January 19, 2010 13:14:21 | in General
By Julio Rojas Escalante
For El Comercio
Javier Peña is a surgeon who one day decided to pursue a hobby to cope with stress. In his trips to Brazil and Chile he had met two colleagues who raised snails; one as pets, the other for business. “I got curious,” he says while driving his truck to his plant north of Lima, where he manufactures various cosmetic products. All thanks to snails.
Did you know anything about the subject?
I started from scratch. I gradually became informed and learned for example that snails are a pest to farmers in the coastal areas, who try to eliminate them, because they spoil their crops. I found out that consumption was higher outside the country so I began exporting to Barcelona. But there were many difficulties in this business. I persuaded some friends to raise snails, got a load of one ton and that was the first export. And the problem was that there was no profit margin in the flesh. It cost us US $6 to raise one single snail and they wanted to pay the same amount for it in Europe. It was not commercially convenient: in the third shipment I think we lost US $500.Is that why you decided to sell snail slime?
After the first challenge, my friends just said they were done with the snails. I started researching by myself and made my first slime extraction technique: Here in Peru I provided the first liquid snail slime. Then we started to purify and filter it. It was in this context when I was contacted from Spain. I sent out the slime and they responded that it was good but too contaminated. Then the company told me that they would enable me to go to their laboratory in Valencia so then I can sell slime to them.
Why did they say that it was too contaminated?
It had a lot of bacteria. At that time I neither knew nor had the conditions to purify and package it properly.
Technology was needed...
Here in Peru there was no technology so I had to bring it from over there. Valencia's lab gave me the basics to make a clean product. Do so and we will buy from you, they said. Back in Lima we opened a small plant to process the slime. Three months later the Spanish came to see how it worked. And so I did my first export of slime in 2007. That year we exported 20 tons.
There was no price issue with the slime?
The price was very competitive. In Argentina there was a large company called Helix del Sur. They made snail slime for cosmetic purposes and sold it at US $320 per liter. Ours was more concentrated and we set the price at US $30. The Argentinians called me to complain. I told them this was the right price.
Why would they set so high a price?
Because they thought they were the only ones who knew the technique of extraction and were the only ones who could obtain the highly purified or sterilized product. Chileans in return beat us by selling the finished product: a cosmetic cream. I still did not have the resources for that. The price per liter of Chilean snail slime was US $200 and they did not want to lower it. We stayed at US$30.
Why didn't you raise it, perhaps to US$100?
When selling at US$30 we had a profit of 8 to 10 times the cost of producing it.
Chile had the advantage in the industrialization of the slime?
The Chileans have synthesized the slime at least five years before us. And marketed it quietly. The snail slime is a secretion that has a dissolved protein. They have named this protein Elicina, and have registered it. They sell it under that name. It was the first snail slime cream that was marketed in the world.
What is the advantage of Peruvian snail slime?
Its protein concentration. It is a climatological and geographical matter. The Chileans and Argentinians are working with 83 milliliters of protein per liter. We are close to a gram per liter. Ten times more than them and we sell the input with a high concentration.
Why did you stop breeding?
It involved many expenses. Now what I buy are wild snails that can be used rationally. Only the slime is removed, then the animal is returned to its natural habitat to avoid altering the ecosystem. It is also a requirement of the foreign customer. The best snails are in Huacho, Lurin, Chancay, Huaral. There are 40 families who collect them and I buy from them.
Do you already have a lab set up?
We have developed private labels that we already sell here and we have placed it in small quantities abroad. We distribute 90% of snail slime extract used in the local market, even if it is misused. It is a sensitive protein. We tell them to use at least 20% of the slime in their formula and they only put 5% to 2%. There are no rules. I tell them to avoid exposing it to light and they put it in a clear jar. That hits the market and provides a bad product. Abroad we see the opposite, it is always well made.
How is your stress level doing now?
Now I go to the hospital to relax (he laughs). Operating is a passion and making this company has been a dream. I believe that all professionals should keep that in mind. My colleagues laughed. It's crazy, my father would say, even though he now helps me.
When we mention snail slime, you may remember some of the tabloid headlines and believe that this is a hoax. And it is not. In the cosmetics industry there is demand for this input to be natural. But the challenge of Peruvian companies will be to sell not only the input but a finished product. For this they need infrastructure and production capacity. That is the path that Galeon Supply Lab is following.
Snail slime can be made into any cosmetic. Shampoo, lotion, soap, cream, hair bulb. Whatever the product is, the slime maintains its properties. There is enormous potential in the snail slime protein that needs to be fully exploited.
Today we know that in South America there are only three countries that foreign companies buy snail slime from: Argentina, Chile and Peru.
Translated from Spanish by Diana Schwalb
tags : Lima, Peru, Snail Slime, Cosmetics
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