In a suburb of Cuzco, Maria Calero Becerra (34) sells her natural products under the brand name Inkantu: soaps, lipsticks, shampoos and facial creams. Business is going well, even if the Peruvian consumer's ecological conscience is poorly developed. Maria relies on the support of the NGO Trias to open up the organic market step by step.
How did you come to produce and sell natural agro-ecological products?
16 years ago, a Scottish lady trained me here in Peru. This experience inspired me. At the end of the workshop, I firmly decided to start my own business. As a first step, I gained experience with Eco Trek Peru, a tour operator specialised in ecotourism. Five years ago, the time had come to launch my own project.
So that's when you started producing natural agro-ecological products?
I had seed capital of 10,000 soils. It all started in a small room. Today, I am a manager and I employ three people. Our company is profitable, I am pleased with what I have. This is already a great result, in the light of the small size of the market because of the limited shelf life of our products. For example, we are not able to build up a large stock.
Where do you buy the raw materials for your products?
Most of our products come from the wholesale markets in Quillabamba and San Martín. The advantageous purchase prices we can negotiate are the key to our success because we are capable of offering more competitive selling prices than our competitors.
What is the division of tasks between you and your employees?
I am frequently on the move to visit shops, museums, hotels and restaurants. These are our major customers. Most of the products are delivered to Cuzco, but we also have some customers in Lima. In addition, we also sell our products every two weeks at the organic market in Cuzco. Many tourists walk around, mostly Americans. My customers’ profile? They are people who also have a lifestyle close to vegetarianism and veganism.
I had seed capital of 10,000 soils. It all started in a small room. Today, I am a manager and I employ three people. Our company is profitable, I am pleased with what I have.
Are your employees in charge of production?
In fact, I do not see them as employees, but as friends. It is important that they shoulder a lot of responsibility and learn on their own. I see them evolving along with my business. This fills me with a great sense of satisfaction. The only thing that puts them off is making facial creams. I am always in charge of manufacturing this product.
What do you think of ARPE, the professional association of organic horticulturists?
It is a beautiful project to make producers and consumers aware of the subject of agro-ecology. Above all, we hope that our company will succeed in organising more organic markets. The aim is to gradually open up the market for organic products. Therefore I welcome the fact that ARPE is targeting even more municipalities. Trias' support is important to be able to increase the impact of our professional association. In this respect, we still have a considerable growth potential.
What is the main obstacle for you as a small businesswoman?
Without a doubt, it is the SUNAT, the Peruvian tax administration. I have to pay 18 % VAT on the sales without receiving any kind of support in exchange. On the contrary, to run an official company in this country, you have to comply with multiple standards and face a very slow administrative machinery. It is very frustrating for an entrepreneur who wants to further develop his business. There is no alternative since, if you do not pay that VAT, your business is subject to heavy fines and eventually closed. If you turn to the National Bank of Peru (Banco de la Nación), you do not receive any microcredit. Fortunately, there are enough creditors within the private market.
What's your biggest dream?
I would love to open a store in the centre of Cuzco. This would allow me to increase my sales significantly. With my company's current profit margin, I can save enough money to make my dream come true.
Do you have time for hobbies?
Of course. On the weekend, I try to dedicate as much time as possible to my children. If no organic market is scheduled, I do not even answer the phone.