I visited two factories during my stay, one in the Cajamarca region and the other in the Jauja region. These are two of the biggest superfood facilities in the country (so I guess by default, in the world!), and it was a real privilege to get a sneak behind the scenes, and to learn about the incredible amounts of work that go into producing our superfoods that we take so casually off the shelves and spoon into our smoothies. One of the most difficult feats I think, is the co-ordination of the process. These companies work with uneducated people in remote regions, and are often supporting them into transitioning out of the standard crops like potatoes, corn and rice, that they get a very low income for, and into these higher value crops like maca and yacon. It’s a massive logistical operation to work with the farmers and ensure they are following organic procedures, and then to transport the harvested crops to these central facilities, and to make sure that there are customers who want to buy them at the other end. Especially considering many of these crops only have one harvest in a year, so demand has to be carefully managed to make sure that farmers aren’t out of a job and retailers aren’t out of product!
The other thing that blew my mind was the scale of the machinery. I have heard it so often from small businesses, that you have to invest huge sums in getting the correct machinery to be able to scale up, but then it's not always reliable and when it breaks down, so does your whole chain of production. It takes a lot of skill to be able to firstly source the right machinery in such a niche industry, and then maintain it when its dealing with such high capacity volumes consistently.
At the first factory, I saw the golden berries and the cacao being processed. They are first inspected and prepared by hand, before they go into the machines. The workers can sort through 100kg cacao beans in one hour, and 20kg of golden berries. I liked that they take the waste, and compost it outside. Then when they go to collect the crops from the farmers, they return the compost to them, thus creating a circular economy. Hygiene procedures are followed strictly, and everything is tested thoroughly, to ensure a product that meets international standards.
In the second factory, most of the workers had already stopped for the day, but we saw the women scraping the dried camu camu berries off the industrial drier, ready to grind to a powder. I also saw the biggest amount of maca and cacao I’ve ever seen in my life – one tonne of maca powder, and ten tonnes of criollo cacao beans! They had a new state of the art machine that they were just installing, so they could up production of cacao butter and powder. Peru is the biggest exporter of organic cacao in the world; the total value of cacao exports from Peru in 2022 was estimated to be $22million USD. This is big business!