In the interview, Victor Ivanchyk told Forbes Ukraine how Astarta’s team is creating an ecosystem of responsible partnerships and what it plans to invest in, considering its diversified business model.  

In 2023, Astarta’s revenue grew by 21% to a record EUR619m. Was last year the most successful in the company’s history? What was successful, and what was not? 

Last year, we finally adapted to these extreme conditions and strengthened our positions in all key business segments. Among our key achievements was an increase in exports. The company’s export revenue amounted to 53% and exceeded the pre-war figure of 44% in 2021. 

We resumed investment activities and adopted a decarbonisation strategy. We became the first company in Ukraine to receive an EBRD loan with an innovative blended finance structure related to climate goals, considering our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 44% by 2030. It is an ambitious plan, but we see that it is possible. 

What does it mean in practice, and how much will it cost? 

Scaling up regenerative farming practices, replacing equipment, improving energy efficiency, using alternative energy sources, and investing in our bioenergy complex, the primary raw material is sugar beet pulp. The estimated cost is millions of dollars. 

What are your investment plans for this year and your priorities? 

The investment programme considers all the main business segments. We are currently implementing a project to produce soy protein concentrate, which is the next step in deepening soybean processing. 

Another project to develop warehouse logistics is to improve the quality of sugar storage and efficient handling, not only for the B2B but also for the B2C market. We are expanding our exports and investing in livestock development.

We actively cooperate with WFP. Together with our partners and charitable organisations, we promote products manufactured in Ukraine to global companies. We are developing an ecosystem of Ukrainian agribusiness operating on the principles of sustainable development. 

And what about abroad? 

I am convinced that investments in Ukraine are now essential and, in my opinion, the most profitable. That is why all our investment efforts are implemented here (in Ukraine). 

When will Astarta sugar be available in supermarkets, and what market share are you aiming for? 

So far, we do not plan to enter this market en masse, so it is a small percentage. This year, it is thousands of tonnes; next year, it will be tens of thousands. For comparison, we produce up to 400kt of sugar a year. 

In the future, what else will Astarta offer in supermarkets? 

After sugar, milk. You can already buy dairy products made from our raw materials in supermarkets under the brands of our regular partners, Lustdorf, Danone, Yagotynske, Molokiya, Kaniv, and Galychyna. We are the largest industrial milk producer in Ukraine. Last year, we sold 111kt of extra-quality milk. 

What is holding you back from selling your milk under your own brand? 

We have everything in place. We need time. 

The EU has restricted sugar imports from Ukraine at the average level for previous years. How will this affect your results this year? Can you compensate for the European market with another one? 

There are two aspects here. On the one hand, the rules of the game are now clear. But we were hoping for higher volumes. Ukraine produces and can export much more. Therefore, we hope that our authorities will effectively protect the interests of Ukrainian producers, including in the context of European integration processes. 

As a net importer, Europe imports sugar from Brazil and large volumes of other agricultural products from Latin America, Southeast Asia, and even Russia and Belarus. I would like Ukraine to be more attractive to the EU. Especially given that we are close neighbours, we can meet their demand very quickly, and there are no comments on the quality, terms, and conditions of supply. 

For our part, we have European partners who have seen that we can meet their highest demands. We will continue to cooperate with them within the volumes set by the quotas. At the same time, we will continue to develop partnerships in non-EU European countries and with consumers in North Africa and the Middle East.  

Today, we export most of our products by sea, which became available thanks to the government’s principled position and the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

You planned to double your land bank to 400kha about ten years ago. Why did you change your mind? 

We had such plans, but unfortunately, they did not come true. 2010, we were forced to stop expanding our land bank due to severe political risks. Therefore, instead of investing in the expansion of the land bank, we channelled resources to build a soybean processing plant, a biogas complex, modernise sugar plants, and, later, a network of elevators. In this way, we balanced our land bank and the infrastructure for processing, storage, and shipment of our products. 

Today, our land bank is 212kha. Expanding it is not a priority now, but we will do so if we see land that can be leased. 

Other significant agricultural holdings are also in no hurry to expand even though the land market has started working. Is this due to military risks? 

First of all, it is market risks. Logistics has risen significantly in price, and not all crops are profitable, so many are considering improving business efficiency rather than extensive development. Now, everyone is trying to move into processing and creating a value chain. There are enough development zones for all large, small, and medium-sized businesses. 

Astarta’s organic farming area is about 2kha. What do you grow, and do you plan to expand this niche? 

We started this project in 2017. It took us three years to prepare and get certified, and for the last four years, we have been producing organic flax, millet, mustard, soybeans, and sunseeds. This year we added winter rape and chickpeas. 

The technology of growing organic crops rejects any use of chemicals, only biological products, with enhanced mechanical tillage and crop care. Yields are lower compared to inorganic. The result is a more expensive but also higher-quality product. The market is volatile and not always growing, but we see a constantly increasing demand for these products. 

Overall, the pilot project was quite successful, and we are looking at how to develop it further. 

Agricultural companies are now actively installing solar panels and wind turbines. Do you plan to invest in this area? 

We don’t have any such projects yet. SPPs work during the day when there is sunshine and consumption is insignificant. We need electricity both day and night, so we rely on bioenergy. We built a biogas complex more than ten years ago. We use the biogas produced as an energy resource for our processing plants. In the face of electricity shortages, we are considering installing a cogeneration unit to generate electricity using biogas. Energy costs account for 20-25% of the cost of sugar production. 

There is a trend among agricultural holdings to build their own fleet. Do you have any such plans? 

We have purchased grain carriers and vehicles for operational and commercial logistics. We do not plan to buy cargo vessels yet but are exploring different options. 

Ukrainian businesses are actively helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Before the invasion, your charity foundation, “Believe in Yourself”, supported education, and now its website also contains information mainly about this area. Why did you decide not to revise its activities? 

Before the full-scale war, it was indeed focused on supporting education. At the beginning of the war, it became a platform for the Common Help Ukraine humanitarian project, a joint project with Astarta. This project proved to be surprisingly sustainable and effective. About 40 international and Ukrainian partners joined it. The total amount of funds raised and humanitarian aid has exceeded UAH1.135bn. 

A part of this amount is aimed at supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but these are Astarta’s funds. Our partners mainly finance humanitarian projects, including three grant programmes for regional entrepreneurship development: Course for Independence, Brave and Wings. We implement them in cooperation with the governments of Germany and Canada, the German bank DEG, the Ukrainian bank Raiffeisen, Vodafone, and Pact Ukraine. 

We have already provided grants to 336 entrepreneurs who have created 828 new jobs. 

This year, the Resilience Centres started operating in the regions. What is their purpose, and how many will there be? 

The Resilience Programme, which we developed and launched in 2023 with the Ministry of Social Policy, aims to promote self-sufficiency and mutual assistance among community residents. These traits are inherent in Ukrainians; they only need to be developed and strengthened. At these centres, people can receive free psychosocial support or information about the services they need. 

The centres support vulnerable people, veterans, military personnel, and their families and help other families by developing parenting competencies and other activities. It is realistic, but it will depend on people’s ability to organise themselves. 

We have already set up five pilot centres in the Poltava, Zhytomyr and Khmelnytskyi regions. They are in high demand. We will launch six more in June. Then, the ministry, in partnership with us and other businesses, will scale up our experience and technology. I invite businesses to partner with the ministry to develop such centres in territorial communities. The government plans to create over 200 centres across the country this year. 

The idea of the Resilience Programme, regional enterprise development projects, and others did not arise by chance. They fully reflect Astarta’s values and philosophy—to create an ecosystem of responsible partnerships in which businesses, communities, charities, and other associations built on the principles of sustainable development will work together to increase the self-awareness and resilience of Ukrainians to win the war and to restore Ukraine and its dynamic development afterwards. I am confident that Ukrainians can set this example for the world.   

The material is based on an interview with Forbes Ukraine. 

Photo Artem Galkin