Puđa, a cheese producer from Livno in Southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, wants to start producing whey butter that would lead to greater profitability and would reduce byproduct wastes.

“We used to produce Livanjski cheese for domestic use and what we could not eat we would sell in Dalmatia,” says Tomislav Puđa, the Eco Cheese Puđa company Director.

"As the demand for our cheese grew, both in BiH and Dalmatia, we established the company in 2001 and opened the first dairy factory in 2003," he continues. "Already then, we had a vision of becoming a serious and recognizable dairy producer and we are still pursuing it."

In 2019, Eco Cheese Puđa, bought and processed a total of 5 million liters of milk, of which 85 percent was from cow, ten percent goat, and five percent sheep. Regardless of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, in 2020 they are planning to buy 5.5 million liters of milk and bring their production of cheese to some 500 tons a year.

Dealing with the pandemic

Puđa produces premium quality cow, goat, and sheep cheeses, including the well-known autochthonous Livanjski cheese. “We get our milk from some 220 to 230 farmers. We used to work with more farmers, but the group we work with now took the milk production more seriously. They enlarged the herds and increased the quantities of milk they produce. They also cater to cattle grazing at the open pastures at the right times during the spring, summer, and autumn, while they feed them hay and homegrown crops during the winter," explains Tomislav, and adds: “Our product is totally domestic.”

"Though we are present in all the big market chains, HoReCa is still the big market for us. When the Coronavirus hit, our sales almost halted. April was a catastrophic month for us,” says Tomislav. “With no sales, we ended up having too much cheese in stock and no place to store it. But we did not want to fire any of our 34 employees, nor to stop buying the milk from our farmers. So we reached out to Meggle [one of the largest dairy producers in BiH which buys 40 percent of Puđa’s fresh milk] and asked them to start buying more of our milk,” he continues.

"Meggle decided to help us and we stayed afloat. During the worst two months of the pandemic, we spent a lot of time in the field talking to farmers and reassuring them that things will get better. We encouraged sheep farmers to start producing more milk and grow their herds as they could not sell lamb at the usual rate for the same reasons as us. We bought every drop of milk, and we also used the slowdown in the production to conduct some renovations in our premises, and install new self-washing cheese baths.”

Production diversification

In 2017, the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project provided Eco Cheese Puđa an additional 20 lacto freezers to help them increase buy-up and quality of raw milk, thus increasing their production from 350 to 400 tons of cheese. Earlier in 2014, the Government of Sweden and the USAID assisted Puđa in implementing the HACCP food safety standard and in introducing smaller packaging of their final products more suitable for home consumption.

"I am excited about my work, just like a kid is excited by a new toy. We follow our vision, but I also get new ideas which I want to bring to life," says Tomislav. "At the moment, as a byproduct in the cheese production, we get some 10,000 liters of whey a day, which we usually give to farmers as food for bulls and pigs, or just discard. This a big loss for us, so our next plan is to start producing whey butter and to be the first ones in BiH to introduce the goat butter to the market. If we manage to do this our byproduct will almost be pure water and our profitability will go up."

Staying positive

Unlike many others, Tomislav believes that 2020 will not be a lost year. "With HoReCa coming back I believe that we can still have greater production and sales than last year. In 2019 we exported some 27 percent of our products to Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. This year we will try to up that to 40 percent and are already putting more effort into the Croatian and Serbian markets which can still absorb more of the hard and semi-hard cheese."

"We hope to get the support with the initial production of the whey butter, which we could jump-start in two months.  We are also planning to start producing fresh cow and goat milk and yogurt which would make us more resilient in the event of a new pandemic,” says Tomislav. He concludes by announcing the opening of their first retail shop at the factory by August 2020, which should be first in line of their delicacy stores.