In 1996 leading Bolivian supplier of organic Royal Quinoa foods Andean Valley Corp., embarked on the mission to provide quality of life to everyone involved in the production of its nutritious line, from field to table. Two decades later, the company has created a name with good reputation abroad and at home. The strategy? Investing in healthy relationships, listening and improving the operation step by step.
First, Andean Valley became the primary provider of quinoa in bulk to a handful of well-established organic trading firms in North America, Europe and Israel, including Quinoa Corporation, the first company to introduce the Golden grain to the United States.
A dynamic business relationship with a steady delivery since 1998 of more than 9,000 metric tons of high-quality product to Quinoa Corporation is proof of Andean Valley’s top performance.
David Schorr, the founder of Quinoa Corp., has been a pioneer and key player in the development of the quinoa sector, gaining valuable experience as one of the leading importers to the world’s largest organic food market and a direct grower in Colorado.
Growing food is not easy. Growing quinoa under harsh weather conditions and poor infrastructure, implementing sustainable ancestral and artisan practices combined with organic methods and modern technology are still challenging. Schorr understood that commitment to a guaranteed fair price was the only way to provide some certainty to the farmers. “This allowed Andean Valley to strengthen our relationship with over 480 families that supply us with high-quality quinoa year after year,” said general manager Javier Fernandez Villalobos.
A second pillar of the strategy has been establishing a diversified operation. Aware that dealing with quinoa only as a commodity, where price becomes the main sales argument was not enough to develop a robust enterprise; in 2009 Mr. Fernandez decided to embark on an international corporate expansion. Besides bulk orders from its loyal clients in the Northern Hemisphere, Mr. Fernandez found a great partner in Brazil committed to developing a market for quinoa. In Brazil, nobody had even heard of this food venerated by the Inca people during pre-Hispanic times.
Direct distribution in the largest South American country began with Mundo da Quinoa and its brand Reserva Mundi. Soon the smart business model based on friendship, transparency and trust was implemented to open Andean Valley Colombia, Andean Valley Costa Rica, Andean Valley Peru, and Andean Valley Japan. Today, over 30 solid clients with regular orders of bulk or retail packs under private label or with the Andean Valley brand provide a stable base for its continued operation expansion.
“Finding the right people has been the central element that has helped us with our business development. Creating strategic alliances with other quinoa suppliers, working side by side with the growers and the firms where our brand has been established, and great support from our clients is what keeps us moving forward, all sharing the mission, values and work ethics,” says Mr. Fernandez.
“ Most of the quinoa family growers that started with the company are still part of our team,” says Linett Salinas, corporative manager. “As we are expanding more families are joining our supplier’s program, where they receive training and technical assistance in areas such as soil regeneration, pest control, and organic certification. Soon there will be 500 families partnering with us.” To secure proper and consistent training in the fields from planting to harvesting, Andean Valley works with PROIMPA, Foundation for the Promotion and Research of Andean Products.
Quinoa Corp. has been a client very involved supporting initiatives that will guarantee sustainable quinoa production, especially during the boom that the nutritious pseudo-cereal experienced, as the result of the ample 2013 International Year of Quinoa promotion campaign.
The retail line of Andean Valley includes not only white, red and black Royal quinoa grain, flakes and flour, but also gluten-free and ready-to-prepare mixes for busy consumers: Vegetarian hamburgers, flan, brownies, pancakes, and pizza dough and a combination of Royal quinoa with organic and biodynamic rice sourced in Brazil.
Andean Valley has built a modern processing plant assisted by the Center for Promotion of Sustainable Technologies CPTS (www.cpts.org). The grain cleaning equipment was built by the Danish firm Cimbria (www.cimbria.com). Its optical selectors of the latest generation are from the Swiss company Buhler (www.buhlergroup.com) and Daewon from Korea, and the elimination technology is from the Brazilian firm Sanmaq-Lucato. Andean Valley also enjoys equipment for control systems for magnetic and metallic rocks from the American company Eriez.
The removal of saponin is performed with a mixed de-saponification procedure: a dry method (scouring or polishing); and a wet method (washing). Glycosides compose saponin, present in all quinoa and other plants. Saponin has a distinctive foaming characteristic and is removed to avoid quinoa with a bitter taste.
The Royal quinoa from Andean Valley enjoys the organic seal to sell in the US, EU, Canada, Brazil and Japan. It also has Kosher certification and ISO 9001. The FSSC 22000 is in the process. Mr. Fernandez expects to obtain the Gluten-Free, non-GMO and Whole Grain seals as well. “Our immediate challenge is to get all ingredients for the products with added value in organic quality so that all the goods can be certified organic,” says Ms. Salinas.
Although Andean Valley has focused its operation in the export market, the positive experience of its partnerships and sister firms in Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica have empowered it to develop the local market as well. Like the rest of Latin America, until recently Bolivia was not prepared to embrace organic foods with the same attitude as the US, Canada, Germany or Denmark. Thanks to the internet, direct promotion and advertising campaigns people everywhere are now more health conscious. Bolivians now appreciate the fact that they live in the country where the best-known quinoa grows.
“We have now a sales division to cater to the local market. In just a few months our products have reached all supermarkets, high-end and for the mass market, gourmet shops hotels and restaurants,” says Ms. Salinas. Andean Valley is also expanding its production facilities with state-of-the-art technology that will allow them to increase production ten times with a workforce of 70 employees. Currently, the plant can process one container of 20 MT per day for export, with the high-quality standards.
The launch of a book on Royal quinoa and Bolivian cuisine is in the plans, and establishing relationships with nutritionists and chefs to add to the mission of Andean Valley and its partners showing the link between health and food.
Andean Valley values relationships and keeping direct communication with its partners along the supply chain. The company has learned that observing market trends, listening to all players in the complex market, planning ahead step by step and a serious commitment are the real ingredients to achieve sustainable success.