Sun | May 19, 2019

Micro trader builds business from everyday plants

Published:Thursday | April 18, 2019 | 12:26 AMHuntley Medley - Senior Business Writer
Owner of Holistic Paradise, Nastassia Grant, shows off one of her products on April 15, 2019.
Owner of Holistic Paradise, Nastassia Grant, shows off one of her products on April 15, 2019.

The global nutraceuticals market is reported to be valued at in excess in US$200 billion with projections that it will top US$300 billion in the next five years, pushed by changing population, health and dietary trends.

Those numbers underpin the growing local and global demand for wellness wellness from natural foods and their derivatives, which entrepreneurs like 31-year-old Nastassia Grant hope to tap into.

A year ago, Grant set up Holistic Paradise and is already selling to clients at home and in New York.

From her home in Portmore, St Catherine, Grant makes concentrated alcohol-based tinctures from a variety of plants, which are said to have health and wellness benefits. Her formulations were developed with research assistance from Jamaica’s Scientific Research Council, the SRC.

Ultimately, the plan is to move Holistic's's manufacturing and bottling operations into a commercial scale premises from which to supply the local and international market. Holistic’s business plan also involves a farm to grow and supply the plants, hosting wellness workshops and retreats, as well as outfitting and running a small hotel as a holistic wellness centre.

Having invested a modest amount of less than $500,000 into the micro business so far, Grant says sales this year have been encouraging, bringing in more than $200,000, which has all been reinvested into the registered sole trader in which she works full time with one part-time employee.

Revenues are being ploughed back into buying from overseas and locally supplies and inputs including bottles, rum, labelling and packaging materials. More, large stainless-steel pots and glass containers used to heat and cool the mixture in the manufacturing process, and which are also sourced online, are needed as the business plans for growth.

Grant, and her fiancé, are now looking to buy a larger house to devote more space to manufacture the products that are made from moringa, lemon grass, cerassee, medina, soursop, rosemary, cinnamon and peppermint. She is also responsible for labelling, bottling, packaging and marketing.

Another product line is coconut oil infused with the annotto spice with turmeric flavour to be added later. The business also sells honey.

To date, Holistic Paradise has sold 200 bottles of its plant essence extracts in Jamaica and 100 bottles in New York, where a family member has been informally marketing the product to a small Jamaican clientele.

And although Holistic is not yet formally registered as an exporter, in New York the local Universal Negro Improvement Association store, called the Rock, distributes the product in its half-ounce, two-ounce and four-ounce vials, complete with dropper.

The business has seen most of its sales through promotions at expos such as the recent Jamaica Rum Festival and agricultural shows. The products are also promoted online via social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. They are also on the shelves of Grant’s father’s restaurant in Kingston.

Holistic Paradise’s bestselling product is its lemon grass or fever grass tincture, which is said to be common among women seeking a natural remedy for menstrual pain.

Businesswoman Grant says her life partner, George Scarlett, an employee of power utility Jamaica Public Service Company, is an integral part of the business. Scarlett, she says, has for many years now, been an avid researcher into the benefits of common plants, many of which grow wild. So strong was his passion that in 2010 he convinced his cancer-stricken mother to pursue a natural plant medicine regime when her doctors were said to have predicted that she would live for only another six months.

Scarlett is said to have also successfully utilised for his hypertension control, the leaves and fruit of the clammy cherry plant that grows abundantly in the Portmore area. Grant jokes that when the idea of starting the business first came about, the initial thought was to make clammy cherry tincture, a product which has still not yet got off the ground.

Despite the entrenched folklore surrounding the healing benefits of many herbs and plants in Jamaica, and the existence of supporting scientific literature and anecdotal evidence, the Holistic Paradise proprietor says she is abiding by stipulations from Bureau of Standards Jamaica, BSJ, not to make health benefits claims in the labelling of the products without the business conducting its own rigorous testing and scientific experimentation.

The fledgling businesswoman is effusive about the support her venture has received from SRC, which, she says, has helped with research and streamlining the manufacturing process.

Other aspects of Grant’s ongoing entrepreneurial journey have been far less positive, she recounts, with at least one state entity having discouraged the venture. Some marketing training and guidance was provided by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and Grant has applied to the Development Bank of Jamaica to secure grant funding to offset some of the cost associated with the many BSJ tests required to get standards approval and to bring labelling for the products into conformity with regulations.

With BSJ testing expected to be out of the way by November this year, Grant says the next phase of the business will see a push to have the products in stores and hotel shops across the country, utilising the Ministry of Tourism’s Tourism Linkages Network.

“I am being strategic in not seeking loans for the growth of the business,” Grant says of the decision to grow the business from its own earnings at this early stage of the venture. That said, she is not ruling out borrowing for commercial property property to expand production later.

Meanwhile, the micro entrepreneur was critical of the bureaucratic and other hurdles in the way of micro businesses, including a raft of requirements to open business bank accounts that include cash flow statements, taxpayer registration number data sheet, and a tax compliance certificate.

“If you don’t have a certain level of education, you will struggle to go formal,” said Grant, who attended and graduated from St Hugh’s High in Kingston, but has not yet completed university education in management.

However, she noted that familiarity with the system helps.

“It doesn’t take long once you know what you need to get,” she added.

With an eye on future expansion of the business, the entrepreneur and her partner are advancing research into other plants with a view to securing patents under a 50/50 revenue share arrangement with the SRC. A partnership has also been established with a manufacturer of natural, plant-based soaps and a local hotel is being scouted to get the wellness resort service side of the business up and running.

Careful thought is also being given to securing reliable sources of the plants, from which the tinctures are made.

A Clarendon-based farming operation is being relocated to St Catherine, where Scarlett has teamed up with his brother to buy land to grow some of fertiliser-free plant raw materials. Other raw materials are sourced from farmers at Coronation Market in downtown Kingston with some plants being harvested wherever they grow naturally, including backyards.

huntley.medley@gleanerjm.com