According to the 2010 Report conducted by Global Entrepreneurial Monitor, only 12% of Bolivian entrepreneurs are willing to introduce innovative practices to their businesses. With no doubt entrepreneur Lily Zuna belongs to this small percentage. Her company Ascex Trading, successfully exporting 40% of broad beans from the country, is also one of the few food export businesses run by a female executive.
After almost 10 years as a leading Bolivian exporter of dried broad beans, in 2003 Mrs. Zuna realized it was time to diversify her portfolio. Quinoa, amaranth and corn in conventional and organic quality were gradually incorporated into the company’s export operation.
Increased demand for natural whole foods encouraged Mrs. Zuna to go a step further and in 2005 she launched NUT & NAT, a sister firm for nutritious “ready-to-prepare” soups with Andean grains, broad beans and corn, offering delicious recipes high in protein, fibre and vitamins and free of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors.
“We started with three dairy-free cream soups rich in pulses under the brand Kremore, that received high acceptance in the local market”, says Mrs. Zuna. One of them was used in a local study to successfully treat malnutrition in children. “Interesting to note that fresh broad beans are rich in vitamin A, but have less protein content, while dried beans take longer to cook, but have more protein and less vitamin A”, she says.
Gradually NUT & NAT added other recipes. Exports in small volumes to Chile, France and Spain began in 2008. A customer suggested Mrs. Zuna to develop a pre-cooked line that would take the end consumer just a few minutes to prepare and serve. To meet the challenge new equipment was introduced and two organic certified products exclusively for exports were added to its line.
The Nut & Nat products were well accepted and initially the complete production was exported to Canada. “Soon demand exceeded our volume capacity and we had to expand the plant again, a project concluded in 2011,”Mrs. Zuna says.
Between Ascex and Nut & Nat Mrs Zuna employs 30 people, mainly female workers and 300 families from different communities supply the broad beans and receive technical assistance to improve farming practices. Today the firm offers five gluten-free, quinoa based meals: an instant soup and four main dishes including quinoa paella. Two additional rice-based meals complete the product range. The soups are presented in biodegradable paper base containers.
Diversifying and innovating are essential ingredients for Mrs. Zuna success. Her next goal is to increase exports of foods with added value. This is a trend followed by other Bolivian entrepreneurs, such as Andean Valley with its gluten free pizza and vegetable hamburger and desserts; Coronilla that has carved a special niche and international reputation for its high quality quinoa spaghetti and pastas, Anapqui, the largest small farmer cooperative in Bolivia offering private label quinoa grain , flour and flakes retail packaging to well known buyers in Europe and North America and Irupana that started one of the first retail franchises for natural whole foods in Latin America ,a meal program for children at public schools in Bolivia and is now investing in developing a promising line of energy bars made mainly with Andean grains.
“To succeed in today’s market you must be aware of the trends at home and abroad, be committed and perseverant,” Mrs. Zuna says. Ascex has exhibited since 1996 at Sial (Paris) alternating with Anuga (Cologne) and since showing the Nut & Nat line at BioFach (Nurenberg) Mrs Zuna is currently opening new export markets.