Some mates with … Leandro Villalba
04 Jan 2021
We chatted with Leandro Villalba, Technical Director of Chacra el Comienzo, producers of organic stevia.
What is the history of the company?
LOS JUANES S.R.L. – ANEDUM S.A. – UNION TRANSITORIA DE EMPRESAS is a company that we make up by LOS JUANES S.R.L. dedicated to agricultural production and ANEDUM S.A. dedicated to the research, commercialization and added value of natural ingredients.
Together we responsibly embrace the ancestral legacy of stevia by combining the wisdom of the original Guarani peoples with current scientific knowledge. In this way, we quickly became a leading company in the production and commercialization of stevia with more than 10 years of experience in improving this native bush of our northeast.
We work together with the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) in the fine-tuning of the official method of purity control of steviolglycosides according to the WHO Expert Board on Food Additives (JECFA) and we signed a technical assistance agreement with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) for the added value of the crop, currently bringing together 12 integrated agricultural producers from family farms that have a direct effect on the development of regional economies.
Our experience in the design and elaboration of the first sweetener with organic certification in the country, encouraged us to launch this year an improved product under our brand CHACRA EL COMIENZO, also with the technical assistance of INTI in the validation of the production processes.
What values do you have?
Our main differential value is the culture of sustainability that we have taken as a commitment to improve the way of producing and growing as a society. That is why we adopt Organic Production and the use of renewable energy sources in our processes as the best guide to reduce our environmental impact and preserve our natural resources for future generations.
In the same way, we transmit the sustainability guidelines in the packaging, which is produced from more rustic materials and in tune with our renewable energy sources that we use in the other processes.
The integrated value chain is another key factor in our company, since this industrial organization methodology made up of small family farms is deeply rooted in local workers, with a direct effect on the regional economy that guarantees sustainable social development.
Where they are located?
Our fields are distributed in different rural areas of Entre Ríos, while the collection and industrialization is located a few meters from the National Route No. 14, the main connection with the MERCOSUR. In addition, we are just a few minutes from the overseas port of the city of Concepción del Uruguay on the western bank of the Uruguay River.
Less than 300 km from the cities of Buenos Aires and Rosario (first and third most populated in Argentina, respectively), our products have easy access to a large number of consumers looking for a product of differential quality.
Favored both by the topographic and compositional characteristics of the terrain and by the bioclimate, stevia has been ideally adapted in the region, with high yields of kilos of leaves per hectare.
What motivated them to produce organically?
The commitment to taking care of our natural resources in every detail to preserve the quality of the soil, water and air that this delicate shrub requires is very similar to the requirements of organic production.
The technical support of the OIA team in interpreting all the normative details made the certification process very easy, fast and bearable. Certification was a natural consequence of what we already did.
What certifications do they have?
Based on quality as a culture of industrial management, we propose all our processes in certifiable quality systems, so that the incorporation of new regulations required internationally, is something simple.
This allowed us in a very short time to certify our establishment as an organic producer both under the Argentine standard compatible with that of the European Union, as well as by the United States National Organic Program standard.
Our plant is also Gluten Free certified.
What is the importance of certification?
Today, certification allows us to open up to the world and expand without depending on the local context, which although it is growing with informed consumers, organic still represents a small niche in the Argentine market. Certifying was a decision to bet on the future. We do not want to depend on the marketing of agroecological production that today has its main limitation in the confidence that the consumer may have because of what the brand tells them. Organic certification is the only endorsement that guarantees a responsible practice with the environment, with clear rules and without conflict of interest.
How is the production process of your products?
We are totally self-sustaining for primary production, since we start from our own seeds that we generate in our mother plant nurseries.
These seeds germinate in greenhouses during September while the soil is prepared to receive the seedlings in October. Once transplanted, the seedling develops into a 1 meter tall bush from October to April with 3 harvests (cuts). In May, it goes into dormancy, bringing nutrients to the roots to survive the winter and turn green the following spring and complete another 5 equal cycles.
Post-harvest processes include drying in sheds with controlled temperature and humidity conditions, destemming, grinding, size adjustments and final humidity in sieving and pan drying processes.
The sweetener is based on a high purity extract that guarantees the absence of bitter aftertaste and organic sucrose as a diluent, obtaining a granulated product. It is then dosed into sachets and packed into cases, both produced with materials with low environmental impact.
In what presentations do the products come?
For now in individual envelopes in boxes of 45 units (for retail) and 400 units (for coffee shops).
What are the sales channels they have for the acquisition of the product?
We have distributors in the vast majority of the national territory, who bring you closer to the final point of sale: diet stores, healthy stores, gourmet spaces, restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
The pandemic added to the distribution countless online stores specialized in organic and high-end products that bring our proposal closer to the final consumer.
The points of sale are constantly updated at https://chacraelcomienzo.com/puntos-de-venta.html
What is stevia?
Stevia (stevia rebaudiana bertoni) is a botanically classified shrub in 1887 by scientist Moisés Santiago Bertoni. It was used since pre-Columbian times by the Guaraní peoples to sweeten their food safely. It was only in 1970 that Japan rediscovered it and began with the industrialization of purified extracts from the leaves of this plant.
The sweetening substances contained in these extracts are powerful sugars (steviol glycosides) that are mainly distributed in the leaf and constitute around 15% of its weight. The main sugars are Stevioside and Rebaudioside-A.
What benefits does it bring?
Worldwide, Stevia is used mainly to sweeten foods naturally without calorie intake or glycemic index, so it is widely consumed both in weight control diets and by the diabetic population.
The extracts of the stevia leaf are not altered by the action of high temperatures, so it is used to sweeten all kinds of preparations safely.
It is even possible to include it in animal feed (chickens, pigs, cattle and fish) with proven results in weight gain, quality of the final product and reduction of diseases.
What is the best way to consume it?
That will depend on the type of preparation to be sweetened. In general, ready-to-eat stevia sweeteners are very versatile for sweetening all types of foods. Those who are certified organic also guarantee that no artificial preservatives are being used, that the components were obtained without pesticides and that the process is free from contamination from conventional products.
The dried leaves can be used mixed in different infusions, especially with yerba mate where the bitter vegetable aftertaste typical of Stevia is very well masked. If the leaves are also certified organic, it is guaranteed that pesticides have not been used in their cultivation.
How can the consumer get more information?
There is good information on the internet about the general use of stevia. Our site www.chacraelcomienzo.com has a good summary and links of interest to other reliable sources. There and on our Instagram chacraelcomienzo you will also be able to know a little more about us and our products.
Could you tell the next goals that the company has?
In recent years we have begun the construction of the first high purity stevia sugar extraction plant in the country, with the aim of substituting imports of this ingredient used by the entire food industry. It is a long and ambitious project, but we are on the right track.
Soon we will continue to expand our product portfolio with new presentations of our sweetener. We are also working on the relaunch of our infusions with more and better options designed for those of us who enjoy sweetening in a natural and healthy way.
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