Finnish company helps Bolivian products to enter new markets

Masajo Oy is importing health-promoting natural products from Bolivia and exporting expertise that helps this South American country to increase the added value of its products.

Based in Nurmijärvi, Finland, Masajo Oy is an import and wholesale company originally established by the Kuosmanen family in 2000. Its business operations have their roots in the 1990s, when the Kuosmanens lived in Bolivia for just over six years.

At the time, Matti E. Kuosmanen, the father of the family, got acquainted with local natural products, their nutritional values and their positive effects on health. This gave rise to the idea of importing the products to Finland. Masajo’s main products are natural sugarcane sold under the name Intiaanisokeri (Indian Sugar), as well as the Ruususuola (Rose Salt) crystal salt.

The children of Matti E. Kuosmanen are now in charge of Masajo’s business operations. According to Managing Director Johannes Kuosmanen, Masajo’s business operations have grown and the company continues going strong after initial challenges. “In the beginning, it felt good to be able to sell a four-kilogram sack of sugar. Now the greatest challenge is getting enough product from Bolivia!” Mr Kuosmanen cheers.

Considerable benefit from Finnpartnership support

Masajo Oy has established a subsidiary in Bolivia with the name Masajo Bolivia. The company has received Finnpartnership’s Business Partnership Support for the development of its business.“We used Business Partnership Support to identify partners, conduct a project feasibility study and train personnel in Bolivia,” Mr Kuosmanen says.

The Kuosmanens received information about the possibility to obtain Finnpartnership financing when they participated in Enterprise Europe Network training. “Finding reliable and high-quality business partners is not easy in the sort of developing country Bolivia is. As a result of Finnpartnership’s financial support , we now have an idea of which sorts of enterprises and services are being offered to us.” Mr Kuosmanen is satisfied with Finnpartnership’s Customer Service. “We always got help when it was necessary to ask about things that were a little more complex,” he says.

Applying for public funding always demands extra work from a business enterprise. According to Mr Kuosmanen, Business Partnership Support did not involve any exhausting red tape. “I wouldn’t apply for support for a very small project, though,” he admits. “An enterprise receiving support is obligated to perform an audit of project expenses. This means extra costs, which consumes part of the utility gained from support.”

In accordance with Finnpartnership’s guidelines, the project costs supported by Business Partnership Support should be inspected by an authorized auditor. In order to verify the project’s costs, the applicant should deliver, at the payment request stage, an inspection list filled in and signed by an auditor. This can be found on the Finnpartnership website.

A close relationship with the local producer

The Finnish company buys the sugar from a Bolivian producer. Relations with the local enterprise are close, since Masajo has been actively involved with developing the production methods.
“It’s not just a question of a buyer and seller relationship, but a much stronger bond. Together we’ve taken the matter ahead by, for example, developing a unit by which sugar can be produced efficiently. This year we’ve received enough ‘Indian sugar’,” Mr Kuosmanen relates.

The sugar is packed in Finland into smaller packages for sale. According to Mr Kuosmanen, the goal is that at some point this work stage could also be performed in Bolivia. “This way more money would remain there. A developing country can get itself onto its feet only when it is capable of producing end products. With the rose salt product, the packaging for the items for sale is already made in Bolivia.”

Significant employment in sugar production

The natural sugarcane sold by Masajo is prepared from the juice, which is dried and powdered. Due to the production method, the vitamins and minerals are better preserved than in processed sugar products.

Japanese know-how has enjoyed an important role in the development of ‘Indian sugar’ production. Natural sugarcane and its impacts on health have been studied in Japan, especially at Okinawa University.

Sugarcane grows in Bolivia in the country’s eastern sections, particularly in the surrounding area of the city of Santa Cruz. The raw material required for the production of natural sugarcane is acquired from small family-run farms. “Sugarcane production and further processing are significant sources of employment in a poor nation,” Mr Kuosmanen points out.

Bureaucracy halts commerce

In Mr Kuosmanen’s view, Bolivia would have good possibilities to better utilize local raw materials and process them into successful products on export markets. “We try on our part to promote the matter by engaging in discussions with political decision-makers and authorities, so that the obstacles slowing down business operations and commerce could be dismantled.”

At the moment, the current subject of discussions include, for instance, packaging product markings. Mr Kuosmanen hopes that the authorities in charge of food safety may relax the related complicated regulations.“Taking product markings and bringing them closer to international practice would make the completion of products as end products in Bolivia easier,” Mr Kuosmanen suggests.

Considerable bureaucracy is also connected with the production and sale of crystal salt. The product requires official permits from the authorities supervising both food and extractive products. “The non-stop red tape is terrible,” Mr Kuosmanen exclaims. “Anyone complaining about Finnish bureaucracy should go to Bolivia and find out that Finland is quite an easy country to do business in.”

According to Mr Kuosmanen, many importers prefer to purchase products in larger batches and pack products themselves in their own country. “It substantially reduces the stress connected with bureaucracy,” he says. “At the same time, however, the perspective of the developing nations is neglected.”

New export targets in sight

Masajo’s products enjoy a comprehensive retailer network in Finland which includes, for instance, health food shops, retail outlets with products from developing nations, individual therapists and large K-Citymarket -type supermarkets.

In addition to Finland, Masajo’s products have already been sold in Estonia for many years. The company has also recently initiated export to Sweden. Alongside the sale of Indian Sugar and Rose Salt, Masajo also sells protein bread (Jaksamisleipä), produced by a Hungarian joint venture. “Our concept is to continue developing more new ready-made products,” Mr Kuosmanen sums up. “Also expansion in the sale of items elsewhere in Europe has interest for us.”

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