Thousands of business visitors attending the Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javits Centre in New York June 28-30 will have an opportunity to see and try the first organic, fair trade and kosher certified plantain chip, which is already exciting palates in California, Canada, Germany, Japan and Korea.
Vinicio Reyes Ramos and Patricia Argudo de Reyes started the Ecuadorian-based firm Platayuc in 2007. The husband and wife team initially exported raw and peeled plantains and cassava for the snack industry.
Four years later Platayuc began producing the first organic and fair-trade-certified snack made entirely in Ecuador, following an opportunity presented by the French workers’ cooperative, Ethiquable. This was their first client in the natural and organic sector, which asked Platayuc to produce and pack their chips in Ecuador under private label. “This opened new horizons for us,” says Vinicio. Patricia adds: “Currently 80 per cent of our total production is organic-certified. “Soon,” says Vinicio, “we’ll be able to offer organic cassava chips as well.” The goal is to offer a line of 100% organic certified products.
Patricia says “We were already importing fertilizers and spraying systems so it was easier for us to establish this new venture. It allowed us to stay close to the agro-industrial sector, as we were directly in touch with producers of banana, plantain, flowers and other fresh Ecuadorian goods.”
Certifying the plantation fields proved the main challenge for Platayuc. “This,” says Vinicio, “involved proper communication, education and coordination with the farmers to help them understand the value of organic farming and fair-trade”. The next step was finding an organic oleic sunflower oil or non-hydrogenated palm oil to suit their needs.
Platayuc provides technical assistance to over 350 small plantain and cassava producers, with two full-time engineers regularly visiting the fields. Employees are advised on how a good diet leads to better health and why Platayuc invests in all the certifications it achieves. As well as organic, Kosher and fair-trade certification, Platayuc is gluten-free and Basc and GMP-certified. The firm is also entitled to display the emblem “Ecuador love life” as endorsement of quality for its products.
This industrial activity generates more jobs than producing potato chips. Thirty-five single mothers peel plantains by hand because no machine can process the fruit’s different shapes and sizes. “Also,” says Vinicio, “each plantain has to be inspected before processing to ensure no imperfections slip through.”
He and Patricia realized that to crack the tough snacks market they not only needed to invest in a great product but participate in top international food shows. Platayuc launched its line in fairs like San Francisco’s Fancy Foods Show, BIOFACH in Germany, Foodex (Japan) and Seoul & Hotel (Korea), thanks to help from Proecuador, the government export promotion agency. Every month Platayuc exports ten 20ft containers of finished goods to the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Belgium, Japan and Korea. The firm is also opening markets in neighbouring countries and plans to attend Apas in Sao Paulo and Expoalimentaria in Peru.
The certification logos are displayed on the shirts the Platayuc team wears at the trade shows and in other corporate marketing tools. When OWN asked the active couple to share an anecdote from their travels and many fairs covered Vinicio says “I really enjoyed dealing with Asian entrepreneurs. At Foodex Japan a guy came every day desperate to buy my black corporate shirt which looks like the ones those car-racers wear covered with the logos of the certifications our brand has achieved. On the last day I gave him the shirt and he offered me money. I refused but he insisted, saying I was giving him a valuable marketing tool and should expect something in return for a real win-win exchange.”
He adds: “South Korea’s obsession with education also impressed me. They invest in it heavily and their teachers earn better pay than those in the Americas and Europe.”
With exports rising, Platayuc is now turning its sights on the local Ecuadorian market, which is steadily demanding “more organic certified products,” says Patricia. “Ecuadorian consumers are now aware of the link between diet and health. Our daughter tells us she sees parents studying food labels when buying snacks for their children’s lunchboxes.”
Plantains are a staple food in Central and South American countries, also widely consumed in Africa and South East Asia. In North America and Western Europe, fresh and processed plantains are increasingly in demand, with more health-conscious consumers seeking an alternative to potato chips.
According to a Nielsen global report, consumers spent $374 billion on snack foods between 2013 and 2014, a year-over-year increase of 2 per cent. And in 2013 marketreasearch.com states that the US potato chips market had total revenues of $9,041.6m representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3% between 2009 and that year.
As visitors to the Summer Fancy Foods Show in New York are about to find out, Platayuc is a tasty snack that absorbs less oil than potato chips, is free of trans fats, artificial flavours and colors and contains potassium and fiber.