The reason for which you reached here is that you are interested and may be fascinated with Stevia. You belong to the group of people who really cherish wellness through gift from nature and are really concerned about environment. Most probably you are also interested in promoting the cause of Stevia.
Do you want to take a more active role ? Are you interested in small entrepreneurship with Stevia products ? Don’t worry……it is super easy and does not require a fortune to establish a small business.
If you have some spare land and do not mind to get your hands dirty with some occasional manual labour, you may think about having a small plantation.
You may start with 200 to 300 plants at your backyard. Your business will comprise raising some plants, harvest the leaves in appropriate times and dry them. Drying of stevia leaves is also fairly easy.......only you have to put them under sun on a black plastic sheet. 7-8 hours of sundrying is often enough in places where relative humidity is 60 - 70%. Higher amount of moisture in air may involve longer sun drying period. After the leaves are dried....they no longer remain perishable and can be stored in sealed polybags for a long time.
The dried leaves can be sold as it is. The extractors are not interested in small quantity leaves, but they can be sold to retail consumers, directly, as health supplement. For selling to the retail customers, the leaves are to be packed in consumer friendly packs. Zip-lock pouches works very well for this and you may have a 50$ small impulse sealer to seal the pouches. Otherwise, off the shelf clear plastic bottles (kitchen containers) may be used for packaging. A sticker label on the pouches will add a lot of value on the packaging. I am sure; you will have a lot of clientele to sell your product. Those Stevia leaves can be consumed as tea….for its health benefits. The unprocessed leaves have almost no value as sweetener….but it is very good as a dietary supplement for diabetic people and a good weight management product. The dried leaves have a shelf life of at least one year….so you need not have to worry about spoilage. In India, the dried leaves sell at 10 – 12 dollars a Kg if they are packed in 100 g packs. In more affluent neighborhoods, even higher price can be expected.
If you want to offer a more “processed” product, you may consider investing on a kitchen mixer grinder and sale your leaves in ground form. But, actually, it does not add any value to the product. And it is easier to adulterate powdered leaves…..so it has lower credibility to the consumers.
Crude Liquid Extract
In some places, crude liquid leaf extract is also packed and sold as retail product. Stevia leaves are boiled with water, strained to free it from suspended materials, occassionally some preservatives are added, packed in bottles and Voila !.........you are ready with a product ! But, the real issue is, even after adding reasonable quantities of chemical preservatives, these products are extremely susceptible to spoilage. They also just taste horrible even after few days storage. Storing in refrigerator dose not help appreciably.
Products with purified steviol glycosides
A more serious and enterprising entrepreneur may think about really practical sweeteners made from purified Stevia extract. A small profitable unit can be established with surprisingly low investment. The only tricky part is………you have to find reliable suppliers of Steviol glycoside who are willing to supply in small quantities. But it is not an issue any more. There are several Chinese suppliers, who can provided you a quantity as low as 5.0 Kgs. The other bulking ingredients, or fillers are available on supermarket shelves or can be purchased from mail order portals like Amazon.
Liquid Tabletop Sweetener
The easiest product to start with is the liquid sweetener, which can be offered in 15 – 30 ml dropping bottles or “eye dropper” bottles. Those bottles can be purchased from local suppliers in a quantity as low as 500 in commercial prices. You require some kitchen utensils, a weighing scale and a small tabletop filling machine for the production and packaging. Of course, you need some nicely designed printed sticker labels. These liquid formulations can be made with different flavours.....only you have to add flavour concentrates during preparation of the liquid.
Spoonable Powder Formulation
The next product which is also relatively easy to produce is the spoonable formulations. The production involves mixing of some solid ingredients and packing them either in pre-printed pouches or PET/HDPE bottles. Pre-printed pouches require more investment because the printers will insist for their minimum ordering quantity. Purchasing bottle in smaller numbers (100 – 200) is much more cheaper option. These spoonable formulations can be made with sweetness intensity equal to sugar and it can be used just as sugar in cooking, baking and in desserts.
Stevia Sweetener in Sachet Format
According to the investment requirement, Sachets comes next. For sachets you need to invest on a Form-Fill-Seal (FFS) machine. A very good entry level Chinese FFS machine costs about 8,000 US$ and it has a small foot print of 1.5 feet by 2.0 feet (45 cm x 60 cm) and only 4 feet by 4 feet (1.2m x 1.2m) clear space is required for running the machine. You may have a small ribbon blender or mechanical mixer to complete the equipment requirement. One FFS machine can produce about 50,000 sachets in a single shift of 8.0 hours. But, you need to have printed sachet paper/film roles with your own brand name. Here also the question of minimum ordering quantity is important and investment on packing material may be more than that on equipments.
Production in tablet form is the costliest option since it involves investment on a rotary tablet press. An entry level reliable tablet press costs at least 25,000 US$ and it needs a lot of space for its proper operation. A number of peripheral equipment like Mass mixer, granulator, tablet deduster, Tablet counter filler etc. are also required. This product is for the most serious entrepreneur. But, tablet is one of the most consumer friendly option and it has tremendous end-user economy.
Thus, setting up a small production unit is not difficult at all and it can be accommodated in a clean empty garage or a basement room. The only important factor is your enthusiasm and some effort in marketing. You can think about having your on-line portal for selling your product. The most important thing is, you don’t need to quit your present job, if you can manage to put few hours of your off-time to your business.
You have to keep one thing in your mind. All the big shots in this Stevia sector often blurt a lot of scary jargons and brag about the technical superiority of their product……as if their product is produced with alien technology ! All those are for bamboozling gullible customers. I have been collecting samples for all the products available in the market and analyzing them for the last 7 years. Most of the time I found their so called technical superiority claim is just marketing BS. Anyone can make very good quality product with a excellent taste profile, if they put some effort and dedication.
Interested ? I will love to hear from you.