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The purple berry that could: entrepreneur behind acai

In Aussie health food circles, acai is as mainstream as bread or butter. More than 15,000 kilometres away, for families in the Amazon, acai berries are precisely how they make a crust.

Dwayne Martens, CEO and founder of Amazonia, is one entrepreneur who saw the business potential in selling the natural supplement early on.

Alongside the meteoric rise of the so-called wellness industry in Australia, Martens believes his business model is onto a winning combination. At the heart of his brand is the berry that grows plentifully throughout the Amazon region, and selling it for a profit is proving to yield a mutual benefit.

“In less than 6 years, Amazonia has grown from a single market stall to a multi-million dollar enterprise, whilst maintaining a strict ethos of social and environmental responsibility,” he says.

Established by Martens in 2008, and joined soon after by his business partner Chris Norden, Amazonia prides itself on being more than just a food or natural supplement retailer.

“Since its inception, Amazonia’s business strategy has been carefully crafted to provide natural, organic acai berries to Australians whilst protecting the Amazon forest and the economy of Amazonian communities,” Martens says.

“Never before have local Amazonian families had so much financial incentive to keep their local rainforest standing.”

He explains to Dynamic Business that the arrangements they have in place with farming families is fairly straightforward.

“Acai is only grown in the Amazon, but it’s actually the most abundant naturally occurring food in the world. It grows on 6.1 billion acres throughout the Amazon, so there’s bucket loads of acai everywhere. What we do is we go there and say listen, look at all these trees around you – if you hand harvest all these berries, leave them on the river banks, the boats will come pick them up.”

“We don’t have to log anything, we’re actually generating money by using the forest, so there’s more incentive to keep the trees standing. It’s a revelation in business over there, and it’s the essence of sustainability,” Martens says.

Certified by Ecocert Fair Trade, as well as being classified as Australian Certified Organic, Martens adds that their network of some 4,000 families are paid above the fair trade price for acai, and they also provide education around rainforest conservation.

“There’s demand for acai worldwide right now. What we’ve done is put the steps in place for local families, and say ‘listen you can go supply to us, or you can go and supply to anyone’. But by paying fair trade prices, they choose to supply to us,” he says. “And this is where education comes into it as well – we don’t want them to go rip down other trees, and only plant acai trees on their land. So that’s why we have to go out there and say, acai depends on biodiversity, so if you’re doing that you’ll actually get less of a yield.”

Having extended its range beyond acai products alone, Martens says Amazonia is now focusing on a diverse range of nutrient-dense products, as well as establishing itself as a proponent of healthy lifestyles.

“I really haven’t been focused on growth as such – what we’re trying to do is to be a provider of authentic products. I want to go to bed at night and feel ‘yes, I’m doing a good a good job, and feel proud, not ‘oh I’m just trying to make a buck’, because it’s about so more than that,” Martens says.

“The marketing behind it is also about the lifestyle, because that’s what we’re about. I’ve got an amazing group of healthy vibrant people around me who believe in the same thing, and when a collaboration of people like that get together, sparks fly, and that’s the core of why the business in doing so well as well. We want to change the way people think about exercise and nourishment, so it’s an exciting space to be in.”

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Stephanie Zillman

Stephanie Zillman

Stephanie is the editor-at-large of Dynamic Business. Stephanie brings with her a passion for journalism, business, and new ideas. On her days off, you might find her reading a book on the beach.

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