[Interview] Esther Asante, CEO, Organic Trade & Investments, Ghana
Esther Asante is the founder and CEO of Organic Trade & Investments, a Ghana based online retail store selling organically produced commodities, from Shea butter to herbs, which are sourced from small holder farmers.
She talked to Africa Business Communities about the company’s growth path that includes starting with one client to the now over 60 spanning UK, Egypt, South Africa and Japan among others and the company’s strategy to focus on ‘rediscovered’ crops buoyed by a burgeoning health conscious middle class.
Kindly introduce Organic Trade & Investments
Organic Trade & Investments, OTI, is a registered Ghanaian electronic retailing store of pharmaceutical and medical goods, cosmetic and toilet articles.
As part of our aim to promote indigenous commodities from the Mediterranean region and West Africa, we are committed to selling 100% naturally grown produce and products made by the indigenous people of the land.
Our range of natural herbs and 100% unrefined, and semi-refined products are very much patronized by pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies worldwide. The herbs are cultivated the traditional way and are carefully handpicked from various farms throughout the region. Our herbs are ideal for biomedical purposes.
There are more than 100 articles on sale, from naturally grown edible consumables (such as cereals; wheat, precooked Fonio, etc.), organically certified unrefined fats and pure essential oils to spices, aromatic plants, gum copal, plant sweeteners, dyes, and insecticides.
Where is the company located?
Headquartered in Ghana, the company has representative franchise offices in Saudi Arabia and India. We were awarded Best New Online Retailer of 2018 at the Ghana maiden eCommerce Awards.
OTI is member of SheTrades (International Trade Council), the Ghana-Sweden Chamber of Commerce, Ghana Trade Hub, and accredited by Ghana Export Promotion Authority, as a commercial exporter.
We currently ship to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Japan, Mauritius, and the UK. We adhere to Goal 8 - Decent work and economic growth – of UN SDG. We achieve this by partnering with regulatory organizations to have small scale farmers and producers of natural / organic commodities trained and get their products and produces promoted.
We have organized a Saturday farmer's market, with the aim of helping these farmers and producers get new markets in Ghana. The main target markets are expatriates and Ghanaian returnees who are conscious of what they are consuming.
In which export markets do you see the strongest demand for your products?
It really depends on the products. Our certified organic raw Shea butter grade ‘A’ for instance is widely sought for. The major markets are Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and recently, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. While we have a big market for our Fonio in Europe, and South America, and the virgin coconut oil is in huge demand locally, regionally, and internationally.
How is your clientele base constituted?
More and more people are becoming picky on what they are eating. They want to know what they are eating, how and where it is grown. Quality is slowly taking over quantity. Most of our clients are start-ups scattered across 19 countries.
But we also have about 25% of our clients being well established chocolate making, pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies who buy our semi-finished or raw materials. We are more into B2B than the B2C. We are progressively moving away from the B2C sector, as a high number of customers who bought samples from us are now becoming loyal customers. For us, B2B has proven to more cost effective –it is also in line with our business model.
What can you say about the targets, plans and ambitions of the company for 2019?
We always try to set reasonable and feasible KPIs for ourselves. No need to create any panic or live with stress. As a new company, what we believe we need most and help us stay in business is to equip our partners (farmers and producers) and support team with the right tools including; knowledge, good industrial practices, etc. Training sessions, seminars, and workshops represent half of our organizational goals this year.
We are hoping to partner with more regulatory organizations such as Green Label and the International Trade Center (ITC) to help us get more of our farmers and small scale producers being trained and certified to be able to respond to both local and international needs, efficiently. We are realistic on achieving our targets this year.
We have already submitted our application to participate in the module on Resource Efficiency and Circular Production Processes with the ITC. We hope to be considered in the final selection.
We have developed a market strategy plan to promote two new commodities. We want to focus more on ‘rediscovered’ crops or foods, such as Fonio and Bambara beans. Slowly, people are getting to know the health benefits of Fonio. 2019 started on a good note and we are on track. So far, so good.
How has the market responded to your products? Why do you think that is so?
Since the inception of the company, we have been receiving nothing but very positive feedback and reviews on the high quality of our products.
We started with 1 client from Egypt – today we count more than 60 clients who have patronized our products and still come back with the aim of establishing a long term partnership with our company.
This is because we do not compromise on quality. We are trustworthy and honest in our dealings with our clients. We do not make fake promises. We stick to what we can offer and do. We listen and take in well feedback from clients.
Our customer service is commendable and the attitude of our workers encouraging. We build friendships with our clients. They become a part of us. Certainly, there would be challenges in business, as always, but it’s the way you will address the problem. That’s what will make the difference.
What is the latest news from Organic Trade & Investments?
The latest and big news is that OTI was honored the Best New Online Retailer award of 2018, while I took home the Best Female eCommerce Entrepreneur award – making me the first woman to be given this prize in the history of the Ghana eCommerce Awards.
In another development, our precooked Fonio and Fonio flour are becoming the big thing out there. A few international companies have express interest in becoming distributors in their respective countries.
What do you consider the biggest threat in your line of business?
The people – and this include the farmers and producers –we work with. They can make you fail or help you succeed. If you want to succeed in your endeavors, you’ve got to respect and value the people you work with.
Our partners are the reason behind our success. Some people might disregard farmers or small scale producers and might even want to exploit them for whatever reason. The people we work with adore and respect us not for what we give but for how we make them feel.
Some of our competitors have also been engaging the same farmers and producers we source our raw materials or commodities from but it has not collapsed OTI’s activities.
We are not scared of the competition. On the contrary, I think competition is one thing that drives OTI to be on top of its activities. In fact, we encourage and practice co-competition all the time.
Who should contact your company, and why?
Pharmaceutical, cosmetic, chocolate making companies, retailers, distributors, and start-ups. Serious importers who are looking for a reliable company to supply them with natural and certified organic products whether in large or small volumes should feel free to get in touch.
Why work with OTI? We think ecofriendly. We believe sustainability is the only solution to remain in business. Our private label products service is tailor-made for start-up companies in the cosmetic industry.
We provide a wide range of high quality semi-finished products and raw materials at reasonable prices. For instance, our Shea butter – which is certified organic by Ecocert –is handcrafted by our mothers, aunties, and grand-mothers from Tamale. So, the next time you are buying or using OTI Shea butter, know that you didn’t just buy any type of Shea butter. You bought a piece of arts, unique to the history, heritage, and culture of the people of Ghana.
Any additional information?
Just an advice to entrepreneurs who still want to stay in and build a sustainable business – it is not about the size of your business or how big your dreams are. It’s about the fundamentals; values, mission, objectives, and strategies you adopt and apply in your everyday life and business activities. You should value the people you work with. You should invest in capacity building.
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