BEIRUT: One year ago, Vanessa Zuabi was immersed within the sharp-cornered city of Washington D.C., working in public-private partnerships with corporate giants alongside the likes of the Aspen Institute, Clinton Global Initiative, and HSBC Bank.
To many, it would have been a good and fulfilling life, in a fast lane.
She, however, wasn’t satisfied.
Zuabi packed up her belongings and took a plane back to Beirut after working for almost a decade in the heart of America, with no future career plans or moves in sight; purely out of instinct.
Upon her arrival, she managed to land a job with Elevate Impact Accelerator, a program that helps social impact startups, created by a joint partnership between UNICEF and AltCity Impact, with funding received from the Netherlands and hosted by Beirut Digital District.
But still, Zuabi was still looking for something to call her own.
The answer was looking inward.
“Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which allows ingestion of gluten to cause damage in the small intestine, which forced me to have a strict gluten-free diet and healthy lifestyle as a whole,” Zuabi told Annahar.
Throughout that process, she managed to educate herself about the different products and ingredients to become more health conscious.
When Zuabi was in the U.S., these products were easily accessible, since Celiac disease affects almost one percent of the population. “When I came to Lebanon, I realized that these products existed, but I just needed to go to 5 or 6 places to get everything needed,” she added.
This time-consuming task was later echoed by a number of people she met along the way in Beirut. These complaints were the tipping points of her eureka moment and the birth of Mint Basil Market.
But, she needed a partner.
In parallel, Lara Noujaim was also growing weary of her career in the gaming industry, and yearning for change while attempting to seek something of her own as well.
It so happened that one night, both Noujaim and Zuabi met at a gathering at the request of a mutual friend, where they immediately hit it off and started pitching startup ideas to each other; until Mint Basil Market (MBM) really hit the mark.
Mint Basil Market is an e-commerce platform that offers a wide range of healthy, natural products, from food to cosmetics, and which can be delivered straight to people’s doors.
“Our mission is to be the one-stop shop for people wanting products that gluten-free, vegan, and organic as well as cosmetic products and household cleaning products,” Zuabi said.
The platform, which launched on November 26, currently sports almost 20 brands and up to 200 products and has gathered a big response that is drawn to the concept of being more health conscious about what is consumed.
“We aren’t trying to just launch an e-commerce website, but to create a community of people where the partnerships we have created will help facilitate our aim to raise education and awareness,” Noujaim told Annahar.
MBM has reached out to experts that are in the health, fitness, and wellness space who are offering their insights, their recipes onto our blog, and their recommendations on how to best use the products being sold.
The platform has already partnered with a local delivery startup, which offers free delivery to anywhere in Lebanon. While in terms of content, both co-founders have partnered up with two chefs that write recipes with the products sold on the platform.
One of the chefs is Lara Ariss who focuses on Mediterranean pastries, by bringing her signature love of medleys of flavor together with a keen appreciation for fresh seasonal produce; she also owns a boutique pastry-catering kitchen in Beirut and is currently working on her second cookbook.
In parallel, Ariss launched a line of extra virgin olive oil in collaboration with Mint Basil Market to celebrate her appreciation for fresh produce.
MBM’s second is Sally Jane, an American chef that found herself in Beirut, where she has built a big following for generating healthy recipes.
“We are still looking to expand on our partnerships with health coaches and experts in the health and wellness fields to maximize our reach with people who are looking for healthy alternatives,” Noujaim explained.
According to Zuabi, the majority of Mint Basil Market’s audience is between the ages of 20 to 45 with 80 percent of them being women that have children. “We are looking largely at families that want to be eating healthy while attracting younger people who are interested in having quick and easy healthy options to eat,” she added.
The co-founders are looking toward expansion into the region, as they consider Lebanon to be their test market. Zuabi highlighted that in the region UAE has the 38th biggest market in terms of organic food.
“Organic food market in the UAE generates almost $1.5 billion, while in the rest of the region it is a little over $2 billion, so it’s a big purchasing market for us, especially Egypt and KSA for their massive populations,” she noted.
The platform is still in its early stages and is looking for investments to focus on inventory ways to add customized products for customers and to up their digital marketing presence. “So far we’ve done and spread the word about our platform with no marketing budget and solely on word of mouth,” Noujaim highlighted, as MBM is currently enrolled in Flat6Labs' Beirut's accelerator program.
She also explained that many brands have approached the platform to sell their product from a new channel and perspective rather than a regular brick and mortar store, which allows it to grow organically.
MBM has already done numerous gift baskets and promotions to celebrate both Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day, and now they have their sights set on the upcoming holy month Ramadan and Father’s Day.
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