Al Natur: Contributing to healthy lifestyles and regional development

For: Majo Recinos

Mario Sánchez is an enterprising and hardworking local Quetzalteco. In 2010, Don Mario had the idea of creating a place in Quetzaltenango where coffee and chocolate made by Quetzaltecan and highland producers could be distributed, consumed, and sold. This is how Al Natur was born, a shop selling organic and local products in Zone 1 of Quetzaltenango. One of his first partnerships was with Finca Loma Linda and Mundo Verde, and the chocolate produced by a group of Quetzaltecan women producers. 

From 2015, the demand for products was growing, and customers were demanding various types of organic products, which is why Al Natur began to offer additional products. These new products include natural, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and whole foods; hygiene and health products including shampoo, soaps, and medicinal tinctures; and handicrafts such as the products from three women’s cooperatives. 

Over recent years, the number of vegetarians, vegans, and people on special diets has increased, and Al Natur correspondingly offers healthy food to enable people to maintain these diets. Soy products and their derivatives are available, such as tofu, tempeh, cold cuts, and soy flour. They also sell sugar-free products for diabetics, such as jams, chocolate, banana flour, quinoa, and guar gum which can be used instead of eggs. They also stock anti-allergy products. 

Don Mario explains that people’s eating habits determine their health. It is proven that in Guatemala maladies such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are increasing in frequency, often as the result of an inadequate diet. One of the advantages, therefore, of eating natural products is that they are artisanal and hand-made, produced without the use of chemicals or preservatives, and this will directly impact the improvement of one’s quality of life. 

At present, Al Natur sells products from across the country; the coffee comes from the south of Quetzaltenango (Huehuetenango, Quiché, Sololá, San Marcos); hygiene products and speciality foods are made by small producers in Guatemala City; honey is harvested on the South Coast and Cuilco; from Quiché come products such as cardamom. Al Natur is doubtless characterised by its healthy and quality products, but also by its support for the small businesses and local organisations of Quetzaltenango and beyond. 

Don Mario says that being able to contribute to the small-business economy and being an example business model brings him satisfaction; Al Natur have been able to expand their association coverage to include new producers and cooperatives. The store currently works with around 1,500 families to sell their products, some individually and others as part of an association or cooperative. 

People often think that when buying organic or artisanal products they will have to spend a lot of money, However, Don Mario believed this is debatable – in reality, natural products are (sometimes) a little more expensive for two reasons: the producer works longer hours to make the product, and secondly the ingredients are generally of better quality. It is, therefore, an investment to purchase better quality products. As demand for these products grows and local consumption is prioritised, prices may decrease. 

For over ten years Al Natur has been one of our advertisers in EntreMundos Magazine. Don Mario says that the magazine is the principal medium through which Al Natur makes its business known. We, therefore, take this opportunity to invite our readers to start consuming natural foods from Al Natur, which will help them to maintain a healthy lifestyle and at the same time, help small producers to grow and generate greater development at both the local and regional level.