Category Archives: Guatemala

Foodies’ Dream – Chyawanprash

Have you added chyawanprash to your diet?  Maybe you should…but more on that later.

I spent two weeks in the beautiful colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala working with Yogi Superfoods. YS is a small social business that produces a variety of healthy food complements and snacks for the domestic market.

The name, Yogi Superfoods, was coined by its founder, an Italian living in Guatemala.  He teaches yoga and many of his customers are yoga students. Hence the “Yogi” name. He also leads guided meditation classes.  I attended one and finished up quite refreshed.  So did one of the other participants who had been bitten by a scorpion just one day previous. He reported that he felt the venom leave his body during his deep meditation.

YS seeks to offer nutritious food alternatives to consumers while providing jobs and training to local people.  My NGO for this assignment, Partners of the Americas, asked me to conduct market research so that YS could better understand the niche health food market in Guatemala.  I conducted desk research, interviews with shop and restaurant owners and industry experts, led one focus group, and visited a dozen retail stores.  Prior to this external activity (e.g. store visits) I was briefed on the product line by the staff. And then, after donning a surgical mask, hair net and sanitizing my hands, I was given a tour of YS’ small, but very clean, production facility.

YS sells its products mostly to retailers and a bit to restaurants for use in meal preparation. The end users of health food products are mid to upper social economic consumers; estimated at 60% Guatemalans, 40% Foreigners – –  predominately North American and European.  Most are urban living and are interested in a healthy lifestyle.  But in a poor country of just 17 million people and a level of wealth at 1/14th that of the U.S., there aren’t too many of these types. So, YS remains a small company: eight employees.

Prior to this assignment, YS had conducted little (if any) formal market research.  Most of the company’s decisions had been based on gut feel and intuition. They were only just now instituting a tracking system to measure revenue and profit from each product. This new tracking capability, combined with the results of our market research efforts, will allow YS to become a more successful competitor. (We hope.)

For the focus group discussion, we invited one dozen knowledgeable consumers of Yogi Superfoods products. These consumers shared with us several important recommendations:

  • Improve packaging consistency: different size and style fonts are being used and too much information appears on the package
  • Simplify the product line: YS offers 145 different products. 80% of revenues come from the top 25 items. The bottom 25 account for less than .3%. Thus, YS could lop off the bottom 25 products and still realize 99.7% of the revenue.
  • Rationalize product names: Some product names overlap in a confusing way – – for example, the company offers “Healthy Superfoods Treat” and “Healthy Snack”

The focus group also suggested that YS add more adaptogens to the product line, including ashwagandha and chyawanprash. These are real words by the way. I am a bit vague on the meaning of adaptogen and I certainly don’t recognize the two specifically mentioned, but I kept a poker face and made it through that part of the group discussion.

The products offered include all sorts of powdered food complements to blend into smoothies, soups, stews, and more.  If you have a hankering for powdered spirulina, turmeric, nutritional yeast, chlorophyll, and acai then Yogi Superfoods should be your provider of choice. Or you can select fermented, non-alcoholic drinks like kombucha and matcha tea. Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar are also on the menu.  And finally there is a range of snack foods –  various sorts of trail mix (with turmeric), raw chocolate bars, un- or very lightly sweetened.

When I was not sampling Yogi Superfood, I discovered that the street food in Guatemala is similar to that in big neighbor to the north, Mexico: tacos, tamales, guacamole.  The Guatemalan tortillas are a bit thicker though and the locals eat lots of plantains – – grilled, fried, mashed, boiled. In fact, the Garifuna load their tapado (fish and coconut stew) with the ubiquitous plantain.  Of course, that begs the question, who are the Garifuna? 54% of Guatemalans are indigenous, mostly Mayan. 45% are mestizo (Hispanic) and that leaves a tiny sliver of Garifuna. This ethnic group is descended from former African slaves who migrated from Caribbean islands to Guatemala’s Caribbean coast in the early 1800s. They speak their own language.  After completing my assignment, I traveled to the Caribbean coast where I listened to their music – drumming with call and response lyrics in the Garifuna language.  The music was accompanied by their dancing: hip shaking, body swinging, all rather suggestive – – but I’m not complaining.

Traveling north from Guatemala into Belize I met a taxi driver named Burrito.  This was a self-given name due to his belief that he was a superb burrito maker.  I didn’t try his famous dish.  Burrito encouraged me to sample Gibnut, a grilled field rat.  I didn’t get around to trying it either, just ran out of time – – bummer, I usually enjoy field rats.  He also described a delicacy he makes around Easter time: cooked iguana including the 40 – 80 eggs found inside the female.  Squeeze the soft leathery egg shell (not a hard shell) and one gets a mustard-like substance from it.  Only one problem: Burrito said the iguana species he hunts was endangered, so he ate just one or two a year. Usually at Easter. I am not too keen on consuming endangered species. But I must say, the last passenger pigeon sure tasted good, and so did the dodo bird.  But neither were as healthy as the Yogi Superfoods’ product line.

Lots of Fruit


This time we start with a quiz.  Which fruit is consumed in the greatest quantity worldwide?  I guarantee the answer will surprise you.  Do not skip ahead or I will block you from receiving this blog.

Guatemala has 1.5 million artisans in a country of 15 million people. That’s one of every ten citizens who makes a living or contributes to their family via their hands and their artistic creativity.  Just walk through any market and tightly woven bright fabric, colorful needlework, artistic clay pots, striking wood carvings, and gold, silver, and jade jewelry will grab your eye.  I was particularly interested in such craftsmanship because my latest assignment, just now wrapping up, deals with budding artistic talent.

The artisans reside mostly in the countryside.  In the country’s capital, Guatemala City, few young children learn much about their country’s artistic heritage.  My client, DIDART, teaches children, ages 4 – 16, about the country’s craftsmanship.  DIDART does this by running school-based workshops for the students.  The youngsters are taught how to make crafts: for example, clay pots for the youngest and least dexterous fingers, painted gourds for the 8 – 10 year olds, and wooden earrings for the older, more sophisticated students.  My task was to make as many clay pots as possible during my three week assignment.

Actually my task was to help DIDART come up with a growth plan to reach as many schools and students as possible.  And also to draw in socially minded businesses willing to contribute to the cost of delivering the workshops to public schools in poor parts of the city – – schools that otherwise could not afford to pay the cost of materials and trainers to present the workshops.

In order for me to better understand the DIDART process I went on a day trip, a 90 minute twisting ride north of the capital to Chinautla to meet clay artisans.  As mentioned above, this is a great program for young kids, because fine motor skills are not essential for clay forming. In this particular town pottery dominates, there were a dozen or so pottery makers presenting their crafts on display shelves in front of their shops.

Two young women, 19 and 20, from this village later came to my client’s house in the capital to demonstrate how they run a crafts workshop for children.  They coached me through the construction, not of clay pottery because my fine motor skills were of a slightly higher caliber, but instead of a PULSERA de PINO – – a bracelet made of pine needles.  I was shown to form the pine needles in a circle, then wrap colorful string round and round the needles. Initially it seemed that my dexterity indeed matched that of a six year old, but I eventually caught on and now have a fine PULSERA de PINO to show for it.  Stop by my house sometime and I will take it out of the safe and show it to you.

As a thank you to my clients and to the young ladies giving me the pulsera lesson I prepared my signature dish: Enchiladas Maravillosas Hechas por Guillermo.  Look it up in Google translate if you can’t figure it out.

El Fuego was easily visible from my hotel room.  This live volcano was constantly smoking.  We even received an ash warning one day, my first, but the impact was miles away and didn’t affect us in the capital.  Sort of like a bogus winter storm warning in Boston.  Later, in the charming colonial capital, Antigua, we saw El Fuego erupt and spew fire into the sky and roll glowing lava down its slopes.  But again far enough away that the sight was a visual treat and not a personal threat…unless perhaps one had been climbing the volcano.

My good friend, Gregg Johnson, arrived at the end of my work period to join me in a bit of exploring the Guatemalan countryside.  This included a climb of Santa Maria volcano outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second city.  We ascended about 1,500 feet (halfway up) then hiked 1.5 hours horizontally around the cone to a vantage point looking down on Santiaguito, a live volcano.  As luck would have it, Santiaguito was smoking when we arrived and honored us with an eruption of more smoke, ash, and rumblings just 15 minutes later.  Also, as luck would have it, the wind carried the ash and volcanic gasses in the direction opposite from our viewing point.  Consequently, you are now reading this blog instead of my obituary.

Another highlight of our exploration was a tour of a “finca de café” or coffee plantation to you gringos.  Coffee growing and processing is a labor intensive exercise.  Entire families participate in the harvest of the coffee bean.  The country’s school vacation has been set (December and January) to coincide with the harvest so that children can join their parents in the field.  A family can collectively pick enough coffee – – and get paid by weight – – to earn $10-15 per day.  This may not seem like a great wage, but in a poor country like Guatemala it is well above the extreme poverty cutoff of $1.90 per day. However, the $10-15 is only good for a few months during the harvest, then the kids go back to school and the parents must find other sources of income. Maybe handicrafts??

So now it’s time to reveal the most consumed fruit in the world.  It is not soursop, golden kiwis, cloudberries, Chinese gooseberries, or even pomegranates, although I suspect any of the preceding would have surprised you.  Nor is it apples or oranges.  Neither olives nor tomatoes, which botanically speaking are fruits, but we think of them as vegetables, not fruits.

When that poor Guatemalan family in the plantation picks the coffee berry they are picking the most consumed fruit in the world.  We just happen to drink the roasted seed not the surrounding fruit.  I think you can make money in the bar with this bit of trivia.  Or get beat up.