Once upon a time, PepsiCo faced a Greek snack problem: Best Foods, a fast-growing startup founded by entrepreneur Nontas Ohonos.
It was in the 1980s when PepsiCo entered the Greek market. The American giant had the size and resources to expand into the market by purchasing Tasty Foods, a local snack company. But she didn’t have the entrepreneurial spirit of Nontas Ohonos, who had already created a strong brand from scratch.
“When I started my company, Best Foods, with my brother in the early 1980s, we had very few resources,” he says. “And capital goods were too expensive. So we had to be very innovative, creating our own equipment. But it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of experimentation to get the equipment and product right. Sometimes we were frustrated. We almost went bankrupt. But there was no way back.
Eventually, the Ohonos brothers got it right – and their first Best Foods product lines, Foudounia and Lotto, started flying off the shelves.
Soon, a hyped marketing campaign followed using popular stand-up comedian Henry Klyn.
The rest is history. Orders flooded in, factories expanded and market shares soared, spoiling PepsiCo’s plans to rapidly expand its presence in the Greek market.
But the American giant fought back, with aggressive marketing strategies to regain market share.
But PepsiCo’s Greek problem isn’t going away. Pepsi therefore finally had to buy the Ohonos company in 1992 and end its early career in the snack sector. Or at least that’s what it seemed like at the time.
Now, twenty-seven years later, Ohonos is back with a group of snack companies, once again challenging PepsiCo in the Greek market and the neighboring markets of Bulgaria and Romania.
How did it happen? Following the sale of his business to PepsiCo, Ohonos had enough money and time to pursue his passion for fishing.
But he wasn’t happy. “Fishing couldn’t help me suppress the energy I had in me to start a new business,” he says.
Six months later, Ohonos was back in business, with a clear strategy derived from its previous experience and its business motto: knowledge of the snacks sector, acquisition of modern equipment and development of dedicated employees.
An expansion into Bulgaria and Romania was a resounding success, and a new range of snacks under the Jumbo brand began to flood into the Greek market, challenging, once again, the now largest player, PepsiCo.
John Papailias, sales manager of Halkidiki Flour Mills, is not surprised by Ohonos’ return. “Nontas Ohonos is obsessed with quality and innovation,” says Papailias. “And consumers in Greece and other Balkan markets recognize this.”
Lessons? Entrepreneurship is not just a career. It’s a never-ending passion for discovering and exploiting new business opportunities.
Large multinational corporations can buy up small businesses, but they cannot buy the souls of the entrepreneurs who support them.