Issue - June 2016
Frutte- Take 2
The story of Frutte (tea bags) is not an average success story, and Sandra Baya is not an average CEO. She radiates excitement, and what begins with a simple offer of tea quickly leads into an enthusiastic description into the creation of what I am drinking and what delightful health benefits that will give me.
Photo by: Ximena Noya
There is a refreshing disorganization to Frutte HQ, with tea bags lay strewn across the table. We see here perhaps the first indication that in this office, passion for the product comes before any intense bureaucratic know-how. Sandra herself chuckles as she struggles to start up a faulty computer. 'This is what happens when you put a farmer in charge of a business!' Despite her modesty however, Sandra's achievements in the last twenty-two years are not to be scoffed at.
Market for my tea
Photo by: Ximena Noya
"I did not know there was a market for my tea. I just knew I made some really nice peach tea."
Small peach farm
Naturelaz SA., the company that produces Frutte, has expanded from a small peach farm in Tarata to a global company, and the story behind it is rather an inspiring one. 'I did not know there was going to be a market for it,' she laughs. "I just knew I made some really nice peach tea." And indeed Frutte's first attempts to find a market failed fairly miserably.
"The response to our first peach tea was very negative," she says. "All people seemed to ask was: 'Why would we want to drink hot Mocochinchi?'" However, this initial rejection led to ultimate success when Sandra was forced to search for a market overseas.
"Do not try and run before you can walk." This has always seemed to be a fairly universally applicable rule. Frutte in its typical unorthodox style established its international market before it achieved any success domestically.
Sandra recounts the happy accident in her joyous way: "Two Italian hippies came into my office one day and asked about the product and what we do. I told them about our company and our eco-philosophy, not expecting anything to come of it. Two months later I got a call of the hippies saying they want me to start shipping to Italy. It turns out they were business hippies!"
Frutte's unique selling point is arguably the fact that despite its international success, it has managed to remain firmly grounded on the Bolivian soil that sustains it. Everything the company does is steeped in years of Andean and Bolivian tradition. "The recipes themselves are all inspired and developed from a library I inherited," she tells me. "It was a collection of traditional Andean recipes for functional herbal teas and I simply tweaked and developed them to fit a modern environment."
Photo by: Ximena Noya
"Do not try and run before you can walk."
"Despite the international popularity, its local focus has gone from strength to strength"
Behind all Frutte's success remains the local and sustainable ethos that existed in 1993 when Sandra first entered the business. "The appeal of our product is not just in the tea itself, but in the fact that we are beneficial to the communities and farmers that we source from," she says proudly. One of Frutte's most admirable social initiatives is its commitment to these farmers not only as a source of business, but as a means of continuing a traditional Bolivian way of life that has existed for generations. "We provide the farmers with a guide. This is someone who teaches them to stop using the chemicals that have been introduced by bigger MNCs, and encourages a return to the traditional methods of farming that maintain the soil's fertility and nutrients. Not only then do the farmers keep the soil sustainable, they also learn something of the ways in which their ancestors used to farm before them."
Perhaps the most inspiring element of the story of Frutte is that despite its international popularity and growing ever bigger, its local focus has gone from strength to strength. This fact is which Sandra takes the most pride in. She shows us a picture of her workers as part of a traditional Bolivian dancing group. "The social commitment of our company is what makes us different from our competitors, and we will stick to this ethos regardless of our global expansion." It seems an uncommon instance in this day and age to find a business succeeding whilst so uncompromisingly upholding their principles, and it is refreshing to see as the tea itself.