SAGANÀ: Fair trade coconut spreads made of 100% natural Philippine ingredients

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SAGANÀ redefines the art of sweetening, baking and cooking. We bring the authentic, organic, fairtrade and 100% natural specialty ingredients and products to your table while directly supporting community livelihoods in the Philippines.

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Cattleya Romero-Faude, Founder & Business Development Manager
Sheila Romero, Co-Founder (Manila-based), Responsible Sourcing-Export Coordinator
Lucia Janosikova, Strategy and Finance

Advisory Board and Members
Dr. Karola Krell, Advisor & Board Member, Swiss-EU Food Safety Lawyer
Raissa Dolores, Board Member, Finance & Administration
Michaela Gruber, Mentor, Niche/ Luxury Marketing
Eugenia Papageorgiou, Board Member

Please introduce yourself: What does your startup do?

I am Cattleya, social entrepreneur and founder of SAGANÀ. Our Swiss-Philippine social business startup ethically sources, trades, markets and distributes authentic, organic, and 100% natural Philippine ingredients in wholesale and retail under our premium lifestyle SAGANÀ Swiss brand.

We work directly with recognized cooperatives and responsible enterprises to support sustainable gastronomy, help alleviate poverty and climate change consequences while advocating for a healthier lifestyle.

As obesity, malnutrition and related health risks are skyrocketing globally due to ultra-processed food diets and lifestyles, 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty. 2/3 of them are farmers. Over the last five decades, we lost half of our biodiversity because of the poor agricultural farming practices like mono-cropping and utilization of chemicals for mass food production.

With SAGANÀ's marketable range of sustainable plant-based food alternatives we can:

  • Meet the growing demand for healthy products that comes from consumers with food intolerances and dietary needs
  • Help generate and guarantee "green jobs" with living wages as well as fair and dignified working conditions for our partner producers
  • Support biodiversity, combat poverty and mitigate climate change in the Philippines

How did you come up with an idea and concept? What inspired and motivated you to create this product?

Creating a forward-thinking "business with a conscience" and venturing into agri-business is an old dream that my sister and I have always wanted to pursue. My entrepreneurial upbringing, farmer grandparents and a degree in international business inspired me to pursue a challenging, purpose-driven work that let me connect to my roots and create a positive impact.

The Philippines is the world's 2nd largest coconut producer and a recognized leader in R&D initiatives. The strength of this agricultural country lies in its sustainable, abundant resources and the resilience of its rural farming communities. Coconut trees (Cocos Nucifera) are a source of nutritious products, such as non-hydrogenated 81% coconut oil and coconut spreads made of 100% coconut flesh.

I am excited to discover, develop and market sustainable and authentic food products. Our versatile dairy and vegan alternatives to table butter and spreads have great taste and can be used on a daily basis.

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What is unique about your business idea and operating model?

We have a unique opportunity to act as a direct B2B-D2C intermerdiary between global buyers and producers of premium Philippine artisanal and specialty ingredients.

SAGANÀ means "abundance" in Tagalog and we have chosen abundant, sustainable resources to create our flagship products. We strive to strike a balance by sourcing ethically and directly from our partner farmer cooperatives and established agri-manufacturing enterprises. Our goal is to become a reliable, global specialty ingredients supplier and a professional partner building fair and long-term relationships.

With secured supply agreements and a premium lifestyle Swiss brand, our pipeline of high-value key kitchen ingredients grows. While making every effort to meet market trends and comply with Swiss-EU international food safety and quality standards, SAGANÀ's inclusive, impact-driven business model strives to protect the planet and ensure that as we grow, our partner farming communities grow with us.

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What were the most significant difficulties you had to overcome while building your startup?

SAGANÀ has been built from scratch and it took a lot of personal motivation, hard work and perseverance to overcome the challenges in every phase of development.

I am a migrant, female and an aspiring social entrepreneur in Switzerland. Winning the 2014 Impact Hub Social Impact Start program in Zurich opened the doors for me as I received mentorship, access to a community of like-minded people and mentors willing to share their knowledge and trusted networks. I leveraged every opportunity to move the project forward . We had to go through many hurdles to create a premium brand, Swiss-EU compliant packagin and reach our target market while juggling import-export terms, documentation, funding sources, accounting and leading a team.

I am grateful that many people put their trust and faith and generously supported me and the SAGANÀ team with their skills, knowledge and time.

Second, working with farmer cooperatives and grassroots social enterprises in the Philippines proved to be very challenging as they can barely afford international food safety certifications required to enter the Swiss-EU markets.

Our customers raved about the quality and authentic great taste of our initial flagship products and yet we couldn't sustain the demand due to the lack of supply. We lost business sales and partnership oppportunities and could not scale for the last 24 months because our grassroot partners could not consistently renew their annual international certificates for their artisanal products.

Eventually, we have expanded our range, working both with grassroot partners and established agri-manufacturing enterprises. It takes a lot of time to build trust and credibility as a partner supplier, so it was a very steep learning curve.

Lastly, fundraising for female founders and entrepreneurs is difficult and we need to prove so much more traction and potential! I think it's because women are more realistic and conservative with projections and agriculture is not the most fast-paced industry. As a result, it takes longer to convince angel investors. It would be great if there were more platforms and networks open to funding female-led agri-business social ventures.

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Where do you see yourselves and your company in 5 years?

I see myself leading SAGANÀ Sarl (Switzerland) and working alongside a purpose-driven team of 5-6 women who share vision, values and passion. Switzerland has been our test market since 2015 and we are ready to grow. With our knowledge, hands-on market experience in Switzerland and presence in the Philippines, we can export products to any country.

Within the next 6-12 months, we aim to start selling our coconut spreads range in Germany, the Nordics and the Middle East. In two-three years, we want to export products to at least 12 countries across three continents. We will continue building our purpose-driven premium Swiss brand, join fairs, events and overseas business matchings organized by the Philippine-Swiss trade missions. SAGANÀ's sustainable range of specialty ingredients should become familiar to gastro chefs, HORECA, zero waste shops & food manufacturers.

Five years from now, SAGANÀ products should be available in over 5 000 POS generating at least $25m in annual revenue. Our Philippine company will manage responsible sourcing and build long-term fair relations with producers. As a hybrid enterprise, we will proactively fund social and environmental projects and provide technical assistance and training to our partner farmer cooperatives.

What are your expectations from the NX-Food Startup Shelf Program?

The NX-Food Startup Shelf Program opens doors to social business initiatives with innovative food products like ours! This is a much-awaited opportunity we needed to gain market access into the German and EU markets, build credibility and visibility as a partner supplier and make our venture sustainable.

To date, NX-Food team and its strong network of experts have already helped us meet specific country requirements on packaging and logistics brokerage. They also supported us in terms of marketing which we are very grateful for.

The best scenario is to have NX-Food as our long-term partner. With the introduction of the new coconut spreads range, we can realistically aim to enter Germany, the Nordics and other METRO countries within the next 6-18 months. We are eager to supply the HORECA clients with our sustainable gastronomic ingredients while helping local Philippine businesses.

What are your main milestones and achievements?

Within the last four years, SAGANÀ has successfully tested and introduced the flagship products to the Swiss market making $59 000 in revenue. Since 2017, SAGANÀ products have been available at MANOR supermarkets nationwide and at the specialty fairs.

SAGANÀ is a Social Impact Startawardee, an Enpact fellow and recently won the first 2 stars at the Great Taste 2019 — the world's largest and most trusted food and drink award.

As a global MSME with a company registered in the Philippines, SAGANÀ is eligible to participate in all the Overseas Business Matchings Missions (OBMM) organized by the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry-Export Marketing Bureau.

The NX-Food visual branding and website are developed by dombek—bolay and Albert Naasner, in close collaboration with the NX-Food team.