The founders of the Peruvian firm Brilliant Foods are friends and partners. They are both professionals: Aurelio del Solar is a marketing specialist and Sebastián Arrieta is a physician. Without setting these careers aside, they have started a company to export superfoods. They managed to close a deal with a Russian buyer through one of the business rounds organized by ConnectAmericas.com.
How do you combine marketing, medicine, superfoods, and exporting? For Sebastián and Aurelio, all these ideas come together in a single word: “Santu,” the superfood brand that they created in Peru with a view to conquering export markets.
But their story began before that. Aurelio is a businessman who specializes in marketing and was working in the food retail sector when he started El Mercadito, which has been delivering fresh fruit and vegetables to consumers’ doors for five years now. Sebastián, in contrast, is a doctor who specializes in interventional radiology and anti-aging treatments.
As well as being friends, these two young entrepreneurs had something else in common: their interest in healthy eating. Aurelio knew the food world and its suppliers inside out and backward, and Sebastián spiced this understanding up with his treatments that use superfoods to cure and prevent illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, and different types of cancer. This was the seed that grew into Brilliant Foods and the Santu brand.
“My partner had a better sense of the needs of certain sectors of the population that engage in healthy lifestyles, while my education and practice as a physician enabled me to identify products with export potential that would go hand-in-hand with ‘food as medicine.’ We believe that the synergy between our two professions makes our business model, the way we negotiate, and our message different to the standard views of other business people in this sector,” Sebastián explains.
While they were planning the export phase of the business, their work with Brilliant Foods became more intense and began to demand more commitment from both partners. “When we decided to launch Santu, our consumer brand, we found that we needed to invest more time in the business. Aurelio decided to sell his other company and I halved the amount of time I was spending with patients to be able to meet these growing demands,” says Sebastián, whose medical practice is also his office. “I use technology and online tools like ConnectAmericas.com to get the most out of my time and be really productive,” he says.
Another fundamental decision that they made was surrounding themselves with a team they could delegate tasks to. “We believe that setting realistic targets and giving our team complete autonomy is the most productive way to work. Whenever we hire someone, we’re looking for flexibility and an appetite for success that motivates them to find solutions and work things out themselves,” Sebastián says.
The road to exporting is fraught with complications. The founders of Brilliant Foods described the complexity of setting up an effective, efficient export chain and the importance of really knowing your suppliers. Other key factors included checking that the products they were offering were genuinely healthy and free of toxins and illegal pesticides. Another issue was complying with the certification and documentation requirements that customs facilities abroad insist on for inbound containers.
“We had to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops and deal with government red tape, and we had to really study the business we were getting into,” Sebastián says. “Peru is an endless treasure trove of superfoods, but suppliers will never be able to go international while they continue to operate so informally.”
Aurelio and Sebastián chalked up both hits and misses in their early experiences as exporters, but they transformed these into internal processes and reports to avoid similar problems in the future. “These are factors that might determine whether your container gets into another country’s customs facility without any trouble or whether you have to run up administrative costs like renting a warehouse at your port of origin,” Sebastián adds.
Another window of opportunity that helped Brilliant Foods expand their markets was the LAC Flavors business round, which was held in Peru in 2016. This the biggest food and beverage event in Latin America and the Caribbean, which the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) organizes through its platform ConnectAmericas.com.
“Visiting 26 potential clients in different countries would have taken us over a year. But because we were selected to take part in LAC Flavors Peru, we were able to hold those 26 meetings in just two days and 16 working hours. The scope of the event helped us to close a deal with a buyer in Russia who was looking for Andean cereals (link in Spanish),” says Sebastián, the company’s CEO.
Aurelio and Sebastián are getting ready for 2017’s LAC Flavors Argentina, which will take place on November 7 and 8 in the City of Buenos Aires. “We have spent a lot of time getting ready for these new business rounds because we know they have untold potential as a way of forging links with other business people. You have to have a completely open mind. And you need to be really on the ball as these events are timed, so every minute is worth its weight in gold.”