One of the tastiest souvenirs one can get in Kaunas is a jar of locally made nut butter. One of the mixtures is even called Temporary capital and is dedicated to the golden interwar era of our city! Kaunas Full of Culture magazine met up with the makers of Sviestas sviestuotas to find out more…
Dovilė Stonė and Milda Beržanskaitė, the founders and makers of Sviestas sviestuotas (Buttery butter), offered to meet in a new and cosy place in the Old Town of Kaunas – Chaika. The residents of Vilnius can find their products – butter made from various nuts (and more) produced in Palemonas, a neighbourhood in Kaunas – in the original Chaika cafe. The girls, of course, soon befriended its “offspring” located in Kaunas. At noon, Chaika is buzzing with visitors who came to admire the café’s interior and fill themselves with vegan cakes. We sit down and turn the Sviestas sviestuotas clock back.
Sviestas sviestuotas is no longer a young business, right?
Dovilė: Yeah, we can’t get any support anymore. The company is counting its 6th year.
Milda: And we started it in our kitchen exactly six years ago, in October.
Have you already passed through the toughest stages?
D.: New stages are coming up. In the beginning, we were worried about technical things; we were thinking about gaining momentum and how to convince others.
M.: Now’s the tough phase of growing competition.
D.: When we started, we were the only producers of nut butter in Lithuania, and now it is hard for us to trace how many new businesses are emerging. So, we’re refining our direction. After all, everyone imagines that business has to grow to infinity. We imagine our future differently and see different values in business. Sometimes we even question whether it is us who don’t understand something or it is those who ask when we are going to expand.
What is your vision? Where do you see yourself after six more years?
M.: Sviestas sviestuotas might not stay alive this long, anything can happen. We hope that we will continue to ignore the big chain stores and will be cooperating with small businesses, little shops, cafes and that it will be enough for us to survive.
And why don’t you want to work with the big chains?
D.: There are many reasons. We are afraid to lose our grip on the process. In general, we don’t want a big business; we can’t see ourselves in it. In addition, we greatly appreciate local initiatives and want to strengthen them through a collaborative network. Yes, being in big stores would be comfortable for customers, but it would grow one corporation. Small partners would immediately feel it.
What does that collaboration network look like? Are you dealing with other issues besides business but also, say, sustainability and other questions of life?
D.: There are various partners. We have met small businesses that think like ordinary business people. With others, we may share the same points of view. We really have conversations; the bond develops. You bring the products, chat a bit. Practical matters are also important. For example, we collect the boxes from Chaika and reuse them. Because we share the same values, we are not ashamed to ask them to keep the boxes for us, and they don’t have a problem in saving them for us until we come to get them.
How else do you build sustainability in business?
M.: Our product is vegan. We communicate the value of plant-based nutrition.
D.: Being local is, I think, one of the fundamental principles of sustainability. We are not looking for new markets overseas, for there are also people who make delicious nut butter. Our product only travels when tourists or expats buy it as a present. When we first started, we were looking for cheapness, speed, and convenience to reach as many people as possible. For example, we wrapped jars in bubble wrap. But we have long been using paper for this, often a leftover from other parts of the manufacturing process. This is something, right? You still need to pack, that’s unavoidable. Glass is also chosen for sustainability, though plastic might be more convenient for shipping.
I saw on Facebook that you suggest a larger amount of nut butter in a plastic bucket and one client immediately pointed out that it was unsustainable.
D.: Yes, that happened. It is sad when people see only one moment, but not the totality of our values and work principles. What should we do if people want a larger quantity? Sending a jar of this size and weight would require tons of plastic for protection. Then you must look for compromises. Basically, we suggested to her that we can put a new portion later in the same bucket. But people rarely take that opportunity.
Do you do everything by yourselves?
D.: Yes, absolutely everything. Milda illustrates, we do the marketing and communication, and we also produce everything ourselves. We can respond to people’s needs and produce as much as needed during the month, production never stagnates. We even encourage our partners to order in smaller amounts, so they would not have to throw the product away. We schedule the itinerary and drive the orders around Kaunas and Vilnius ourselves.
M.: You can find us elsewhere in Lithuania, in a dozen cities and small towns. We ship our products there, however.
How did your Temporary capital product (probably the most Kaunas-like) come about?
M.: It is the result of our love for Kaunas. We kept thinking about how to associate that feeling with butter. That is how the interwar period architecture ended up on the label.
D.: We’ve taken a closer look at it, taking guided tours. When we receive guests, we right away take them to V. Putvinskio Street to admire the architecture. Besides, the centenary of Temporary capital is celebrated in 2019. It isn’t a coincidence that this cream consists of three layers; we put the whole legend in the description.
How eco-friendly is your lifestyle?
M.: We are doing our best. However, we still buy things in big supermarkets. We are taking small steps. If I am drinking something through a plastic straw, I get afraid that someone might see that.
D.: Yes, because people often don’t ask if I need one in a drink, so the result doesn’t seem to depend on me. However, when zero waste became a fashion, I became more sceptical. You want to retreat, to clarify what is real and what is a business’s wish to exploit a new niche, a so-called greenwashing.
Have you had enough of your products?
D.: We eat them every day. Milda is very fond of Temporary capital, and I like the poppy-seed spread. It was to be produced for Christmas only, but many people loved it. We like to cook at home and use our butter for different dishes. We are experimenting constantly and sometimes, unintentionally, a new recipe is born, like halva. That time the butter just lumped into pieces.
We were eating it and thinking – it is tasty, why shouldn’t we offer it to others? We were thinking about packaging – plastic is wrong, but halva doesn’t usually come in a glass jar. However, our Better than Halva is fine being in glass jars.
M.: Once we tasted pecan nuts in a salad and we thought that something interesting might come out of it. Pecan and date duo Karamia turned into a successful experiment. And sometimes the nuts are tasty, but their butter isn’t.
How does a small business rest? How do you find time for vacation if you do everything by yourselves?
M.: It is hard to get away, but we learned to relax. We allow ourselves to not work on weekends and sometimes those weekends get longer, especially in the summer, when we have fewer orders. We go to the cinema, concerts, book presentations.
D.: If we make it, of course. During the first year of Sviestas sviestuotas, our personal and social lives really suffered because we were not planning our time right. It is easy to get burned out like that. Now, having rested during the summer, we are learning discipline again in the fall. The Christmas period is always difficult, but we have already accepted the fact that there will be back pain and sleep deprivation. But you also know that it will pass. After Christmas, we inform our clients that we will rest and go on a short vacation. However, we feel the responsibility to our partners and regular customers. Whenever we go somewhere, everyone’s stocks run out at the same time!
Μ.: When we were both finishing our studies, our business was on a break for a month. Some angry customers were saying, “How will my family survive without your butter?”.
D.: I think it is because people are not used to looking at a business from a humane point of view; that there are real people behind the brand who don’t have anyone to replace them.