Maja Koistra, a Macedonian who has lived and worked in the Netherlands for four years, recently launched Tikves yellow brandy on the Dutch market under the “Maja” brand. Thinking about her entrepreneurial campaign, Maja’s 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. Maja has been living and working in the Netherlands for four years, and she used her entrepreneurial spirit to bring the best of Macedonia to this market.
Interviewer – Verica Jordanova
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 rakia 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, a man asked me my name and suggested that we use the name Maja.
It is a coincidence that my name comes from the Netherlands. While my father was on a student exchange in Amsterdam, he watched the famous Russian ballerina Maja Plisetskaya and was delighted with her performance. He decided if he has a daughter to be named Maja. Interesting right?
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”. We registered the business on September 8, 2020 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 already have meetings with large supermarket chains that have liquor stores throughout the region.
How did you come up with the idea to offer just such a product on the Dutch market?
When I moved to the Netherlands earlier this year I was very happy to be here because the 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 from the first day I missed our yellow brandy and the feeling of being mixed with a glass of brandy before dinner. Not only to me, but also to my husband and our friends who had the opportunity to taste the brandy during their visits to Macedonia. This was an impulse for me to contact Tikves and explore 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. Our strategy was 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 Maya. As a gift we give them a traditional chokanche. We explain the production process nicely and explain that the intense yellow color, 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.
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 producers 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 our vision is to bring the best from Macedonia and the region. 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 the next steps.
The next products will surely be Macedonian wines. Definitely there is a need to be present on the field and to have good partners. Nothing happens by accident. In our culture it is to talk, and to explain and to waste valuable time on long conversations and the trick is to actually work hard every day, and use all the opportunities. You know what, on our side is the fact that the Netherlands and the Benelux region in general are not well explored by businesses from Macedonia and beyond in the Western Balkans. That is an opportunity for us. Apart from direct contacts, we start slowly and with promotion on social media, for which we have great ideas for a modern way of promotion.
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?
Prior to moving to the Netherlands, I worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for 18 years as the National Program Manager of the Small and Medium Business Support Program. I managed a team with which we taught businesses to grow and succeed. I had a very successful career and I loved what I did, but I always believed I could be a great entrepreneur. I was a single mother at the time and did not dare to take risks and cause turmoil for myself and my son. I feel great in the new role.
In business there is no time for unproductive conversations, decisions are made quickly and two plus two is four. I love this way of working because it suits my character. I want simple and powerful conversations. I’m sorry I did not start my business earlier, but circumstances did not allow me to do so.
What are your general plans for the future, do you plan to promote another product in these markets?
I am a great patriot. My father Dimitrija Brezovski was a great patriot. In our family library we have over two hundred books only on the history of the Macedonian people. We are conquering the market slowly and we plan to enter the largest supermarkets in the region. With entry comes trust and long-term cooperation. We will apply the brand “Maja” to as many products as possible. We plan to organize trade missions and deepen cooperation between this part of the world and the Western Balkans. I am personally developing several other projects that are already in an advanced stage. It is about providing international industrial expertise to companies in the Western Balkans. What I have been doing for many years I will further develop. I have already signed several project agreements with companies from Serbia and Macedonia. 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, with my family I work on importing kitchens that we brand as MajaKeukens. To summarize, everything of excellent quality is our 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 the name of our company and 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
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. You know what the old people say – Harmony builds house – We are a team and we will stay that way. Only in time the team will expand with people like us. I wish you to stay healthy and happy and this story of mine to encourage you to make your dreams come true. Na zdravje!