homepage_name! > Editions > Number 142 > Interview - Vojin Đorđević

Vojin Đorđević, creator and founder of VODAVODA and the Gorki list brands

The Triumph of Quality in the Year of Global Pandemic

A year after the emergence of the new COVID-19 virus, it can be said with certainty that the world as we knew it, has disappeared. The pandemic has radically changed our daily routines – the ways we work, study and communicate. Recommendations on keeping social distance have suppressed personal contacts, replacing them with their virtual forms – both on a professional and personal level.

The virus has affected another important aspect of our lives – purchases, to the extent that, during the periods of its highest peaks, it has completely reshaped us as consumers. We made our purchases in places that seemed the safest to us, sometimes even compulsively piling up on basic groceries and products that we perceived as our allies in the fight against the virus.

However, the crisis has mostly affected our decisions when purchasing products from the food and beverage category. To put it simply, we have never been more conscious of the connection between our health and the groceries we consume. Regardless of the fact that we were ready to experiment in other segments when it comes to food and beverages, we have remained loyal to the most reliable brands and followed the path of only one matter – quality.

The consumers’ firm focus on quality has served as a sort of filter during the pandemic. The brands not being completely inspired by this focus were excluded from the market competition, and those brands including products that had been based on uncompromising quality years back were rewarded.

This great opportunity was recognized and taken by one of our domestic companies, growing its international strength stronger in this way, as well as the recognizability of its brands – VODAVODA and Gorki list. Their method was apparently simple – even during the highest impact times of the crisis, they remained focused on defined strategies and planned innovations, rather than on short-term solutions. They took risks and made investments, in order to meet their consumers’ newly-formed needs by introducing new packaging and more efficient distribution, simultaneously maintaining competitive prices and recognizable quality.

The previously mentioned resulted in opening new foreign markets, increasing production capacities, employing new professional staff, and the development of almost all fields – in a nutshell, the triumph of quality during a seemingly unfavorable situation for domestic companies and businesses.

Therefore, VODAVODA and Gorki list remain the bright spots of domestic business during the period of the pandemic, as well as of brands that have maintained and developed their positions on the local, and on nearly 20 highly demanding international markets during a period of one of the most economically challenging years ever.

During the entire previous year, VODAVODA and Gorki list were telling an extraordinary story of innovative business, solidarity, as well as optimism inside a pessimistic period of crisis, which is currently being summarized, together with their creator and founder Vojin Đorđević.

The Coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented global health and economic crisis. Having these qualities, it has not spared a single sector of the economy, although its consequences have mostly been felt by small and medium-sized enterprises. How did you achieve to maintain and develop your brand positions both on the local and international markets in such challenging conditions and a very difficult business year?

As local brands, but being internationally powerful and influential as well, the VODAVODA and Gorki list brands possess a long tradition of doing business in the most demanding international markets, facing conditions that change and become more complex on a daily basis. This means that the core of our business reflects our capability to detect any possible changes on time, as well as our readiness to offer innovative solutions as a response to them. We detected these changes at the very beginning of the pandemic; this time as parts of necessities and expectations of our customers worldwide. Our response included new packaging and more efficient distribution, with the main focus on prices that remained unchanged. In this way we offered the recognizable quality of our brands to the local and numerous foreign markets, introducing a new and efficient way to adjust to the circumstances that had undergone changes. The fact that we had, in a certain sense, taken risks and stayed focused on defined strategies in spite of the strongest impacts of the crisis, rather than on short-term solutions, quickly produced positive results. We entered new foreign markets and increased our production capacities significantly; not only did we retain our jobs, but we also made our team stronger and increased the number of employees by more than 20% from the end of the previous year. The most relevant fact may be that once more we have made sure that each crisis, no matter how bad, hides an opportunity inside itself, and its outcome does not depend on external circumstances, but exclusively on us and our readiness to face it properly.

When talking about innovations, we should not forget to mention that the VODAVODA brand, which you consider one of the highest quality types of artesian water, has enriched its portfolio with VODAVODA Vodica for children (VODAVODA Vodica za decu). How do you explain the fact that this product, launched in the midst of the pandemic, has suddenly stood out as one of the leaders in its category?

VODAVODA brand’s motto and slogan is Beauty in Harmony with Nature , which constantly motivates us to, apart from its indisputable quality, convey beauty as well – to create, discover, and maintain it in each of our activities. VODAVODA Vodica is not an exception – it was derived from our wish to ennoble our youngest consumers’ world with it, during the period when this was mostly required, in the midst of the pandemic. For this reason, we created practical packaging and designed it in order to stimulate children to take water and necessary minerals regularly, as well as to encourage them to include VODAVODA Vodica in each of their games or adventures. The confirmation of an extraordinary success, as well as Vodica water’s potential barely starting its process of development, is reflected in the dynamic progress from a completely new product to the most serious pretender of a leading position in its category within the local market in just a few months, and in the huge amount of interest from our partners worldwide.

In Serbia, VODAVODA is usually related to export and its global presence. The perception of your water as an international brand was additionally empowered after the recent first official visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain by the delegation of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, during which one of the conversation topics included the matter of developing the mutual cooperation of the two countries. However, VODAVODA has been present for years not only on the market but at the Royal Palace of Bahrain as well?

By composition, VODAVODA belongs to a category of the highest quality types of artesian water worldwide. It originates from one of the deepest underground springs in Serbia, hidden among the untouched nature of Vrujci spa, and is naturally filtered due to its passage through thick layers of mineral cliffs throughout its 605 m long road, until it reaches the surface. It is packed at the very spring without contact with surroundings, and is stored inside a unique bottle which represents art in itself. Thanks to its quality, and the support of our distributors in Bahrain, it has become very popular in that country. After it had been recognized by the very Royal Family itself, our water has successfully undergone a strict procedure by the German company, Fresenius – a long-lasting laboratory analysis of its contents, packaging, and the very filling process itself. Last year, quite deservingly, it found itself on the ‘approved products’ list of the Bahrain Royal Palace, among very rare global premium brands. This is a great honor for us, another confirmation of our international strength, as well as international trust for our product. In addition, it is providing tailwinds towards the continuation of our process in creating and conveying timeless beauty and quality, and that already unites our customers from nearly 15 countries worldwide that enjoy the presence of VODAVODA.

The story about VODAVODA and Gorki List is not only about the growth, but solidarity as well. You said that not only had you retained all jobs, but that you had increased the number of your employees. What about corporate social responsibility? Have you continued investing during the crisis or has this segment been a part of savings or budget cuts?

Being present in nearly 20 global markets, the strength of VODAVODA and Gorki list is drawn from their roots, from Serbia. As such, first and foremost, they owe their success to the community from which they originate. For this reason, during the first impact of the crisis, we engaged all of our resources in order to help our community in the fight and recovery against the coronavirus. It is neither new nor unusual for us to make decisions motivated exclusively by values that we promote as long-lasting, as well as by community interests. This is the only way for us to maintain the relationship of trust with our consumers and partners, and the only direction which we want to follow in order to continue the development of our reputation.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, on the behalf of VODAVODA, you have been constantly providing a means of support to the communities in the fight against the coronavirus. The total of these donations has risen to nearly 10 million dinars. Which institutions and organizations have you supported so far?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our priority has been to help health workers that have been consciously risking their lives and the lives of their families as well, in order to support those who need their help the most – their patients. For this reason, we have primarily donated part of our means to the key Covid hospitals and temporary accommodations forinfected patients in Serbia, with the purpose of supporting them on the first front line and in their everyday interactions with patients. Since its foundation, VODAVODA has been advocating inclusion and is ready to contribute to the process of forming a society that contains equal opportunities for everyone. So, it was very important for us to donate a part of our means to non-profit organizations which can reach the categories of the poor social status population, affected by the crisis more than others.

Miloš Biković, one of the most successful young actors in Europe, is your first brand ambassador and is officially the first public figure to be related to Gorki list, and this, in the year of your great jubilee – celebrating 60 years of the existence of this bitter’s unique taste. Has this collaboration emerged from a strong interconnection of Gorki list with culture and art that this bitter is famous for?

For the last 60 years, Gorki list has been a synonym for qualityand the perfect balance of a recipe that remains secret until today. Our bitter has outgrown the boundaries of our country very quickly and has developed into a lasting strong international brand, constantly magnifying its impact and power, just like the brand ambassador, Miloš Biković. So, our collaboration is based on strong mutual values. At the same time, they represent an introduction to a new and authentic chapter of Gorki List, which is to be written by Miloš Biković, based on his talent and creativity. An important segment of our partnership is working on the affirmation of local art and culture, which are also characteristics of – both Gorki List and Miloš Biković. Our collaboration is based on solid foundations of shared values, and more importantly – it is to be developed in pursuit of our mutual goals.

What are your business plans for 2021, after this highly challenging, but successful year? Do you believe that you will maintain and improve your brand positioning both on the local and foreign markets by the end of this year as well?

This year, we will stay focused on our highly ambitious goals, as well as being flexible and ready to quickly adjust our organization and plans to changed circumstances. Certainly, the quality will remain imperative within our industry and therefore, it will keep providing tailwinds for the continuation of our dynamic development, as well as for conquering new markets and raising our new, domestic brands to a new international level. This is a year of great opportunities for us, and I am convinced that we will be able to, together with all our employees and consumers worldwide, as well as all citizens of Serbia, once more summarize our achieved results with pride.