INTERVIEW - 'Without added preservatives': A passion in the mix

Amira Elhamy , Tuesday 10 Nov 2020

Amira Elhamy discovers how one woman started a successful business project that reflects her passion in life

A passion in the mix
A passion in the mix

Find your passion, and it is no longer a job, says a famous piece of advice for all those looking for a fulfilling career. But how many people actually find a project that reflects their passion in life?

According to the US magazine Psychology Today, many people work just for the pay cheque they receive at the end of the month. And, of course, this is important to feed the kids, pay the rent and do the shopping, particularly as everything seems to be getting more and more expensive these days.  

Having a regular income is critical to survival. The message is that work should not be fun, but necessary, and that weekends, or time off for vacations or personal days, are when you should have fun. Work is, well, work. It shouldn’t be enjoyed – it’s just something to get through on your journey to somewhere else.

But what if you could find joy and satisfaction in work long before you punch the last proverbial timesheet?

Many people have succeeded in finding this balance, finding their passion, working for it and turning it into a successful business. Young businesswoman and co-founder of the food company Helia Mix Helianor Raafat has done just that. “I believe it is never too late to do something you enjoy,” she said.

Raafat majored in finance and banking at university, and then she worked in the banking sector and stock market for some time. “After marriage and giving birth to my three kids, I started to get more into healthy eating habits,” she said. “So, I started to educate myself and read intensively about the importance of consuming healthy food free from preservatives. As a mother, I believe this is extremely important for the health of my little ones as well,” she added. 

“My story began five years ago when I was in Saudi Arabia. Being in love with peanut butter, I thought I would try to make it at home without any added preservatives. I gave some to my friends and neighbours, who fell in love with it as well,” she recalled when talking about the beginning of her company.

“I made a second product called pistachio butter. And then I thought why not start a business project that would serve many people who follow healthy standards and are trying to maintain healthy eating habits?” 

Two years later, Raafat came back to Egypt and decided to start her company in earnest. “I decided to work simultaneously in several directions. First, I made a list of homemade products that I would be able to make without added preservatives. My vision was to replace canned food with healthy alternatives. Second, I started to use social media as a marketing platform and created a page on Instagram and started to market a few products to the wider community as well as to friends and family,” she said.

In order to turn her passion into a real business project, Raafat needed to back it with research and study. “I joined a competition for young entrepreneurs held at the American University in Cairo, where I made a presentation about my project,” she said. Raafat’s project came first for an entrepreneurial business that aims to serve society. “I was offered a business incubator for my project named ‘Helia Mix,’” she added.

Following this presentation, Raafat took an intensive business course for entrepreneurs that helped her develop her business. “Three years ago, I started with my first product, which was the peanut butter. Now I have 60 homemade products, all totally free from artificial colours, preservatives, additives, palm oil, white flour and white sugar,” she said.

“My products range from milk, spreads, ketchup, homemade cheese, jams, mayonnaise, granola and lollypops for kids.”

While the business has been a great opportunity for Raafat, certain challenges have come with it. “One is being a mother of three kids while striving to sustain my business project that I am truly dedicated to,” she said. Yet, dedication, persistence, continuous research, good marketing strategies and having a strong motivation are all the reasons behind her success. 

“I would say that what helped me to succeed was the amazing awareness among many people about healthy eating habits. People are becoming more and more health conscious, and day after day they are becoming more and more aware about the dangers of added preservatives and artificial ingredients and colours,” she said.

“Consuming healthy food products is an important trend that is finding its way in the Egyptian market, even though healthy food products are still relatively highly priced. What made me develop 60 homemade food products was all the client requests I was receiving,” she added.

Looking back over the story of Helia Mix, Raafat has some advice for other entrepreneurs. “I would say that it is never too late to make a career shift through which you can find your real passion. Now I cannot imagine my life without Helia Mix. So, if you have a business idea, start on it now. Small steps inevitably lead to bigger ones,” she concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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