After moving to Canada from Ethiopia, friends Amira Aboubaker, Betti Eskedar, and Zewdi Readey were faced with the many challenges that come with being immigrants. These three women worked hard to graduate from university and build a career here in Canada.
In 2018, the idea to work together began. Amira, Betti, and Zewdi wanted to honour their homeland by creating a business with ties to their upbringing. Having female empowerment, community, and Ethiopian pride at their core, Ethio Organics was established.
Ethio Organics imports teff from East Africa to make high-quality pancake and waffle mix that is gluten-fee. Teff (seed from the Eragrostis tef plant) is an Ethiopian staple. They realized they could import teff to Canada while supporting local farmers back home. Ethio Organics is committed to fair trade so they work with many small business owners in Ethiopia who are experiencing financial hardships. Ethio Organics allows them to earn money, so these small business owners can provide for their families.
Where did the idea to start Ethio Organics come from? Once you had the idea, what steps did you take to carry out this entrepreneurial venture?
Because of Betti’s experience with her daughter’s illness with celiac, we decided to produce a gluten-free product. We learned through our research that gluten-free products are much needed in the market and the remedy for Betti’s daughter happens to be the food we love, Teff.
Teff is a superfood and gluten-free grain, and we knew we could easily import it from East Africa through our connections, even though it is not widely known in Canada. We shared our ideas with our families and friends. We did some more research and learned through attending seminars and connecting with more businesses, that time, money, space, hard work was needed.
We wrote a business plan, determined each other’s role, and developed our product and got it tested and decided on our name and logo, once we did, registered our business.
Although we had contacts with women in East Africa, we needed to make sure they are reliable and willing to work with us as partners on the ground. Betti travelled to meet with the women and worked out the logistics. We made Teff pancakes and waffles and invited friends and neighbours to taste them and received positive feedback. We looked for channels to succeed with our venture and realized we needed to establish an online store on Shopify.
Tell us what makes Ethio Organics one of a kind?
Starting a business for women, especially black women, with little-to-no support and resources is a challenge. Despite the challenge, we succeed in establishing our business. Our story is unique, long-time friends came together to market and promote healthy food we grew up eating. We realize that not many Canadians are familiar with Teff, although it is well known in Europe, and now it has grown in Australia and the USA. Our product is unique because we import Teff from its native land, Ethiopia. It is also unique because Teff is a superfood, gluten-free and vegan, nutritious and healthy, tasty, and flavourful. Furthermore, we work with local women, small women-owned businesses who have difficulty sustaining their business and livelihood. We know farmers are the least beneficiaries of their products therefore we make sure they are paid fairly.
What was it like immigrating to Canada?
We all found adjusting to living in Canada a huge challenge. We grew up with extended family and friends, who did not speak English fluently and had a different culture. We connected to people who were going through similar experiences to help us adjust to life in Canada. There were only a few Ethiopians in the GTA at the time, we were very lucky to congregate and adjust to life in Toronto. We became friends, socialized, and supported each other.
What, if any adversities did you have to conquer, and what do you attribute your success to?
Although getting products shipped from East Africa is a challenge, we were able to find a reliable supplier, who delivers on time and high-quality products. We are also proactive in expanding our sources so we will have enough products to meet growing demands. Furthermore, having three of us as partners share tasks on hand, bounce ideas, work hard, support each other, and make it fun.
For those of us who don’t know, can you please explain what Teff is and its importance to your Ethiopian culture?
Teff is an ancient grain that was domesticated over 5,000 years ago. It is a tiny grain, smaller than a poppy seed. It is native to Ethiopia, and we grew up eating it 3 times a day, as it is a staple food for Ethiopians. There are 3 types of Teff, red, brown/black, and white. White Teff is very expensive and primarily consumed by wealthy families and often seen as a privilege. Brown/black teff is cheaper, found in most average families. Over 6.5 million farms grow teff and there is still a need to grow more to meet growing demand worldwide. Teff is considered a superfood, nutritious, healthy, filled with vitamins, protein, and minerals, it is excellent for overall health. Teff is versatile, you can make bread, cookies, cake, porridge even add to smoothies, pancakes and waffles. Ethiopians use Teff to make injera, sour bread eaten with all types of dishes. Until recently, the Ethiopian government banned exporting Teff to make sure Ethiopians have an adequate supply for consumption, it is now made available, and we are able to import it.
How important is your Ethiopian heritage to your brand?
We consider Teff as part of our DNA. We ate it three times a day every day from childhood. We are very happy and proud that we are producing and marketing Teff because we love it, we know it is a superfood, very healthy, we want to promote it and share it with Canadians and the world. It is a wonder grain, a great product, perfect for people who have celiac disease, as it is filled with fibre, rich with iron, excellent for anemics, and aids people who are keen on losing weight. For the three of us, it is comfort food we eat 3-4 days a week. We want to market it to let people know it is an excellent choice.