BEIRUT: Soumaya Merhi grew up in Lebanon’s north watching her parents put all their energy into their family business: BreadBasket, an artisanal bakery specialized in wheat-free oat bread.
Being constantly exposed to healthy products increased her curiosity about healthy lifestyles. Consequently, she traveled to Germany to join a volunteering program that takes care of the nutrition of children with chronic illnesses.
Seeing how much effect food had on those children pushed her into pursuing a BA in anthropology and sociology with an emphasis on food economy at Concordia University, Quebec.
After graduating, Merhi began working for a Canadian company that produces organic dried fruits and nuts.
However, it was the training with the Japanese pastry chef Marilu Gunji that acted as a catalyst for the birth of her entrepreneurship project “TAQA.”
“If you want to do something, just go and try,” she recalled what Gunji told her before she took the decision to move back to Lebanon and contribute to the health industry in her country.
From a bread bakery to TAQA: the birth of a healthy snacks company
In 2013, Merhi moved back to Tripoli and started working with her family in BreadBasket.
Inspired by her passion for sports and healthy lifestyles, she shortly began to produce her own cookies and energy bars under BreadBasket.
Merhi spent 3 years working on her healthy snacks and selling those in Souk el Tayeb, a farmers’ market in Beirut.
But, this was not enough for her.
“I wanted to do more than sell cookies in a farmers’ market,” she said.
Accordingly, she started working on expanding the business.
“I was not born a business woman,” she said explaining how challenging it was to build a business plan from scratch. “You have to be ready to learn and sometimes the lessons are very harsh.”
Merhi rebranded her family’s company to “TAQA,” which translates to “energy” in English.
She transformed her family’s bakery into an automatized factory, allowing an increase in production.
“When you try, your fear diminishes,” she said.
Today, TAQA produces 16 lines of oat cookies, oat maamoul (Arabic cookies stuffed with nuts or dates), dried fruits and nut bars, bread, and crackers. All products are inspired from old Lebanese food recipes and are free from white wheat, milk products, palm oil, corn, and soy flour.
Although the production process takes place in Lebanon, Merhi explained the “need to outsource some ingredients like chocolate.”
Nonetheless, Merhi stressed that she uses every opportunity to support locale production.
“It’s an everyday active decision to support local production,” she added.
Beyond producing healthy snacks, TAQA aims at connecting to its community. Merhi thus, conceives her brand as a platform and organizes talks on health, sports, and nutrition.
TAQA has recently acquired partners in Saudi Arabia and Emirates.
“As Arabs, we are major consumers of western products,” Merhi added. “My dream is to one day make people proud that TAQA is a brand from the Middle East.”
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations. Naya editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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