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03 January 2024, 13:38

Lukashenko: Spartak is a people’s enterprise catering to children

In 2012, the court reversed the privatization of the Kommunarka and Spartak confectionary factories over their erroneous appraisal. The state had its share restored in the enterprises. For example, the government has a 60% stake in Spartak. Back then some argued that such a decision would undermine the investment image of Belarus. But things worked out differently. In a new episode of BelTA’s Youtube project “After the Fact: Lukashenko’s Decisions” we will tell you what Spartak chocolate bars are popular in China, how the Gomel factory won over consumers, where Belarus imported cocoa beans from.

How did the history of the Belarusian Spartak begin? 

The confectionery enterprise Prosvet in Gomel was opened in June 1924. It was renamed Spartak later, in November 1931. Since then, the name has remained the same. But the form of ownership changed. The president’s position is clear: it is a people's enterprise catering to children.
 “20, 15 or 18 years ago the policy was different.  It was about giving everything away. It was believed that privately-held assets performed better than government-owned ones. The shares were distributed among pensioners, individuals, former and current employees of enterprises. They were appraised at a fraction of their real value. Then go-getters from Belarus, neighboring states and far way countries bought up these shares and became the owners of these enterprises. That was what such privatization led to. That's why I'm always cautious about privatization,”  Aleksandr Lukashenko said at a meeting to discuss the confectionary industry in October 2012.

What decision by Lukashenko gave a new lease on life to the confectionery industry of Belarus? 

On the instruction of Aleksandr Lukashenko, Spartak and Kommunarka were allowed to invest dividends in modernization, reconstruction and technical re-equipment. Thus, the "sweet manufacturers" were given a new lease on life.

 “Since 2013, we have been paying a lot of attention to the development, modernization. In 2013, we bought a line to make granola bars, and bars similar to Snickers and Mars. These are import-substituting products. In 2016 and 2018, two lines were installed to manufacture wafers, wafer candies,”  Director General at Spartak Tatiana Lisitsina said as she talked about the modernization of the confectionary factory.
 “Everyone took it [the decision of the court] positively. Because a state-owned enterprise is better than a private owner. You are entitled to a social package. Wages are not set, they are earned,”  said Anna Kundas, veteran worker at Spartak.

Modern technological lines mean better working conditions. In the difficult 1990s, workers could not even dream of this. After all, the private owner was not particularly interested in modernization.

 “I worked in the shop producing chocolate, chocolate bars with cream filling as long as we had cocoa beans. Then we had difficulties with them. There were no beans at all. We made ptichye moloko candy. It was a very difficult time. We produced glaze, of a ‘beetroot’ kind. We made pink icing. We struggled on many fronts,”  said Tatiana Fedosova, Chairwoman of the Trade Union Committee at Spartak.

What are Spartak’s new launches? 

Now the company produces more than 350 names of products: candies, chocolate, wafers, cookies, caramel. Every year the assortment is refreshed. It takes from several weeks to several months to develop a new formula.
 “We follow trends and see the demand for sugar-free products. We are now getting ready to launch a line of such products. It will feature chocolate and waffle products. One of our most interesting launches is milk chocolate with popcorn,”  said Olga Novozhentseva, Deputy Director General for Manufacturing Affairs.

In 2016, when Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Spartak, sugar-free sweets were new to Belarusians. The company still makes wafers and cookies with sorbitol and chocolate with isomalt. They are appreciated not only by diabetic patients, but also by healthy eaters.

 “We have ramped up output since last year [2022]. The demand for our products has been growing in recent years. This year we have implemented an ambitious import substitution project. We have installed a new line to make fine chocolate. This line will increase our annual chocolate output by more than 5,000 tonnes,”  said Olga Novozhentseva.

The line was launched in April 2023. Its production capacity is more than 5,000 tonnes of chocolate per year. All processes are automated. The chocolate bar is only a few millimeters thin. Gourmets know that this kind of chocolate is made in Switzerland.

“Here we make milk chocolate with additives and premium bitter chocolate. It goes with salted caramel, there is also “explosive mix” chocolate, bitter chocolate with raspberries and hazelnuts, orange and ginger with lemon. Regular premium varieties have the cocoa content of 56%, 72%, 90%, and 99%,” said Yekaterina Metlushko, production line operator.

In what countries are Spartak products most popular? 

Gomel-made sweets are sold in 19 countries of the world. The largest sales markets are Russia, China and Kazakhstan. The company exports about 30% of its output.
 “We lost a huge market of Ukraine. We had to redirect our exports to China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. People in China love chocolate more than any other sweets. They prefer bitter chocolate. We started selling into China in 2020. We began from six-tonne batches. Today we ship up to 270 tonnes monthly. They prefer 90% bitter premium chocolate. They really fell for the chocolate that makes part of the “Spadchyna of Belarus” set. They also like Belarus-themed products. They have already ordered several containers of these products. Mongolia is not like any other market. We ship there only flour-based products. They really love our 100g wafers that we have been making since Soviet times. They tend to like sour stuff with pineapple, lemon and orange flavors,”  said Svetlana Chumakova, Head of Sales.

Vietnam is one of the company’s new markets. Spartak landed its new customers at a food expo. Three batches of sweets have already left Gomel for the land of dragons and fairies.

Who received New Year chocolate gifts from Spartak? 

 “We need to eat in order to survive. It seems like people can do without sweets, but they can’t. People of our age can stay away from sweets, but what about kids? We need to make New Year sweet gifts. You do a great job! You are going in the right direction, you have dramatically upgraded your production facilities and you keep doing it. Other companies should follow suit and learn from you. This is the kind of standard that we should aspire to achieve. You have done an excellent job,”  the president said during his working trip to Gomel Oblast in June 2016.
It is not that often that the head of state praises Belarusian enterprises. It is one of the reasons why the company is trying to keep the bar high and is constantly working to improve its operations. The last couple of months prior to New Year were a very busy time for the company. Even fairy-tale characters help wrap gifts.

The factory has launched many new products for the holiday season. This year, sweet gift sets from the Gomel factory will reach not only Belarusian children. The New Year’s gift boxes have already been shipped to Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the United States. 

 “Candy bars with fondant filling and Alenka sweets hold happy memories for the Soviet Union generation. People buy these sweets to relive their childhood,” Svetlana Chumakova said. 
The times when children looked for chocolate sweets in New Year's gift sets, leaving caramels for later, are long gone. Today we have all kinds of sweets to choose from. But their quality sometimes leaves much to be desired. Spartak guarantees the quality of every sweet it produces.

“Our products are made from organic ingredients. These are cocoa beans, sugar, various dried fruits, candied fruits. We also use organic additives. We try as hard as possible to minimize the use of artificial additives in our products. The health of our customers is number one priority for us,” Olga Novozhentseva said.

What social package do Spartak workers get? 

Another advantage of Spartak is its personnel. The employees have an opportunity for professional growth. Perhaps, it is exactly what helped the company to survive the difficult times. After all, modernization makes no sense without qualified staff.

“I have worked at the enterprise for 43 years. I got employed in 1969. I undertook an extramural course. I cannot even think of buying sweets by any other brand. I advertise our products every time I get such a chance. If I overhear someone talking about our products, I always pitch in giving details about our sweets, explaining that we use highest-quality chocolate and this means a lot. The main raw material is cocoa butter. Not substitutes,” Anna Kundas said.
The company offers a wide variety of perks and benefits. This is a social package that even some large IT companies would envy. The collective bargaining agreement provides for various benefits and payments. The document is updated every time it is revisited.

“We are proud of our medical center. It offers a lot of services: dentistry, gynecology, ultrasound, dry and underwater massage. Having a doctor’s referral, employees can get everything they need in our medical center. We have recently introduced funded pensions and got all our employees insured. The employer transfers a certain contribution for each employee to the insurance company so that a person can receive an additional bonus to the pension when he/she retires,” Tatiana Fedosova, Chairwoman of the Trade Union Committee at Spartak, said.

What is the production process at the factory like?

The company operates the closed production process: from raw material processing to manufacturing ready-to-eat products. Chocolate products account for 26% of the total output. We have regular cocoa bean supplies from out African partners.

“Cocoa beans grow in Africa: Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana. We buy them and check their quality at our accredited laboratory. Later they are processed and roasted. Sorted and grinded into cocoa mass, cocoa butter. This is the raw material that makes part of our chocolate products,” Tatiana Lisitsina said.
Next year is going to be a difficult one for confectioners across the globe, and the Gomel producer is no exception. Bad weather has affected cocoa bean harvests.  Cocoa prices are the highest in 46 years. One tonne of cocoa cost more than $4,500 at the Intercontinental Exchange in London. 

“We are looking forward to making collective cocoa beans purchases for the entire domestic confectionery industry. It will probably be cheaper. So far, each enterprise buys them individually,” Tatiana Lisitsina said.

Despite today’s challenges, the company has ambitious plans. The company plans to launch the production of five-gram chocolate bars, to upgrade its cocoa bean processing line. 2024 has been declared the Year of Quality in Belarus. It is symbolic that in 2024 Spartak will celebrate its anniversary.  After all, it was the quality of its products that won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of customers.
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