Read the interview with the founders of Bio Tissue in Diario Financiero of Chile.
On January 6, 2012, Javier Valenzuela and his wife, Paola Cid, along with their four daughters, the youngest being two months old, arrived in Mexico City from Concepción. CMPC had acquired a Mexican company two years prior and had sent Valenzuela to serve as the director of institutional business, which involved the marketing of all products for hotels, services, and businesses.
Today, as they sit in a well-known Argentine restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood of the Mexican capital, both of them nostalgically recall everything they had to go through from then until now. “We’ve learned to be brave in a different country without support networks, dealing with crises all day long,” they say.
Starting from scratch multiple times
Javier Valenzuela completed his industrial engineering degree at Federico Santa María University, worked at Nestlé for three years, got married, and then joined CMPC, where he spent 18 uninterrupted years. “I thought I would stay there for my entire life,” he recalls.
With their daughters studying in Mexican schools and building careers in the country, the collusion case involving tissue products in Chile exploded in 2016. “After the case, they removed everyone, whether they were involved in it or not,” he remembers, clarifying, “I wasn’t involved in anything, but we all had to leave.”
At that time, Javier was 45 years old, had four daughters, and with Paola, they began to think about what to do next. They didn’t want to return to Chile.
“Our world collapsed,” Javier summarizes. He initially considered taking a sabbatical year in Australia due to a good severance package from the company. However, after just two weeks, he met a Chilean friend who had business in Mexico and had won a bid in the state of Michoacán, west of Mexico City, to supply medical supplies. He asked for Javier’s help in setting up the business structure. Javier worked there until March 2017.
Then he started looking for a job, sending out his resume every day, and at the same time, dabbled in stock trading (known colloquially as “timbear”). In May 2017, he met an Italian who was selling machines for making paper products and was in Mexico for some business with Kimberly Clark.
“Javier, you have 18 years of experience selling paper, sell paper!” the Italian told him. In June of that year, they decided to buy the machine, used all their savings, and, filled with fear, took the plunge. “If we failed, we would be left with nothing,” Paola emphasizes. That’s how they bought a machine and decided to specialize in manufacturing napkins, the best-selling commodity in the tissue industry.
From the streets to ground zero again
Javier partnered with Eduardo Zavala, the owner of Aseo Industrial, whom he knew from his time at CMPC. Aseo Industrial was the company that sold the most napkins in Mexico. They were the first to accept a higher-quality, whiter napkin from them. The first order was for 40 boxes, sold in advance.
In November 2017, their first machine arrived, and they began assembling it in a warehouse in the Vallejo area of Azcapotzalco, north of Mexico City. The entire family, all six of them, packed, loaded trucks, and delivered orders. This was the birth of Bio Tissue.
In mid-2018, they bought a second machine, and in 2019, a third.
Their end customers, through Aseo Industrial, were the hundreds of street food vendors in Mexico. They never wanted to sell in retail stores because they weren’t sure how that segment worked, and they believed it would be too expensive to work with them.
But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and street vendors closed their food stalls as tourists and Mexicans stayed home. In May 2020, they were almost back to ground zero. “Once again,” Paola says with a mixture of laughter and nostalgia.
And then came bamboo
During that period, Paola Cid went to Costa Rica for work and returned with a package of bamboo napkins. Whenever they traveled, they would visit supermarkets to see which napkins were being sold.
They had seen this product in other parts of the world but couldn’t understand why a sustainable item that consumed significantly less water than wood pulp paper was being sold without any sustainable packaging. Since they had heard of compostable packaging, they decided to combine these two elements in their product.
They knew César Agost, a renowned Argentine publicist who was also doing business in Mexico City. As a reference, his agency Founders had recently redesigned the logo for New York City. Agost conducted a market study for them, targeting centennials and millennials – the audience they wanted to reach with their eco-friendly and sustainable approach. They chose the name Bamboo Project. It’s a concept with informative packaging rather than outdated or cartoonish designs, and they created packaging that is 100% compostable. It degrades within six months and serves as fertilizer for plants.
In 2020, they started making napkins on the same machines they already had, but they used bamboo fiber paper imported from China, while they purchased compostable packaging in Mexico.
They knew that this paper was not suitable for the wholesale market and began searching for a retail partner. Javier met with an executive from Chedraui, one of the largest supermarket chains in Mexico, and offered his product. He left a sample at the executive’s house, he liked it, and agreed to stock it. They entered the stores in August 2020.
Then someone from La Comer, a premium supermarket chain, saw their product and wanted to carry it. They also began selling to the American chain HEB in Mexico. Later, they expanded to Fresko and City Market. A month ago, they entered the giant American retailer Costco. They are also on the verge of entering the Oxxo convenience store chain and another supermarket chain with a strong presence in the country.
In 2021, they expanded to Chile and are available in Jumbo and Lider stores, although they are currently on hold because they are considering setting up a plant in the country to save on shipping costs.
They also tried the U.S. market, where there was a similar offering of bamboo paper napkins but without compostable packaging. They sold their product on Amazon in the U.S. and later in Canada. They were getting up to $8 per napkin package in that market. This venture is also on hold while they wait for a more comprehensive plan to enter that market.
USA on the horizon
Now they plan to establish satellite plants to be closer to distribution centers. They have already identified locations in Guadalajara and Mérida, from where they can serve the Riviera Maya and Miami, as well as a plant in Monterrey to reach the central U.S. market. “We reinvented the napkin. We removed the tree and replaced it with bamboo; we removed plastic and introduced compostable packaging. Nobody had done that before,” proudly say the Valenzuela Cid family.
In parallel, they continue with several businesses. One of them is a plant for their own compostable products, which they have already installed in Toluca, north of Mexico City, starting in January of this year. The idea is to manufacture bags, packaging, straws, and everything compostable that is imported from China to Mexico.
They are also assisting Chilean entrepreneurs in the healthy food innovation sector in entering the Mexican retail market so that they can eventually set up their own plants.
In the medium term, their goal is to establish their own plant for bamboo paper, becoming the first to do so in North and Central America, as it is currently only produced in China and Brazil. Although they currently sell 80% conventional paper and 20% bamboo, they want to shift the majority to bamboo and aim to become a 100% bamboo paper and compostable materials company.
Today, they sell 1,200 tons of napkins per year. Their dream is to multiply that several times over.
Link to the original article: https://dfmas.df.cl/df-mas/punto-de-partida/los-chilenos-que-la-rompen-con-venta-de-servilletas-de-bambu-en-mexico