Sri Lanka has long been famous for such spices as cinnamon, pepper, cloves and nutmeg. Spices, along with spice derivatives and essential oils, still account for over 50% of the country’s agricultural exports. And in that market, MA’s Foods is one of the most respected names. Founded thirty years ago in Dambulla, a town near the island country’s largest plantations, MA’s Foods started out as a spice processing business with just five employees. The company gradually expanding its product portfolio to include preserved pickles, chutneys, curry paste, spice mixes and other items, with the result that it boasts five brands today. In 2006, coconut milk and powder were added to the roster. What began as a micro-enterprise has developed into a thriving firm with a workforce of 300.
To obtain the resources needed to ensure that expansion, founder Mario de Alwis turned to local and international investors and funding providers. The latest is Aavishkaar, a venture capital firm in India in which Proparco acquired a stake in 2015. It has invested $2.1m in MA’s (see box, p. 27). Mario de Alwis has successfully anticipated market expectations. In 2003, for example, his company was the first in Sri Lanka to win Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification for its food safety control system. Two years later, MA’s was certified as an organic food processor in the European Union and Japan. Subsequent certifications include FSSC 22 000 (food safety), ISO 14 001 (environmental management), OHSAS 18 001 (occupational health and safety), fair trade, organic agriculture (Europe, Japan, United States) and SEDEX (ethical trade).
She single-handedly runs her farm, where cinnamon trees and pepper plants grow at the foot of coconut trees. That diversification ensures a steady revenue stream all year long.
The Sri Lankan company MA’s Food was founded in 1986 and specialises in producing foods using spices and coconut. The company sources its food locally, preferably from smallholders whom it helps to adopt responsible farming practices, and employs at least 50% of women, many of them in management positions. In 2016, the Indian-based management fund Aavishkar – of which Proparco is a shareholder – invested 2 million dollars in MA’s food to enable it to continue to grow its business.