It has been 30 years since entrepreneurs Lupe Lanao and her husband Gaston Vizcarra started CANDELA Peru (Comercio Alternativo de Productos No Tradicionales y el Desarrollo para Latino América Perú). What is unique about CANDELA? It has developed over three decades a business model of a social enterprise.

Based on a previous experience assisting Peruvian artisans finding export markets Lupe learned that to be sustainable a social initiative needs to incorporate a sales and marketing component from the start.

“We observed that most of the projects for social development promoted by NGOs did not consider commercialization of goods in their scheme,” said Lupe. The lifespan of these projects did not last more than two or three years of mainly technical assistance without the mechanisms to guarantee the project would be able to continue after the initial funding.

Lupe and Gaston embarked on a journey to empower the capacities of small producers and collectors of valuable superfoods from the Amazon and the Andean highlands to join under a private association with collective ownership that does not distribute profits. “From the beginning, CANDELA was born with a social purpose. Any surplus as a result of growth is reinvested to support initiatives that benefit the organization as a whole,” says Lupe.

Today CANDELA proudly generates income opportunities for 480 producers and collectors and 200 workers in two processing plants. Also, since 2001, they recognize suppliers of Amazon nut, through a monetary incentive, based on the quality and quantity of the product delivered.

The Amazon nut is commonly called the Brazil nut because Brazil was the first country to export the nut worldwide. However, the trees that supply the nutritious nut grow in Bolivia and Peru as well. Peru provides around ten percent of the world's supply of the “Brazil nut.”

Although the Amazon nut is CANDELA’s main value chain, as part of its strategy the company has diversified its portfolio. Currently, it offers five product lines that include other organic and quality products such as goldenberries, cacao, sacha inchi, copoazú, copaiba, camu camu, lucuma maca, buriti, ungurahui, and huasaí oils, and murumuru butter. The company is also involved in the development of an organic supply chain of organic coconut in Peru.

CANDELA continuously seeks new opportunities in the local and export markets. Gaston and Lupe took an active part in the development of the fair-trade certification when it was still a new concept. The challenge was that fair trade at first applied to crafts, not foods. "Certifications have provided our projects with new perspectives and practices to incorporate allowing us continuous improvement and access to more specialized markets,” says Lupe.

CANDELA also identifies potential partners, who are looking for more than just the purchase of goods. “We sell 92 percent of our products in 16 countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and Oceania. Our customers include The Body Shop, Lush, Lòreal, Unfi, Multiple Organics, CTM Altromercato, and Agidra,” says Lupe.

“Amazing allies have supported our venture throughout the years,” says Lupe. “Conservation International and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation assisted us with the initial funding. Another important organization in the process was Twin Trading. They opened us the doors to the European market, and Shared Interest, a financial entity, has given us financial support for the last 20 years.” The Body Shop has been a valuable partner through the community trade program that has been crucial for our consolidation.

“Financing was obtained because CANDELA’s business model made sense for these organizations,” says Lupe. “We have learned about the conservation of ecosystems and the inhabitants that are part of them. We follow a model that respects the rights of all actors engaged in BioTrade activities.”

The Amazon rainforest needs to be protected and preserved. The Amazon or Brazil nut is one of the most important non-timber forest products and cannot just be seen as a commodity with market price fluctuations based on offer and demand. “Conventional markets do not take in consideration the importance of the Amazon nut for the protection and restoration of the rainforest,” says Lupe. The best way to understand and recognize its value is when you visit the area by foot, suggests Lupe. “Very few people know the relationship that exists between the act of eating a Brazil Nut and the conservation of a pristine Amazon rainforest.”

“Today talking about superfoods or organic products is easy, but 30 years ago those were unknown concepts. Increased consumer awareness of the connection between health, food, and nature has been a critical process that needs to continue and translate into concrete actions to restore the health of the planet. It is the challenge for the next 30 years at CANDELA,” says Lupe.

In 2019 the marketing team will be at BIOFACH, NOPE, In-cosmetics Paris, In-cosmetics Korea, Natural Products Expo West, Seoul Food, Foodex-Japan, the Fancy Food Show in New York and Expoalimentaria Peru.