Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Betty Alexandropoulou- Executive Director of Enterprise Greece: Interview at Total Food Service


Betty Alexandropoulou- Executive Director of Enterprise Greece: Interview at Total Food Service

Betty Alexandropoulou Executive Director, Enterprise Greece- Q&A

Tasty traditional Greek cuisine and the Mediterranean Diet have become staples of the US dining scene. With an ancient tradition, Greek cuisine has been greatly influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures. Flavors of Greek food changes with season and geography.
With that in mind, Total Food Service wanted to get a read on the latest in Greek products available to the restaurant and food service operator. With thoughts of moussaka, tzatziki and baklava, TFS visited with Betty Alexandropoulou.

Alexandropoulou is the Executive Director of Enterprise Greece. The Athens, Greece based trade organization advises and coaches international business and government organizations on maximizing import/export opportunities with Greece’s thriving food manufacturing industry.

With a Master’s in Business Administration, B.A. in Economics, and Professional Certification in Executive Coaching, Betty Alexandropoulou has accumulated vast experience in senior leadership roles within multinational organizations and government. Prior to joining Enterprise Greece, she served as Senior Commercial Advisor for the U.S. Department of Commerce at the U.S. Embassy in Greece.

Betty Alexandropoulou specializes in cross-cultural agility for strategic market, program and workforce development as well as business transformation. Her deep knowledge of the area of trade and investment as well as the technology, healthcare and government markets has proven especially important in helping food executives, business owners, exporters/investors and expatriates within those segments to navigate their challenges and succeed in bringing the flavor of Greece to the US foodservice professional.

For those of our readers who don’t know you, what got you interested in the restaurant industry? Could you give me a little background about you and your career?
I’m a Greek American. I was born in New York. My parents are of Greek descent. So I’m actually privileged to have to be related to both countries.

Before I assumed my current role, position at Enterprise Greece, I worked for various government agencies and multinational companies as a senior executive. I’ve lived in Switzerland, Buenos Aires, and then Minneapolis and was asked to come and help at the National Trade Investment organization to advise at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, overseeing the Free Trade and Investment Promotion Agency. So that’s a little bit of how I got here.

Enterprise Greece
The Greek Food and Beverage industry is one of the most important sectors of the domestic economy, with significant investments, growth prospects, strong extroversion and strong business activity in Greece, the Balkans and throughout Europe. The characteristics that highlight the role of the domestic food and beverage industry are the high quality products, the Greek brand name, as well as the organized promotion of Greek food in the international markets.
How did Enterprise Greece begin and what were your goals when you joined as a senior executive in 2019?
Well, to start, the organizations that were the forerunners of enterprise Greece were the National Export Promotion Agency. It was then called H.E.P.O., Hellenic Export Promotion Organization, and it was founded in 1970. And then, the other part of it was Invest in Greece, an organization founded in 1990. It was around 2014 that these two agencies were merged to create Enterprise Greece. It used to be a very different kind of organization and a very different Greece during this timeframe.

One of the main mandates, when I came to the organization was to really engage in modern times and to bring the prior organizations together. I think one of the important agendas that I had to face with this kind of trying to bring it all together, especially under the new government that came about in 2019, which was very forward looking and very different. The Trade Investment Agency and Enterprise Greece actually moved under the wings of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to capitalize on all the Greek embassies and consulates around the world. The goal was to actually be extroverted and outward looking, and you need to have a presence and to kind of be there.

How does food and beverage fit into the global goals of Enterprise Greece?
Food and beverage is the biggest part of what’s growing and what we’re focusing on. So it has a very important role.

As you look at the American marketplace in particular, what is it that Greek products can bring to the American marketplace?
First of all, for the American market, there’s this focus starting with products and then the Mediterranean diet. It’s not just olive oil and cheese. It’s like the entire Greek product range. We feel that the success of it lies in the taste. You know the quality of the ingredients, the diversity of the dishes that we have, combined with recognized health benefits in the Mediterranean diet. This is what we want the US consumer to be focused on, not just the Feta or just the olive oil. We want it to be more about variety, because there’s just a lot of products that the U.S. consumer doesn’t know about. We just don’t want to be an ingredient resource. We want to be a lifestyle resource.

Restaurateurs and chefs have emerged and have taken the image of Greek cooking and made it hip. We want all these factors to be part of the whole experience of the Greek products in the U.S. market.

What is it that enables Greece to grow such beautiful and high quality products that you can’t get elsewhere in the world?
Well, it’s the terrain that we have here that helps to grow the fruit or other food products. In terms of the land, we have a range of soil, from volcanic soil and Santa Remi to the plains of Macedonia. It’s part of the whole, blessed country in terms of the sun, the soil, everything. The products actually have a taste and smell, and it’s something that when you’re talking about the cuisine, but even standalone products, is what differentiates Greek products.

Can you talk about why Greece is able to create such amazing wine and what are some of the specialties?
First, there are over 300 indigenous grape varieties. The combination of the native grape varieties and the terrain produces a distinctive fan of flavor and accents and over the last decade, the Greek wine industry has focused on preserving its unique wine heritage. The industry is pairing that tradition with the state-of-the-art production methods. Now, Greek wines are sought out, more and more, by these international wine connoisseurs. Over the past few months, there’s been some favorable reviews for these Greek wines.

If we’re to talk about the range there’s Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko for red and then there’s Assyrtiko and Moschofilero for white wine. They are becoming better and better recognized and more easily available around the world, and especially in the U.S. — just like the Greek foods.

What’s the challenge of marketing this product in the U.S.?
First of all, the U.S. is a very huge market. For the Greek exporter, it’s not as easy as going over to Europe or a smaller country. We see that the Greek food sector has been evolving very rapidly, and sometimes it’s difficult for the small producers to meet the large volume demands of large distributors.

One of the things we’ve been doing at Enterprise Greece is attracting a lot of foreign direct investments (FDI) in the sector. Just the past year, Mondelez acquired the Greek snack maker Chipita for over $2 billion. In 2020, we saw that FDI dropped in most countries around the world but in Greece, we saw something like 20% increase in FDI in food production.

Even still, one of the challenges we have is making sure that the Greek exporters have all the tools at hand in terms of information. You need to help them out a bit more because of the fact that the U.S. market is so complex and so large.

One of the things we did this past year is organize a whole set of webinars on various international markets. One seminar on business in the food and service sector of the U.S. tried to explain the complexity of the American market and its tiered distribution system so that the Greek exporters are more savvy about that.

Another thing we help with is arranging buyer to buyer meetings, with buyers hosting buyers in Greece when COVID allows.

What does the landscape look like in terms of the type of typical company that you’re working with?
Right, well we try to cover the whole range. The smaller companies, they’re the ones that need more of the education, more about how to go from just producing to understanding so you know about the private labeling, and things like that. We try to provide consultation and support. We help by being there, by having the pavilion, by setting up the buyer to buyer meetings, by setting up everything that’s around a tradeshow.

For the larger companies, I think that the role of Enterprise Greece also comes in basically assisting with the branding that takes place. We’re also helping these bigger companies become mentors or help open the pathway and engage the smaller ones that are just growing. So it’s a matter of helping each company go from smaller to bigger.

What are some ways you see Greek products growing in popularity, internationally?
I think when you are talking about Greek cuisine and the Greek Mediterranean diet it’s all about creating awareness. So I think that maybe before nobody was looking for Greek specialties, but right now, the more awareness is growing, the more people want Greek products. I think it works the other way too, where people seek out the freshest ingredients and realize that they’re Greek.

There are also some great chefs, like Maria Loi, who are spreading excitement over Greek cuisine in their work and their restaurants. And it’s also about growing international recognition. Just a few weeks ago, Chef Gordon Ramsay said that Greek food was better than Italian food. Of course, I don’t want to get into that conversation, but there’s an increasing recognition of the quality and variety that Greek cuisine allows for.

Enterprise Greece
Enterprise Greece is the competent national body, under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that attracts foreign direct investments in Greece and promotes the exports of Greek products and services abroad.
Another large factor that we want to play up on as well is the role tourism plays in the popularity of Greek cuisine. Greece is one of the world’s leading tourism destinations. Prior to COVID and during COVID we have record numbers of visitors. So we feel there’s a clear synergy between tourism and food exports, because once we have a visitor here, and they get to know the Greek cuisine, when they go back home, they want to experience the association to the warm experience of the comfort that they had during their vacation.

The last thing I’ll mention is the Greek diasporas and the enduring mosaic of the makeup in the U.S. A lot of large cities have a Greek diaspora and they have some Greek supermarkets. When I was in Minnesota, there was this Greek supermarket in Minneapolis and similar to many places. They cater to the local Greek community, but they also are becoming popular with just a local community in general, because of the growing popularity. It’s not just that the Greek diaspora shop there, everyone is starting to realize how great this cuisine is.

What advice do you have for U.S.-based restaurants or food service operators that would like more info on Greek products?
So, apart from somebody calling Enterprise Greece and us setting up ways for them to connect with Greek companies, we try to make the companies themselves more self-sufficient so that they can be found online.

We’ve also set up a collaboration with eBay where operators can find Greek products there and find companies to order from.

Unfortunately, among large suppliers and distributors, Greek products are still not well presented. I believe that’s about to change in the future, but until that happens, the best way to access Greek products is through eBay or the companies themselves.

All photos courtesy of Enterprise Greece. To learn more about what Betty Alexandropoulou and Enterprise Greece to expand the Greek product market, visit their website.

Source: Betty Alexandropoulou Executive Director, Enterprise Greece- Q&A for Total Food Service