Beyond Social Media: How Tetiana Belma Decided to Open a Cheese Shop

Tetiana started producing natural craft cheese two years ago, successfully selling cheese wheels, semi-hard cheese with fenugreek, paprika, and 9 other types of cheese, as well as tasting kits on social media. However, she realizes that she needs to develop her business by increasing added value and looking for new customers. Today, a fixed point of sale – a modern craft cheese shop – helps the business get closer to potential customers, and to establish this point, Tetiana used the grant funds received under the project “Economic Opportunities for Women Affected by Conflict,” which the Ukrainian Women’s Fund implemented with the support of UN Women and the UN Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.

“When I applied for the grant, the store’s design was already finalized, but I had to resolve the issue of leasing the land and purchasing furniture, and an attractive signboard was also needed,” says Tetiana. 

She decided to expand her family business after she could no longer fulfill all orders. She recalls that it was difficult to say no to customers, and the excessive workload prevented her from learning and growing her business.

Tetiana has a medical degree, so she understands the importance of a balanced diet and quality products, which was a crucial factor in the idea to start cheesemaking. For her, it was not just about making cheese, it was about implementing the philosophy of healthy eating: using milk from local farmers, natural additives, high-quality starter cultures, and plant enzymes. 

“Owning a business is not easy,” emphasizes Tetiana. “I started my business during the quarantine, not even from scratch, but from having a negative balance on my account. Honing my skills and creating the perfect cheese required time and resources to experiment. Later, having acquired the skill, I listened to programs while making cheese to explore the possibilities of grant support, because the business needed money. I needed a cheese ripening chamber and other equipment, and later, I thought about opening a point of sale, which is also a very costly step,” Tetiana explains.

At the same time, she is convinced that one needs to believe in their business and look for people who will appreciate it. Therefore, despite the full-scale war that reduced the income of many customers, Tetiana decided to expand her business: she registered the “T.LANOVETSKA” trademark and opened a store. She also employed an IDP woman as a sales assistant. Together they spend a lot of time talking to customers. “Even when it comes to choosing a product, people reach out to other people,” says Tetiana.

She dreams of using her brand to popularize the town of Lanivtsi in the Ternopil region so that craft cheeses not only bring new flavors to the diet of local residents but also attract gastronomic tourists. Tetiana wants to support other local producers of natural products and is already working together with suppliers of related products such as ice cream and coffee beverages. 

Tetiana has come a long way to the current stage of business development, having studied technology, researched the market, selected equipment and a location for the store, and established channels of communication with customers, so now she wants to share her experience with others and joins roundtables and conferences. Tetiana is constantly analyzing the work of competitors, so she sees many opportunities for growth ahead and makes plans for business development. She breaks them down into specific steps to set deadlines and implement big ideas in small steps. The next important step in her business will be creating a customer-friendly website.

“We need to dream, but we should also set step-by-step goals to confidently pursue our dreams,” concludes Tetiana.