In centuries past, purple corn was revered by the Incas for its health-giving properties, and to this day it is mainly grown in the Peruvian Andes. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to boost the immune system and lower blood pressure. But purple corn is still a bit of a secret in Germany. Peruvian Alejandro Leon wants to change this. In May 2015, he founded Albrecht und R GmbH to import purple corn powder and many other products from South America to Europe via Bremen. His approach is to sell the products at a fair price – fair for the Peruvian farmers and for his customers around the world.
Amsterdam today, Bremen tomorrow, Paris the day after – what may sound like a jet-set lifestyle is hard work for Alejandro Leon. The 34-year-old from Peru is the managing director of Albrecht und R GmbH. He travels throughout Europe to sell his products, find business partners and expand his network of contacts. Passion fruit, mangoes, quinoa and chia seed – all are shipped from South America to Bremen, stored here and then sold on. “Storing our products in Germany and selling them from here allows us to price them more competitively, and we are able to react more quickly and with greater flexibility to the market,” Leon says.
Leon's family back in Peru is also involved in the business. Together with his mother and brother, Leon exports a wide range of products such as frozen fruit and Pisco, Peru's signature brandy. The family initially concentrated on Canada, where Leon lived just over ten years ago. “While living in Canada, I wanted to buy products from Peru, and I was surprised at how expensive they were. I was convinced that there must be a better way. Our approach was to sell South American products at a fair price – fair for the Peruvian farmers and for our customers abroad.”
And so the Leon family founded their own company, supporting Peruvian farmers on around 600 hectares of land and selling their products around the world. Although there was a market in Canada, it was difficult to serve it due to the country's long distances and low population density. The family's attentions turned to Europe, but where should the company be based?
Germany was an obvious choice thanks to its central location. Leon already had some contacts in Bremen, but he contacted Germany Trade & Invest, the economic development agency of the Federal Republic of Germany, first. “GTAI recommended Hamburg, Hannover and Bremen to us,” Leon says. “We visited all three cities, but we instantly liked Bremen.”
The logistics and infrastructure were excellent, and Leon was particularly won over by the transparent rental terms at the World Trade Center in Bremen Airport-City. So, in 2015 he founded Albrecht und R GmbH with the help of Bremeninvest, who provided advice on setting up his business and relocating. Leon chose a German name for his business on purpose, to ensure that he would be taken seriously as a commercial partner from the outset. “A friend's surname is Albrecht, and the fact that two brothers with this name had already been highly successful retailers was a plus,” he says with a wink. The strategy has paid off – and Leon works hard to make sure the company lives up to its good image.
Everything came together in Bremen: the infrastructure, the economic conditions for the new business and our gut feeling.
Alejandro Leon, managing director of Albrecht und R GmbH
His model of paying Peruvian farmers a fair price for their quality products while selling them in Europe at a competitive price is only profitable if large volumes are exported. That is why Leon now focuses on products such as quinoa, chia seed, cocoa powder and purple corn powder. Provided that they have been packed and stored correctly, these products will keep for months or even longer, so that large amounts can be stored in Bremen and delivered quickly once a sale has gone through. In Unicon Logistics, Leon has found a good partner for warehousing and picking orders. At present, more than 20 tonnes of quinoa, among other products, are being stored in Bremen. With this amount set to gradually increase, Leon is looking to progressively expand his company, which currently has three employees taking care of logistics, bookkeeping and finance.
For the colour to become commonplace, demand will have to increase, of course. Leon supplies to wholesalers and the processing industries, in particular, and the reactions vary from country to country. “We tried to break into the Australian market with purple corn, but we failed to make any inroads,” Leon explains. The idea was to use the purple corn powder in gluten-free baking or as a food colouring, but the Australians were not so keen on purple muffins. That is why Leon focused more on the health benefits, for example lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, for the launch in Europe. “The pharma industry has shown a lot of interest – it processes the powder into tablets, for example. We think there's great potential in this area,” he adds.
From his base in Bremen, Leon travels mainly in Europe, but also elsewhere around the globe, to develop his business. His brother also travels the world taking care of logistics, while his mother in Lima looks after the company's accounts. Besides offering good – and fair – value for money, providing good customer service has always been part of the company philosophy. “We are always there for our customers, and we try our best to find a fast and hassle-free solution should a problem arise.” In the medium term, Leon hopes to start supplying passion fruit to a large German drinks manufacturer and have his products stocked by a major retail chain. In that respect, the company name is a good start.
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