A small village community in Matale produces tea packs made out of reed under a regular Rs 2 million monthly contract -- in a-too-good-to-be-true story -- thanks to the efforts of Bio Foods (Pvt) Ltd.
The Kandy-based company founded by former Tea Research Institute (TRI) Scientist Dr Sarath Ranaweera is Sri Lanka’s biggest organic food producer and amongst the best in the world with turnover this year likely to reach 5 million Euros (Rs 800 million).
“We have been in the 3-4 million Euros turnover region and want to top 5 million in 2007,” noted Ranaweera, at his hillside office in Kandy.
Ranaweera, who has opened the doors to the world for many small producers and budding entrepreneurs in Kandy and Matale districts, says the reed basket producers churn out some good quality products and “they get a decent income”. Almost all their products are purchased by Bio Foods, a company that has maintained a low profile here but is well known in Europe.
The company is the world’s 1st Fair Trade registered processor and exporter of organic spices and wants to be the best in its field in South East Asia. Its value-added products in green and black tea, spices, herbs, curry powder, desiccated coconut, cashew, treacle, juggery and coconut oil are snapped up by buyers across Europe and Asia, paying a premium with part of it going to farmers and producers in Kandy for their social welfare.
Bio Foods’ James Valley Organic Tea Factory has been recently awarded with the one star rating of the Ceylon Quality Certificate under the Quality Management System of the Sri Lanka Tea Board. “Organic farming provides better yields from virgin oil. But when converting from chemical filled soil to organic farming it takes time,” says Ranaweera.
Value addition at Bio Foods is 90 percent with raw material coming from nearby fields while Rs 2.3 million is spent annually on international certification, “very important if you want to sell to quality conscious consumers in Europe and Japan”, says Ranaweera.
The company spends Rs 12 million on social welfare per year and is planning to open Sri Lanka’s first organic food restaurant in Colombo shortly.
Ranaweera says the company is constantly developing new products and ploughs in a lot of money -- 35 percent of its annual profits – on research and development. Bio Foods teas are sold at US$20 per kg against the conventional $2.5 per kg at the Colombo tea auction.
A pioneer in organic farming, the Kandy scientist says he vowed to get into organic food after almost dying in 1983 – while at the IDB – following consumption of carbonated drinks.
“Doctors said there were chemicals in the drink and from that day onwards I wanted to know about chemicals in drinks,” he recalled.