19 Sep 2018
Beirut, Lebanon
Organic Food and Agriculture

What started off as a hobby for Henri Bou Obeid evolved to be a massive business producing organic crops. His lot of 30,000 square meters was initially aimed at providing clean and organic products to his family. But in 2013, Bou Obeid thought bigger and founded Bioland, and it had its first shop, in Achrafieh, in 2015. Now, Bioland has a total of 600,000 square meters of landmass heavily producing organic crops, oils, and dairy products.

Apart from Bou Obeid, Bioland’s General Manager Gilbert Khoury is largely invested in making Bioland the biggest organic producing business in Lebanon. Khoury started working with Bou Obeid at his transporting company, Connex. “I joined Bioland in late 2015. When we first came into the market, there was only one competitor and the set prices were very high, while ours were half of that,” Khoury says.

Bioland’s current comprehensive plans:

Bioland may have started off as a business-to-business initiative, but now they have retail stores to cover the need for organic products under Boubaid’s adopted slogan, “Organic for all”.

The prospective giant is no stranger to collaborations that relate to other environmental and social issues. The company has paired with Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) on raising awareness and helping with endangered animals. “We have some Bioland labels where you can find endangered species on Bioland products with 5% of the revenues going back to SPNL. There are also stories on the back of the labels of these species,” Khoury adds.

Bioland is also open to any partnerships that could benefit all parties involved. The initiative’s connection to the community goes far beyond spreading knowledge around organic farming. For example, they have partnered with the UN to employ three Syrian refugees for a total of three months as part of an internship where they learned about the dairy products, plantation and more.

But Bioland’s approach to gain an audience does not go without challenges. The Lebanese community still regards organic products as luxury items. “People would buy organic just so they show their guests that they’re eating organic. However, people are slowly becoming more aware, but the problem is the purchasing power of the Lebanese people as we’re going through an economic crisis,” Khoury adds.

Expansion and offshore outreach:

Bioland also has two offshore markets in both, Qatar and the United Kingdom. And the plans to expand beyond that are inevitable. “With the UK, we work on exporting essential oils such as sage, lavender, neroli, and oregano oils. And this year alone we have planted 12,000 trees to meet the need for essential oils,” Khoury explains.

The plan is to keep on growing its overseas clientele while targeting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). “We do not yet have the capacity to grow substantially but that’s what we’re working on,” Khoury remarks. To follow that pursuit, Bioland had already started employing certain techniques such as permaculture. “Permaculture helps you reduce the energy, cost, water waste, and size of the land while maintaining the rainwater consumption,” he says.

Akin to their diehard commitment to the environment, Khoury asserts Bioland’s responsibility towards recyclable packaging. However, such devotion comes with its own challenges. “This kind of packaging is hard to get in Lebanon which means we have to import them, which is costly in itself. We’re doing our best though,” Khoury says.

Bioland’s well-laid plans to lead the market has been steadily paying off. “We grew at a rate of 450% between the years of 2016 and 2018. We have a restaurant with the capacity of 250 people. And we continuously receive orders and we try to match that demand,” Khoury says.

Khoury adds that Bioland has a strong message to deliver, if not to consumers, to farmers. “We actually have farming contracts with new landowners and farmers. These contracts are for farming lavender, oregano, fruits, vegetables,” he explains.

 

Learn more about Bioland through their Facebook page.

Photos: Courtesy of Bioland.

Eman is an editor, and a finance and startup ecosystem journalist.Eman El-Sherbiny
This initiative takes on the challenge of spreading the need for an all-organic market in Lebanon | The Switchers
Bioland Organic Food & Agriculture
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