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VeeMee – promoting the origin of your food [INTERVIEW]

The name VeeMee originates from Croatian word-play in which Vee stands for ‘YOU’ (producers, suppliers, buyers) and Mee stands for ‘US’. In short, It’s a platform that provides transparent and relevant information between market participants. We had an e-mail chit-chat with VeeMee’s founder, Marko Kozjak, about their philosophy and future plans.

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First off, I’d like to congratulate you on the unique idea you’ve had. In the entrepreneurial climate surrounding us these days, in which many people are trying to get a break and think of the next big thing, you had a Eureka moment. Can you describe it?
Thank You, but it is too early for congratulations 🙂 The full concept idea would be to change how we think about the food we eat and the people behind it. Eureka moment, hm… Not really, I just saw a potential in solving problems in the fast-moving consumer goods/fruit and vegetables (FMCG/FNV) sector.
 
There’s a PID profile of your own on the VeeMee website. It says you produce herbs, mushrooms and vegetables. Has the PID profiles initiative, like most great discoveries, stemmed from a problem you experienced being producers yourselves?
The PID is Producer Identity, and it doesn’t have to be only in the food sector. In this case this is PID of the company VeeMee that presents a brand of each producer, similar to the supplier PID. But I must add that I was buying and selling fresh FNV for 8 years. During that time, I saw lots of problems that can be solved with PID, primarily food traceability. Also, it would be much easier to buy toys for kids that have PID on it, as those would carry direct info and source about the product.

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Once you realized that information, origin and traceability had to be standardized and came up with PID profiles, who had to approve your idea?
Firstly – myself, because I had “lost” four years figuring out how to make it possible. After starting, I had to gain the trust from producers, suppliers, retail and end consumers. I’m still working on all four things because it’s not easy to make a neutral standardization for the end consumer. We are a start-up :).
 
Producers can choose between a Standard profile which includes a yearly fee and a basic, free one. Can you explain the benefits of each?
Standard PID is more complete, but the idea of PID is that everyone should be able to have it. If a producer doesn’t want it or can’t afford it, they can sign up for a basic profile and provide basic info about them and the origin of the food. The standard profile is more like a personal brand of each producer, and a personal home page with relevant information. VeeMee platform works like Google (but specialized in PID) – when you search for a product, the more info about you there is, the easier it is to find and contact you.
 
Your producer base includes 1000 producers at the moment, 30 of which have opted for the Standard profile. How do you plan to motivate others to come on board?
That’s old news :). Since May 2018 we have had more than 90 standard PIDs. I spend the whole day at the company working on that and other stuff like food wastage and food logistics. To help gain more users, we have the support of companies working on the field (field analysis – direct contact to producer), more stickers with PID on it (300,000 printed in 6 months) and call centre (direct contact to producer) plus producer community and retailers.


 
Aren’t you afraid that the fee imposed on the Standard profile might be an obstacle to PID profiles becoming the standard in the future?
Yes, we think it could be, so we made the basic model available to everyone. Once we become fully established we would like to make it free for everyone. However, standardization like Global Gap, IFS, IFCO, HACCAP etc. costs more than 5000 € per producer – and they don’t provide info for the end consumer. We are different because we haven’t just made things for the end consumer, but are also supporting other programs as mentioned. PID will be developed further to help producers and make things easier and faster.
 
We live in a country where locally grown products can hardly compete with the prices of imported ones. However, you claim that understanding the origin of products contributes to increased sales in grocery stores and strengthens consumer loyalty – what do you base that on?
Experience. We don’t know how to sell or market products to receive the price we would like to get. Digital transformation could help us all. Maybe we don’t have to produce big quantities if we have a good brand and quality goods for export. When I say that, there are always two questions after it: Where to sell and what? And what should we produce to be sold efficiently?
The answer to the first question is the VeeMee platform. As for the second, we would like to know how much – and what for – is Croatia using from 1,2 million Ha of land? Only then can we build a strategy with together with the community, producers and exporters.
 
I’m particularly interested as to how VeeMee can help increase the visibility of the producer, given that it’s yet to become more visible itself?
Getting the support of producers and the retail to embrace a new way of standardization is something we’re working on day by day. This year, we will start a marketing campaign to encourage changing our attitude towards producers and food we eat – we should ask more questions and have more interest in it. Food safety depends on standards and producers. It takes lots of work to implement it in the product – we present the product and the producer behind it.

 
Tell us a bit about the Food Wastage program you’re working on.
We’re currently working with 8 different companies from the EU (Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Greece, and Hungary). They saw the potential in it. In FMCG, food wastage is not only on the store shelves, actually the biggest wastage is in the central warehouse when goods are not accepted because of poor quality, a small percentage of damaged goods, or wrong labeling and broken boxes. That’s more than 20,000 kg of returned goods lost a day! In this scenario, everybody loses the producer, the supplier, the retail and the end consumer – the goods do not reach the shelves on time.
 
In addition to the VeeMee platform, the company offers services like the organization of transport, sorting, declaring and storing fruits and vegetables as well as doing market research and analysis.
Yes, we combine it with our partners to organize everything that they need – from logistic service to resorting or relabelling. It’s connected to the food wastage program. We use our partners’ resources to be more competitive and still provide the best service. Our partners can use a bigger percentage of their resources than before. Win-win for everyone.
 
The promise of VeeMee is a bold one. It aims to increase agricultural production, financial revenue and competitiveness of domestic farmers; employ new workforce; raise the standard of living for farmers; and enable the return of young people to Croatia’s rural areas. Have you seen any of it happen so far?
For all that to come true we need more people in our story. My team and I are not running from it, we believe that we can make changes, as the support for our project grows every day. But perhaps the better people to answer that question are the producers and the working people who have joined VeeMee. They can tell their story and say if and how VeeMee has helped. As for me, I had a fancy meeting with the guys from the government once. They said that “This should be a government project and this is why you need more people on it”. I simply said that we can do it, because VeeMee is not only me. The future will show that it will be copied or duplicated but at least we will have more info and transparency regarding where and from whom the goods are coming from. If this concept is used in any way in the future, we have succeeded.

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Bruno Zagorščak
Bruno Zagorščak Neuralab Co-founder and Chief Content Officer

A Boletus aficionado who loves to get lost in the woods. He's still holding dearly to his OG Canon 5DmII while claiming that the play button is the apex call-to-action button on the web.


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