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Q&A with Angela Ichwan, founder of Arico Natural Foods Company

Based in Beaverton, Oregon, Arico Natural Foods is making its mark on the natural snack industry with its line of natural gluten- and casein-free snacks.

Java natives Angela Ichwan and Hermanto Hidajat combined their professional background in food science and engineering to start the company in 2004. Arico’s snack bars, cookies, and cassava chips are flavorful, natural and nutritious. The company is dedicated to providing snacks made from the highest quality ingredients.

In an interview with Colors of Influence, Angela Ichwan shares her insights on becoming an entrepreneur and the importance of corporate responsibility to Arico’s culture.

What is Arico Natural Foods’ creation story? My niece, Ella, is the inspiration for Arico Natural Foods. She is autistic, and following a gluten- and dairy-free diet. When I tried the products she was exposed to, I felt there was much to be improved in terms of the taste, flavor, texture and nutritional value.

What was your career path leading up to founding Arico Foods? My husband, Hermanto Hidajat, and I always wanted to own our own company, to create products that not only taste good, but are also nutritious. For me, healthy products don’t have to taste bad. I want to change that perception and convince people that they can live healthily and eat well through great-tasting products.

My husband I, both immigrants from Indonesia, have always been entrepreneurial spirits. I have a solid background in Food Science: completing my undergrad degree from the University of California, Davis and graduate studies in Cornell. I worked for Heinz, then at Kellogg. I studied in Spain to finish my MBA degree through an exchange program. I was given the opportunity to serve as COO of Market Matters, a startup nonprofit organization. At the time, I was looking for ways to contribute to the community.

What were some of the early challenges in founding Arico Foods? Everyday is full of challenges, big and small. Like any new business starting out, we were essentially the “underdog.” We were trying to establish our network and our brand identity in the marketplace. It was a lot of fun. Business is all about problem-solving, and that’s how we operate.

Who are some of your most important allies, when you were first starting out? I was fortunate to start this business with my husband. It’s been a great partnership. We complement each other’s strengths. Our friends and family were definitely behind us in so many ways.

Angela Ichwan at an Autism Awareness Walk with a couple of Arico Natural Foods fans.

How does Arico Foods differentiate itself from the competition? Arico products are always gluten free and dairy free. We strive to always create healthy products that taste great. We are also closely involved in the Celiac and Autism communities through our grassroots effort.

Beyond creating products, we are also a company that is conscious about our contributions to social and environmental issues. Consumers today are very well-informed, and are encouraged to do good by choosing what they buy.

My husband and I both believe that being successful and profitable in business also means that you have to be aware of your impact on society. Arico represents a brand that not only sells great products, but is also committed to doing good things. We strive to always make ethical business decisions, and hope to encourage other business leaders to also have that mindset.

How does your cultural background affect the way you conduct business? We live in a global world. Sometimes it’s really hard to pinpoint what aspects of my identity can be traced to a particular culture. I’ve been living in the U.S. for half of my life, and think cultural aspects have become really blended.

Maybe part of it is cultural, and part of it is being citizens of the world. Both my husband and I loved to travel, and we were exposed to many cultures. My parents instilled the values of education. They stressed that the only inheritance they will leave behind is our education. They gave us the opportunity to go to school, so we made the best out of our education.

Getting to know other families and cultures also reinforced the belief that if you have a dream and put your mind to achieving it, then the universe will conspire to make your dream come true.

What were some of the most important lessons you learned in growing the business? I learned that you can’t possibly know everything. Ask the right questions. Find the right people who can guide you. There will always be someone you can learn from, or help solve any problem you may have.

What lessons from your experience at the nonprofit Market Matters did you take in starting Arico Foods? Starting the organization from scratch was an interesting experience. I helped the founders of Market Matters get the organization going. Validating the business I helped write the business plan and raise funds for the organization. It’s a different experience from business fund-raising, where you convince people to invest in your company because of a product and the promise of return on investment. When you’re fund-raising for a nonprofit, you really have to appeal to the heart. It’s all about the cause.

It was a really amazing experience, meeting so many people with great business ideas that also benefit society. Market Matters sought to help small- and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets. A project in South Africa connected us with a lot of small business owners, most of them working in agri-business. Many of the community and business leaders are women, young and old. I met one grandmother who adopted many orphaned children whose parents have died as a result o f the AIDS epidemic in Africa. She makes tea from honeybush flowers, and needed help in marketing and packaging the products. Honeybush tea has been used in their community for many generations.

What do you enjoy most about running Arico Foods? It’s exciting: everyday poses different challenges. I enjoy planning for the future, in terms of strategy, goals and providing direction for our team. It takes more than just one head to solve issues. We always involve the team to get to the best solution.

What aspect of the business are you most proud of? Where we were and where are now is not only a result of the work that my husband and I have put into the business. We have a great team at Arico Foods. We have people on the bus who are absolutely passionate and believe in what we are doing. We also have strong partnerships with third-parties who have helped us along the way. It definitely takes a village to make sure that a company is successful.

Summer 2008 Colors of Influence || Share on Facebook



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"Arico represents a brand that not only sells great products, but is also committed to doing good things. We strive to always make ethical business decisions, and hope to encourage other business leaders to also have that mindset."

"If you have a dream and put your mind to achieving it, then the universe will conspire to make your dream come true."

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Arico Natural Foods

 




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