Established as a honey exporter in 1954 in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana in what was then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Medex did not just survive the political and economic upheavals that followed the republic’s break-up, but since then has managed to transform itself into one of Europe’s leading producers of food supplements based on bee products.
BIG talked to its Chair and General Director Aleša Mižigojs.
Can you give me a brief introduction of your company?
People usually assume we are involved with medicine in some way. But ‘Med’ in Slovenia means honey. So Medex means ‘honey export’. We didn’t make a profit for the first few years, but then we began researching how we could use ingredients such as pollen and propol for healthcare purposes. That is how we got into api-therapy and we are now one of the world leaders. Since then we have diversified into food supplements, cosmetics and other natural products.
How did the break-up of Yugoslavia impact on Medex?
Virtually overnight, we lost access to the Serbian, Croatian, and Macedonian markets, that between them had historically accounted for 70% of sales. The single Yugoslav market effectively became seven smaller ones, but we managed to turn that to our advantage. We spotted that there were no biscuit manufacturers in Slovenia, so we bought a biscuit production line and started making them ourselves. When I took over 16 years ago, 35% of Medex’s turnover was in biscuits and waffles.
The trouble was, we were competing with countries like Italy, Austria, and Croatia, with very rich traditions in this field so we decided to focus on food supplements instead because we could add value there. Since then, the proportion of our turnover generated from food supplements has grown from 12% to between 50% and 60%, depending on the year.
Which are currently your main export markets?
For now, our main markets are Poland and Croatia and we are very active in Azerbaijan and UAE. We are also beginning to make inroads into France. All together we export to 30 countries.
Do you have any new markets in mind?
At the end of the year we intend to start selling in China which is a market with huge potential.
Why do you think you have been so successful?
To some extent it is about being in the right place at the right time, because today everybody is concerned about their health, and honey is about as organic as it gets. But we have also always been strong on innovation and have consistently worked hard to diversify by building on what is a very strong foundation.
Are there any new initiatives you are particularly excited about?
We have just concluded a double blind clinical study of royal jelly which delivered some incredible results. It showed that that royal jelly lowers the body inflammation by more than 21%. It lowers the cholesterol, it lowers the appetite, and increases the antioxidant activity in blood. We will be sharing these results and promoting royal jelly to the world more actively next year.
You are clearly passionate about the benefits of honey
Well, we try to use it to make the world a better place. This year, for instance, we signed an agreement with the Slovenian Agricultural Institute and BRAC [the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee, the largest NGO in the world] for the development of bee keeping in Bangladesh, because it can help reduce poverty. In Ethiopia, for instance, a family with four beehives can be financially self-sufficient. So we will be sending beekeepers to Bangladesh who can share our knowledge. It will also help with the empowerment of Bangladeshi women.
What would you say were the key elements of your management philosophy?
Being honest and being responsible is very important, and you also have to have a vision and a passion. Without that you can’t persuade people to follow you. But at the end of the day, if the bees survive, so will we.
A graduate of the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Aleša Mižigojs started her own business in 1993 in 2000 she was appointed sales manager for Medex. By the end of the following year she had been promoted to chair of the board.Within five years, the company had won the Dun & Bradstreet Rating of the Year Award and remains one of the Top 50 Slovenian companies to this day.
Mižigoj is proactive in encouraging women to take an active role in business and society and she also participates in humanitarian and philanthropic activities. She is the AmCham Vice President, a member of the Council for the Protection of Bees and the President of the Council for Promotion of Agricultural and Food Products. Since 2011 she has also held the position of the honorary consul of Canada in Slovenia.