In Colombia, the business model Andean Valley has incorporated to position its brand has proven successful. Sebastian Zamora and Vanessa Parra met Javier Fernandez, while the three of them were in University. When Sebastian and Vanessa moved to Bogota in 2011, they brought along the attractive line of quinoa value-added foods produced by Andean Valley in Bolivia.
Although quinoa was cultivated in the Andean countries including Colombia in Pre-colonial times, and demand for quinoa had gradually increased in North America and Europe over the past 15 years, in 2011 most Colombians had not heard about it. And organic food was perceived as a concept that just a few vegetarians and those suffering of gluten intolerance or other allergies would understand.
The team at Andean Valley Colombia immediately started an educational campaign. They went door-to-door visiting top restaurants and hotels, supermarket chains and gourmet stores, introducing quinoa, its health benefits and the convenience that the Andean Valley line offers. “The reception to this premium brand has been fantastic. Colombians appreciate good food. We have great restaurants and a variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables growing almost all year around,” said Ms. Parra. “But even though we have an organic seal since 2006, most products are not following the international standards. The market is still confused. And quinoa is just starting to be mentioned in our conversations. The Food channels on TV and the internet have helped tremendously”.
In 2013 celebrations of the International Year of Quinoa provided the little seed with a nutty taste and rich in amino acids and minerals increased visibility around the world. And Colombia was no exception.
“Since the introduction of Andean Valley to the organic market in Colombia we have observed increased consumption of this pseudocereal at natural health food stores, supermarkets, and restaurants,” said Richard Probst Bruce, organic pioneer, and partner at GreenBizz Consulting SAS. “Besides Quinoasure, that is promoted as a supplement, in Colombia, the quinoa offer has been limited to artisan products or transformed for the vegan and vegetarian segment. Andean Valley is the first industrial brand with organic and Kosher certifications to approach the hospitality and catering industry, the supermarket chains and the institutional market, and to guide them to add quinoa (to their menus),” said Mr. Probst. “Colombia is growing some quinoa, but the varieties are not sweet. They have a high content of saponin, are not organic certified, and there is no processing firm providing the same high quality as the quinoa from Andean Valley, that meets international standards.”
Mr. Probst and his consulting firm have conducted surveys during B2B and consumer events and at natural health food stores such as Bioplaza, the first organic shop that opened in Bogota in 2002. It currently has five points of sale in the city. “People usually see imported goods coming from the United States or Europe. They are surprised to hear that Andean Valley is from Bolivia,” he said.
“In many ways, Andean Valley has made a valuable contribution to the organic sector in Colombia. Among consumers with high disposable income, Andean Valley has demonstrated that an organic product made in South America can offer the same quality, certifications, packaging and fulfillment of social and environmental standards as a product imported from the US or Europe.
Chefs, hotels and the catering and institutional sectors have experienced a high-quality product line that offers possibilities for a variety of dishes. Quinoa is a versatile and nutritious ingredient. Entrepreneurs interested in the natural food industry are realizing that an organic product can offer convenience in an attractive packaging to satisfy the needs of several niche markets simultaneously: The celiac, Kosher, Halal, vegetarian, vegan, non–GMO. Andean Valley has also triggered interest in growing quinoa in areas in Colombia where it was produced before colonial times: Boyaca, Narino, and Cauca.
“The first steps were tough. We have a product 40-60 percent more expensive than the quinoa produced in Colombia. Our goal was to show retailers and consumers that quinoa can serve several markets, from infant meals to the elderly, athletes or those recovering from an illness.” Once the message went through, doors for quinoa began to open. The large supermarkets such as Jumbo; the natural health food stores like Bioplaza; traditional food manufacturers like Noel or Alimentos El Dorado, and well-known restaurants like Crepes and Waffles, a Colombian chain with franchises in all main cities in Colombia and seven other countries. Today, more Colombians find quinoa in salads, soups, pasta dough, desserts and energy bars. “Companies like Andean Valley, that are bringing back a culinary tradition and are offering a sustainable product with a message of social and environmental responsibility have triggered higher demand for organic foods,” said Mr. Probst. “In Bogota, the number of natural health food shops has grown from 26 to 60 between 2014 and 2016” And all supermarket chains have a section for gluten-free, vegetarian and organic foods, beyond fresh fruits and vegetables. Organic coffee grew by 19 percent in 2015. Based on the numbers collected by GreenBizz Consulting SAS, there are over 4,000 committed shoppers of organic products in Bogota and over 18,000 occasional customers. That is a minuscule number for a city with a population of over 8 million. But in 2001 there were no more than 300 daily organic consumers. And other people are buying at open markets every week, that seek natural products, but would not buy them at the established shops his company monitors. “There is increased interest in Andean Valley in other cities such as Medellin, Barranquilla, even in smaller places like Monteria and Llano Grande,” says Mr. Zamora.
Andean Valley Colombia does not only sell the products processed at its facility in Bolivia. In addition to the ready-to-prepare products, Andean Valley Colombia has introduced a baby line with quinoa developed by Bolivian firm Mankeri since 2010. It is the first baby food brand offering real nutrition, with balanced gluten-free, vegetarian and protein rich formulas for the most delicate digestive systems. “We approached the well-established chain Pepe Ganga that sells toys and other products for children, and now they are introducing the Andean Valley baby foods. A total hit, says Mr. Zamora.”
On the other hand, Andean Valley Colombia is offering chia seeds under its label. “ Our chia brand is the third most sold health product at Cencosud (one of the largest retail conglomerates in South America).”
The latest addition is a line of pasta made with rice, corn and quinoa. It is a project under co-branding. The packaging shows El Dorado logo on the front and on the back the distinctive red Andean Valley logo. “We are developing a promising alliance for this gluten-free pasta category made with 100% Italian non-GMO corn, rice and corn, rice corn and quinoa and corn, rice and chia flour,” says Mr. Zamora. “The line is not 100% organic yet, but it is on its way.”
And where will be Andean Valley Colombia in a few years? “At this pace, we will reach a much ample segment of the population soon and plan to develop more nutritious foods with our partners at the company headquarters in Bolivia and Colombia”.
Colombia has also seen a reactivation of its tourism industry. Over two million non-nationals visited the South American country in 2015, compared to 540,000 in 2002. And even though other countries like Mexico receive over 40 million tourists per year, Colombia is expected to be one of the ten fastest growing tourist markets globally, according to the World Tourism Organization. Visitors are pleased finding products they buy at home when they are abroad, especially if they suffer from gluten intolerance and have other health issues.
“There is still a long way to go and more support from the government that has not developed a clear and solid plan for the development of the organic sector as we have seen in other Latin American countries,” says Mr. Probst. The good news is that there is a dynamic association of organic entrepreneurs, FEDEORGANICOS with 300 members. It enjoys the support of the Bogota Chamber of Commerce. Both organizations are currently planning the IV National and International Forum for Organic Agriculture that attracted over 800 participants last year. The organizers are expecting 1000 participants this coming July 27-28th. The B2B food fair Alimentec held also in Bogota attracted firms from over 25 countries and more exhibitors and buyers seeking natural and organic products.