Committed to its mission of “sharing quinoa with the world,” California-based Andean Naturals will open Jacha Inti S.A. (JISA) in La Paz, Bolivia. Starting in January 2012, this new state-of-the art-facility will gather, process and co-pack organic quinoa from 600 family farms in the department of Oruro for U.S. food companies.
This will be the second major move this year by Andean Naturals, which signed a joint venture agreement earlier this year with U.S. trading firm Specialty Commodities. The partnership positions Andean Naturals and Specialty Commodities as the major buyer and supplier of quinoa in North America. “Our goal is to take quinoa to its next level in the market,” says Specialty Commodities senior broker Mike Harkins. Specialty brings to the table more than 25 years of a solid financial and operational platform. “Andean Naturals is the undisputed expert (in) sourcing quinoa,” says Harkins. “We are excited about our future together in the ingredients industry.” In 2011, the two companies shared 35% of the quinoa market in the United States, a figure the group plans to grow with their new operation in Bolivia.
Jacha Inti, which stands for “Great Sun” in kitchua, a native language in Bolivia and Peru, is a facility designed from the ground up to meet the ISO 22000, PAS 2200 and GFSA standards, which are now requirements for major food companies. “The food safety expectations are forcing us to pioneer in the use of more precise equipment with effective magnetic separators, x-ray machines and ultraviolet sterilizers,” says Antonio Salazar, chief operations officer at JISA. “But the main changes will be introduced as result of our investment in our people to develop a quality-oriented culture.”
Food safety is now a major focus for brand-holder companies, following the USDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011. Recent food recalls and the related expenses and loss of prestige are a source of fear for brand-holders and their ingredient suppliers.
“What is unique about JISA is that although still a farm-to-fork approach, we’re now able to safely co-pack for clients at the source,” says French-Bolivian entrepreneur Sergio Núñez de Arco, general manager at Andean Naturals. Since there will be no more quality control between the time JISA closes the seal on a package to the point where the consumer opens it, the product needs to be delivered consistently as the clients expect it. “Our customer’s brands and reputation will depend on our level of commitment to perfection.”
By controlling the food safety of their entire supply chain, Andean Naturals and Specialty Commodities feel they can safely offer U.S. clients the best value and the highest food safety in co-packed quinoa under their specifications.
However, the group’s strategy for growth in the bulk ingredients industry remains the same. “JISA will not replace the current supply from our trusted cooperatives and associations,” assures Nuñez de Arco. “We will continue to grow the bulk side of the business while going into a completely new market segment, one that we are not servicing at all: co-packing”.
So far the key to their success has been controlling the risks sourcing from small companies through a tedious pre-shipment quality control at the source. Andean Naturals samples 60 of 800 bags at random, and then sorts them by hand through a combined sample of nine pounds. “Our local offices allow us to rapidly provide feedback to the processing plants, to determine whether a product meets our specifications or has to go through re-processing prior to shipment,” adds Nuñez de Arco. “We used to reject one out of 10 containers. Currently one out of 20 shipments is re-processed. Our goal is one out of 100 within one year.”
Andean Natural’s quinoa sourcing method has proven successful for high volumes, but many still question the sustainability of quinoa production. To this end, Andean Naturals is working closely with FAUTAPO to follow the recommendations this organization has developed for the industry. FAUTAPO is a foundation that promotes the interaction between the educational and productive sectors. Since 2005, it supports a program for the quinoa productive chain in the Southern Altiplano. “An approach that integrates the fields (more directly) provides us the opportunity to address sustainability issues directly with the farmers,” says Nuñez de Arco.
“We can better understand now their needs, for instance, in relation to agricultural inputs and funding,” he says. “They in turn understand our need for good agricultural practices to deliver cleaner raw materials to our facility. A cleaner raw material is the first step to quality,” says Nuñez de Arco.