Jordan’s food-processing industry has seen a significant rise in niche and innovative food products in the past few years. From Jameed (a fermented dried yogurt) chocolate to fresh cardamom almond milk, young entrepreneurs are using local ingredients and flavors to launch truly innovative food products that have the potential of going global.
Faris AlHaisa, the young entrepreneur behind the local black garlic brand Darker Than Black, has launched a successful business purely out of his passion for science. With a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, he always found the chemical reactions that give certain foods different qualities and flavors, incredibly fascinating.
“First time I heard about black garlic was around 4 years ago. I was very interested in the science behind it and decided to take it up as a hobby. I also wanted to find ways to unlock the hidden potential of local produce and turn them into delectable, innovative products.” said Faris.
Without even knowing the taste of black garlic, he began experimenting at home and tried something new every time to elevate the taste and quality of his black garlic. A few months later while he was away on a trip, Faris tasted store-bought black garlic for the first time and realized that his experiments can be turned into a business simply because his finished product was “so much better”.
Innovation can be defined in many different ways. Sam Saguy defined it as “the process of transforming a discovery (i.e. idea, invention) into a good(s) or service(s) that consumers/customers are willing to purchase”.
Black garlic is considered a super food due to its numerous health benefits. It starts out as regular garlic and is put through a fermentation and incubation process that changes the color of the cloves to black, mellows the flavor and reduces the sharpness associated with raw garlic. The finished product has a soft texture, and a sweet, tangy taste. “Raw garlic goes through five different stages before it becomes black garlic, and the whole process takes about 80 days” said Faris.
After fine-tuning the product and finalizing the production process, Faris established Darker than Black Food (DTB) in a small factory in Sahab, an industrial city south east of the capital Amman.
USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS) saw huge potential in Darker Than Black, awarding it a grant as part of its mission to support local small businesses. The grant allowed the factory to purchase all the necessary machines and equipment that it lacked to be able to produce black garlic in large quantities. To support its marketing efforts as well, the grant helped DTB develop a website, and launch online campaigns to raise awareness of the product.
Black garlic quickly became popular in Amman, appealing to health enthusiasts and foodies alike.
What helped DTB stand out as an innovative Jordanian product regardless of the fact that it has been around for years in other countries, is that Faris succeeded in adding a Middle Eastern twist to black garlic by incorporating it into Arabic recipes such as Hummus, Za’atar, etc.
With the increased exposure that DTB received as a result of the marketing campaign and their participation in different food and farmers’ markets in Jordan, hiring more workers became necessary. In fact, DTB created 9 jobs because of this growth; these varied between factory-based jobs and marketing and sales.
The Darker than Black (DTB) team during their live cooking segment at the Jordan Food Week 2018. Photo courtesy of Darker than Black (DTB).
With hard work and persistence, Faris turned his hobby into a successful business that supports other small businesses in local communities. He has connected with over 10 small businesses in rural and underserved communities across Jordan, by buying locally-grown raw materials from them and incorporating them in different recipes and dishes. So far, five of these small businesses have increased their revenues significantly.
Apart from launching an innovative product that can now be found on the shelves of Jordan’s biggest supermarkets, restaurants and bakeries, DTB completed quality tests and received all necessary approvals to start exporting black garlic to other countries, starting with the United Arab Emirates (UAE); one of the biggest and fastest growing food-processing markets in the Arab world. It is also well-worth mentioning that DTB is currently in the process of obtaining ISO certification to be able to export its product to Europe and the United States.
DTB’s near-future export plans inspired Faris to embark on a joint venture with a well-known business service provider (BSP) also working in the Jordanian food-processing sector, in order to expand successfully without jeopardizing his current production and distribution rates in Jordan. By doing so, DTB will receive support in distributing its products in Jordan, and will in return assist the BSP in entering international markets.
Innovative food products are undoubtedly a major key for success and competitiveness in the food industry, especially in Jordan where food-processing is one of the major sectors in which small businesses operate. USAID LENS has been supporting Jordan’s food-processing sector through different activities, grant programs and capacity building initiatives for over five years. Its aim is to raise the quality of Jordanian food products made by home-based and small businesses across Jordan, as well as local artisanal foods, in order to generate greater demand on local foods and shed the spotlight on the high-quality items being produced by local communities that are sadly overlooked in favor of imported alternatives.