|Unlikely champion : Small Lebanese food company revels in sweet taste of global success|
|The story of Lebanese gourmet preserve company Mymoun is the stuff of Disney movies. In 1989, at the height of Lebanon's Civil War, Youmna Ghorayeb and her sister decided to begin selling the traditional condiments they grew up eating in their tiny, 1,250-meter-high village near Mount Sannine.
Armed with a small loan from Bank Saradar and one young employee, they started collecting recipes for mulberry preserves amassed over generations by the women of their village, Ain al-Kabou.
Three decades and 18 new employees later, Mymoun manufacturers 30 products - including the original two - which are sold in gourmet stores around the world.
Last year their fig jam and mulberry preserve beat out 4,500 competitors to win, respectively, gold and bronze medals at the "Great Taste Awards" - the self-proclaimed "Oscars of the food industry" held each year in the United Kingdom.
"At that time we were obsessed by doing something positive, providing job opportunities for people in our village", the softspoken Youmna Ghorayeb told The Daily Star. "The roads to our village were cut, people were stressed, and the market was full of industrial products. We were first to provide homemade goods."
Half of Mymoun's profits come from exports now, and the line is sold in such haute cuisine venues as France's Le Grand Epicerie de Bon Marche, Fortnum & Mason's in the U.K., and at U.S. chains Whole Foods and Dean and Deluca.
Ghorayeb credits increased international demand with driving last year's 17-percent growth in profits, but admits that foreign market penetration was a struggle. It wasn't until she traveled to the Fancy Food show in New York City two years ago that the export division - and consequently her profits - began to grow.
"Exporting is a very hard job, because you cannot reach the market by yourself," she said. "You depend on your agents in other countries and they don't have enough time to give to small companies like us."
But Mymoun has definitely had help from both the public and private sectors.
Kafalat, the financial institution that has guaranteed loans for about 4,000 local small and medium-sized enterprises in coordination with the Ministry of Economy and Trade, has been supporting Mymoun's development for seven years and recently co-signed a $200,000 loan from the Saradar group.
The Lebanese Association of Industrialists has also been boosting its assistance of late and will pay for Ghorayeb to join the Lebanese delegation at New York's Chelsea Halls Food Show in October.
Beirut,05 22 2006
The Daily Star