TRUSTING IN GOODNESS

JUSTGOODNESS.CO, AN ONLINE STORE OF ECO-FRIENDLY AND ORGANIC PRODUCTS, FACES UP TO CHALLENGES OF WORKING WITH OTHER SMES

Moringna powder, the dried powdered leaves of the Murunga tree, has gained a global reputation for its aiding weight loss. Online sellers of Moringna Oleifera, the scientific name of the plant, say it’s rich in vitamins, minerals & polyphenols and has plenty of antioxidants.

Organic moringa from Sri Lanka can be purchased for Rs250 for 100 gramsbut is four times pricier on ebay.com when sold in packets and even dearer as capsules. In some parts of India and Sri Lanka, Moringna Oleifera grows abundantly.

Where a market didn’t exist for moringa earlier growing awareness about superfoods and ease with which they can now be purchased online is changing fortunes.

“Internationally there’s a huge movement towards moringa powder as a supplement. So there are certain things like that readily available in Sri Lanka that have massive demand outside the country, and no one’s really meeting that need,” says Shahani Rasaputra, the founder of online wellness and eco-friendly products store justgoodness.co.

Superfoods like flax seeds, chia seeds and various types of nuts are best sellers on the store that went online in late 2018. Around 60% of gross monthly sales of Rs 500,000 in July 2019, was food. Justgoodness.co does not sell perishable stuff like vegetables because these are complex to handle, and it’s challenging to find organic produce reliably.

Shehani Rasaputra sees the paradox. An online store aiming to provide eco-friendly products to the market sells more imported superfoods, shipped many thousands of miles than it does locally produced ones. Compared to stuff like flax seeds, Moringna powder has much less demand here or worldwide. Rasaputra, however, is determined to create a market for Sri Lankan produce than be a reseller of imported stuff. The potential value addition and edge the company will have with such a business model will be more significant, she says.

However, the impact caused by the Easter Sunday attacks on discretionary spending required a quick pivot. Until then the company was counting on growing local demand and supplying the burgeoning hotel sector, especially the luxury small and medium hotels and villas. Supplying hotels was one of the threepronged growth strategies. The other two areas are retail sales in Sri Lanka and exporting products in bulk. Since the Easter attacks impacted both local demand and hotels, justgoodness.co has started focusing on international sales. Just weeks ago it exported the first order to the UK. It was a sale of a range of products which will be offered by a UK online store to test demand for these.

In retail trade goods are sold on consignment. Because retail outlets settle suppliers only once products are sold, the suppliers fund most of the working capital. Justgoodness.co raised Rs8 million in funding on an Rs40 million valuation in 2018, with most of the investment used to fund operations, including introducing new vendors to the platform.

EVEN IF THE PRODUCT ITSELF IS AMAZING, IF THE PACKAGING DOESN’T CONVEY THAT, THEY ARE NOT GOING TO BUY IT

Managing vendors, of which there are currently over 60, making sure the products are ecofriendly, organic (if that’s a claim) and branding are resource-intensive. Rasaputra doesn’t want to compromise on building a responsible business with outstanding social, environmental and outcomes.

“I was looking for chemical- free products when I was pregnant. But these weren’t any available in supermarkets. I realised there is nowhere else to get these from either”, says Shehani Rasaputra, who’s a mom turned  businesswoman. As she points out, there’s no Amazon of green, organic products found in the country, and Just Goodness was a way of filling that gap. The business is built on her vision of providing wholesome and environmentally friendly goods. Customer trust is critical, and something justgoodness. co must ensure. So Rasaputra spends most of her time ensuring her suppliers are actually delivering the products they claim to be producing. It will only take one rogue supplier using a dangerous chemical as in a product marketed as organic, to damage years of hard work.

A second challenge is due to many suppliers being small businesses their knowledge of packaging and brand management is poor. Not only must the product be organic, it must also be presented in a way that ensures the customer will pay the premium, which it demands. “Even if the product itself is amazing, if the packaging doesn’t convey that, they are not going to buy it. It may take a lot more push from our end to talk about the benefits of using it, than the value of the product.”

At the start of her entrepreneurial venture, getting the manufacturers to trust her initiative was a challenge, as they had neither seen nor heard of an online platform. To win their trust, Rasaputra had to travel out of Colombo to meet with them, to convince them of her enterprise. She was a first-time mother, so this was a challenging enterprise for more than one reason.

Just goodness now works with sixty-two small scale manufacturers whose passion was the only thing that fueled their drive before the company discovered them. Suppliers and product branding remain challenges for Rasaputra. Her son is also now older. Maintaining a balance between her personal life and her business aspirations is now a little easier.