Stories of technical cooperation
Conservas Laurelis: Ecuador’s women have their sights set on the international market
San Jose, 5 June 2020 (IICA). Ellen Mortensen’s childhood was filled with the smells of flavored vegetable and fruit preserves being prepared at her home in Quito – a tradition born out of her father’s Danish heritage.
As a teenager, she enjoyed preparing preserves herself, later deciding to sell them on the local market in 2015, after patenting her brand, La sazón Laurel. This was the beginning of Conservas Laurelis.
“The Supermaxi chain had a special opening for products from Ecuadorian businesses and we gave them some samples that were accepted. After the initial formalities, in 2016 we were able to place our gherkins and pickled beet products on the shelves”, Mortensen told us.
She currently employs up to five people, two of them as permanent staff, and produces 20 different products. Conservas Laurelis has a small factory in Quito in a location equipped for food preparation, with washable, stainless steel fittings and adhering to strict quality and safety standards.
This expansion had been done with one goal in mind: to sell the products in other countries.
The businesswomen confirmed that, “The idea of exporting was something we always had in mind and in June 2019 we accepted an invitation to prepare to sell our products in Germany, through the export program: Programa Exportador Global: Ecuador para el Mundo”.
This experience, spearheaded by the Ecuador Delegation of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), was instrumental in the company receiving advisory support and training, to assist in satisfying the stringent requirements of Germany’s market.
She maintained that, “IICA’s assistance was a game-changer”, said Mortensen. “They lent us their experience and facilitated connections, because it is difficult for individuals and small businesses to open doors on their own”.
Diego Borja, Under-Secretary of Agroindustry and Aquaculture Processing of Ecuador’s Ministry of Production explained that, “Initiatives like this contribute to the country’s production diversification. This will facilitate access to new markets and foreign exchange earnings, which has become so critical amidst the Covid-19 global health emergency”.
In Ecuador, just five basic products—without valued added—account for 80% of exports: banana, shrimp, flowers, cocoa and fish.
Margarita Baquero, Agribusiness and Trade Specialist in the IICA Ecuador Office, believes that, “Ecuador’s best export option would be to look to organic or agroecological niches that do not require large volumes, but do demand quality. We have the opportunity to explore these types of markets in the European Union, especially Spain, while taking advantage of tariff benefits under the agreement signed between Ecuador and this bloc of countries.
In addition to completing export training, which was jointly sponsored by IICA and the country’s certification office, National Association of Food and Beverage Manufacturers (ANFAB), Conservas Laurelis participated in an international business network with representatives from Asia, South America, the United States, Turkey and Japan, to name a few.
The entrepreneur explained that, “That was our wake-up call, as they say, since many of our products were not in sync with these clients’ expectations. It forced us to tailor some of them to suit the European and Asian markets”.
For example, instead of using white sugar, Conservas Laurelis began to develop sugar-free preserves with indigenous Ecuadorian fruit, such as tamarillo, dragon fruit and golden berry, as well as mango and pineapple.
The company also began to use smaller containers, removing dyes and preservatives and introducing modern labelling. It took them several months to complete these changes and some of the products were presented to German buyers early in January this year.
And then the landscape changed…
The Covid-19 pandemic exploded on the scene.
Conservas Laurelis’ export process to Germany came to a stand-still, forcing Ellen Mortensen and her company to seek out alternatives in the national market.
Yet, she will not abandon her export goals and is awaiting the announcement of new biosecurity and health guidelines by the European Union.
She assured us that, “We will now obtain sanitary certification for the products that we have, to sell them in the local market. After the pandemic, we want to export, to meet our objective of growing, generating employment and developing ourselves.
Institutional Communication Division, IICA.