I will inform you about this activity later. Additionally, I am exploring possibilities on importing furniture. To summarize, everything of excellent quality is my field of interest for import and sale.

You import yellow brandy and sell it under the “Maja” brand, and your company is called MaNa Trade. Did you name it after yourself?

Mana Trade is an abbreviation of my name and the name of my partner Natalie Ottenheim. Mana has a spiritual meaning and means energy and power. It reflects us because we are both energetic, hardworking, and striving for progress and we are both proven and successful in our professional career, so far.

Success is guaranteed because we are a good team, and we have the support of our families. I get invaluable support and love from my husband Hans Peter Kooistra and my wonderful son Naum Anteski who are also my motivation. The old people say ‘Harmony builds a house’. We are a team and we will stay that way. Only in time the team will expand with people like us… hahah.

I wish you to stay healthy and happy!

I hope my story will motivate more people and especially women to think out of box and listen to their hearts.  Na zdravje!

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