Following the success of her organic rosehip juice business, NADI, Atlanta entrepreneur Nina Tickaradze is launching a second product that will provide further meaningful work for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in her home country of Georgia.
NADI, which means “collective work effort” in Georgian, employs people displaced by conflict in the Republic of Georgia’s South Ossetia region, a territory claimed by Georgia but occupied by Russia since 2008.
The company’s new dried apple chips are made with organic apples that are grown and harvested by displaced persons in Georgia. The product is set to launch this month, said Ms. Tickaradze, NADI’s founder and CEO, who is also the marketing director of Atlanta law firm Hall Booth Smith, P.C.
“This is an opportunity for us to hire more refugees and broaden our reach into new markets,” she said, explaining that NADI began as an idea to provide jobs for IDPs in the Caucasus Mountains. They pick and help process organic rosehips — berries of rose plants that have been used in the region for centuries to make drinks that boost immunity, heal ailments and improve overall health.
Ms. Tickaradze said her company wanted to offer more employment options for South Ossetians in occupations they had before displacement. Many used to be apple farmers; hence, the idea for dried apple chips.
Apple sourcing allows NADI to work closely with various farmers who, in the conflict with Russia, “lost everything overnight,” Ms. Tickaradze said. “We still hope this land will one day be recognized as Georgia,” she added.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in September – as it has done each year since 2008 – “reaffirming the fundamental rights of forcefully displaced persons, first and foremost their right of voluntary, safe and dignified return to their homes” for Georgian IDPs and refugees from the South Ossetia region. But to no avail.
Following the 2008 conflict, the country of Georgia received international aid, but corruption prevented many Ossetian farmers from receiving funding, Ms. Tickaradze explained.
“Things have gotten better, but it’s still very difficult for a farmer to start a new career. NADI is giving them a second chance to provide for their families, and they are proud again,” she said. She added that NADI created a cooperative for the farmers so that other companies can also hire them.
“The Georgia economy is not the best, so other companies haven’t hired them yet. But I still hope as the cooperative grows, there will be more and more people who will,” she said.
Ms. Tickaradze said she dreams of NADI expanding to employ not only Georgian IDPs in Georgia but also those who have emigrated to the United States, as well as displaced persons in other countries. NADI’s distributors in the U.S. are Georgian and Bosnian refugees.
“When you go through this type of turmoil, it doesn’t matter what country you’re from. I started in Georgia because I had the hands-on opportunity there. But if I had the funding, I’d do it in every country. It’s important to make sure IDPs can stay in their countries,” Ms. Tickaradze said.
The NADI apple operation is helping, Ms. Tickaradze asserted.
Her business partner, George “Gaga” Abashidze, runs NADI’s processing and bottling facilities in Georgia that turn the harvested rosehips into three types of organic fruit juices and apples into dried apple chips.
After Georgian refugees harvest the apples, farmers sell them to NADI, which uses specialty machines to dry the fruit without any additional ingredients. The resulting chips are completely natural and certified organic, and Ms. Tickaradze believes they will appeal to a wider variety of consumers in the U.S. than even her specialty juices have.
“I think the international community will definitely embrace it more. There is a tradition of preserving fruits in Eastern Europe and in Asia, so these groups may be more interested. And they tend to eat a bit healthier,” she said.
She added that Atlanta’s international community has been receptive to NADI products, and the U.S. market in general is becoming more and more open to “mission-driven companies” like NADI that support worthwhile causes.
“I feel it more than I ever have. Markets have to listen to what consumers demand, and through social media, people have been more outspoken,” Ms. Tickaradze said.
Women-owned businesses are also thriving in the specialty foods arena, she added. NADI was recently named one of 15 companies to receive the Stacy’s Rise Project 2020 award that recognizes women entrepreneurs making a positive impact.
“So much has changed in the U.S.; women owners feel like we have support now. But our number one support is each other,” she said, noting that she relies on the winners of the Stacy’s Rise Project award, plus other women entrepreneurs, for sharing ideas. Ms. Tickaradze said this type of camaraderie is common in the health foods world, where even direct competitors are willing to help each other.
Through the Stacy’s Rise award, Ms. Tickaradze is receiving business development and marketing assistance from PepsiCo Inc., which owns Stacy’s Pita Chip Company Inc..
In addition to running NADI, Ms. Tickaradze is founder of the Georgia to Georgia Foundation, a non-profit that furthers ties between the State of Georgia and the country of Georgia, as well as co-leader of the Atlanta Tbilisi Sister City Committee, along with Hall Booth Smith Chairman John E. Hall, Jr..
Mr. Hall, who is also the honorary consul of Georgia in the Southeast, told Global Atlanta that several companies in the state of Georgia are doing business in the republic, including Coca-Cola Co. and Royal Crown Cola Co. of Columbus, as well other local companies that continue to look for opportunities in the country, including in the wine industry.
Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions were the largest wine producers for Russia before it took over the two regions and halted all Georgia wine imports, Mr. Hall explained. “Georgia had to rebuild its wine industry from scratch.”
Tourism has also been developing in Georgia over the last decade, including ties with the state of Georgia, Mr. Hall said. He added that the state’s National Guard has a strong relationship with the country of Georgia, sending troops to provide military assistance and other security and police services in the country.
He noted that the plight of displaced persons in South Ossetia is an ongoing issue for the Georgian government as well as a major diplomatic issue. “But the idea of going back and recapturing Ossetia – that does not have a lot of international movement; there’s lip service but not a lot of movement,” Mr. Hall said.
When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, people were “literally forced out of their homes,” much like when Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba, Mr. Hall said. He likened Georgia’s sentiments about the Russian takeover of South Ossetia to a takeover of Maine and Florida by Canada.
“The U.S. would be really upset. Georgia remains really upset about South Ossetia,” he said. “The easy diplomatic way would be to acknowledge that Georgia is not getting Ossetia back and just move forward. But the Georgian people are immensely passionate about the issue, so they’ll keep pushing.”
Former Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Craven, who is marketing coordinator for NADI in Atlanta, agreed that the matter of displaced persons in Georgia is still a sensitive issue.
Though scantly covered in the news, Russia is still taking over land in Georgia, she said. The Russian government reportedly “just moves the border like one mile overnight. Once they take over, you become a Russian citizen or you have to leave.”
Ms. Craven said the IDP settlements are apparent across the South Ossetia region, where every house built by the Russian government looks the same. “Like a refugee camp but more permanent. There’s the idea that they’re never going to be able to go home, so the government is trying to find a spot for them,” she said. “It’s an ongoing thing; it’s not done by any means.”
Families are still being displaced, Mr. Hall said, noting that the Georgia to Georgia Foundation supports several orphanages in the region.
Through these types of humanitarian exchanges, Ms. Tickaradze met Georgian community leaders who expressed the need for job creation in the country, and NADI was born.
The business, she said, has further contributed to bringing the “two Georgias” closer together.
NADI began selling its juices a couple years ago in metro Atlanta restaurants, neighborhood markets and health food stores, including both locations of Alon’s Bakery & Market, the Australian Bakery Cafe in Marietta, Buford Highway Farmers Market, Health Unlimited, Savi Provisions and Sevananda Natural Foods Market.
Ms. Tickaradze expects to begin selling the new NADI apple chips online at the beginning of the new year.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the apple chips’ launch, she said, but the company had already adjusted its production and safety protocols in February before the pandemic even reached the U.S. “We tried to produce as much as possible to last the whole year because we didn’t know what would happen,” she said.
She admitted she was “a bit nervous” about launching the new product during these uncertain times, adding that companies “need to not relax” in their efforts to operate safely.
“But there’s never a bad time to start a business; you just have to jump. It’s so difficult any time; you just have to take leap of faith.”
Order NADI apple chips and rosehip juices at www.getnadi.com.