Growing organically in Lebanon can be tough

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Reema Mansour Maamari challenges you to make your own granola. “Why shouldn’t you make your own granola? It’s so easy. If you have everything on hand, it shouldn’t take too long at all,” she excitedly told Wamda. Most would pass on her challenge but it this proactive approach that led her to make her own dehydrated snacks in 2012 to combat a forced and boring diet. Using friends and family as her tasters she was encouraged to take it further.

She would eventually perfect the recipes and by 2014 she had set up an industrial kitchen in central Beirut. Biolicious was born. She was packaging them and encouraging local shops to carry them.

Maamari shares recipes with her followers. (Images via Biolicious)

Starting with raw vegetable snacks of carrot and wild thyme, celery and beetroot, carrot and beetroot, olives and sundried tomato; she soon graduated to kale chips of varying flavors. One of her latest creations is a hazelnut and cocoa wafer. The growth of her company has been, much like that of her products, organic.

Biolicious is not yet making profit, but Maamari tells Wamda she is expecting the long term to reap her rewards. And indeed when it comes to the organic food business in Lebanon, quick profit is unlikely.

"Organic farming hasn’t been around too long, it’s niche and so getting raw materials wasn’t easy,” she says. This is in addition of starting up in a country where political and economic situations are not favourable. “But what is great is that people are open for new ideas all the time.”

The ingredients are all organic, as it says on the box. While it is not always easy to find products with certification, the market is growing, Maamari says. With other ventures out there like Biomass and Souk El Tayeb, the array of organic produce is growing. Maamari sources from all over Lebanon, save various seeds and nuts that she imports.

Organic certification in Lebanon comes via the CCPB, an Italian/European certification, and the Mediterranean Institute of Certification (IMC), IMC Liban is the local partner. Established in Lebanon in 2004 the number of organic certified farmers has grown.

One challenge Maamari faces is the absence of a ‘gluten-free’ certification for Lebanon. “My kitchen and raw materials are gluten-free, and hence, celiac friendly,” she says. “But I can’t put that [certified gluten-free] on my packaging because [such certifications] don’t exist here yet.” So, as it stands, ‘gluten-free’ without the ‘certified’ part, is all they can do.

Dehydrated and delicious. 

She is currently liaising with Lebanon's Industrial Research Institute, where she tests her products, to get such certifications created.

Maamari handles social media and marketing herself, and has hired two staffers for her kitchen and one for deliveries for the 25 shops she now serves. She is now coming up with more recipes.

With the growing organic food craze, businesses like Maamari’s will no doubt pop up more and more, especially those born out of the region.
Organic Monitor, a UK-based research, consulting and training company, estimates the global market for organic products had reached $72 billion by 2013. So while the market in Lebanon might still be niche, if one is looking to export, which Biolicious is very soon, the possibilities are enormous.

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