Selva Foods works with Amazonians to bring acai to Singapore

Açaí has ​​taken healthy snacking to the next level. Its berries are packed with antioxidants, fiber, heart-healthy fats, and calcium, which not only helps you have a healthy, balanced diet, but also looks great in your smoothie bowl for perfect post on Instagram.

Most of the time, Singaporeans can find açaí in shops and cafes, or buy frozen açaí berries from supermarkets. But have you ever questioned where it comes from, and how are we impacting the environment when we consume it?

Selva Foods brings açaí directly from a single source at Amazon. “One of our main differentiators[s] is taste – a lot of our customers share that they can tell when a place serves Selva açaí,” said Cinthya Sayuri, co-founder of Selva Foods.

Cinthya, who is Japanese and from Brazil, met her Singaporean partner Shaun Lim in Shanghai in 2012, while both were studying Chinese.

“We met, fell in love, I went back to Sao Paulo and he went there with me a year later. While experiencing life there, we thought why not bring açaí to Singapore? [Afterall]are local, [it] makes it easier to get around the Amazon and source berries. “

That’s what led to the creation of Selva Foods in 2015, which aims to bring açaí directly from Amazon while respecting and honoring the communities there, living up to their brand name “Selva”, whose means jungle in Portuguese.

Take a leap of faith

When Cinthya interned at an alcoholic beverage corporation, she often looked out the window and watched the world go by.

“I have the feeling that I don’t want to spend too much of my time and life in the office working for a corporation, [and] if I invest a lot of time and effort into something of my own, it can make a lot more sense. It was a very idealistic mindset at the time, but I saved some money, left my job, went to Shanghai, got a job there, met Shaun and the rest is history! ‘ she shared.

Having lived in Brazil, she notes that people there have had access to açaí for decades, making cart açaí, açaí kiosks, açaí in bakeries, restaurants and the like, a spectacle. popular.

When Shaun moved in with Cinthya in Brazil, he realized they could exploit Singapore as a test market for ideas and flavors as the açaí scene in Singapore was not developed in 2014.

Shaun Lim and Cinthya Sayuri's selva food
Shaun Lim (left) and Cinthya Sayuri (right), co-founders of Selva Foods / Image credit: Selva Foods

This prompted them to purchase local açaí products from Brazil, with the aim of providing a wide selection of foods that are not only healthy but also delicious.

“The whole idea of ​​bringing it to Singapore was because we wanted to share something good with our friends and family,” Cinthya said, adding that setting up Selva Foods in Singapore could help. for their expansion into the rest of Southeast Asia.

However, despite Singapore’s thriving business scene, Cinthya noted that it is not immune to challenges. Despite the initial investment of US$45,000 (S$61,900), she shared that it took them several years to break even.

I think [challenge] initially pushed a product no one knew about. We spent the first two years of our business doing lots of samples at farmers markets, yoga studios, music festivals, anything outdoors, letting people try and get a feel for what açaí is and how it can be consumed.

– Cinthya Sayuri, co-founder of Selva Foods

She recalls a time when they made açaí overnight before packing it and shipping it straight to the consumer’s home the next day. There were many sleepless nights, but the increasing number of repeat orders and the positive feedback kept them going.

food acai selva
Açaí Ready to Serve / Image Credit: Selva Foods

Their first major milestone came when they successfully developed their product, Açaí Ready To Serve, which allows consumers to eat açaí more conveniently and eat it immediately. It is adapted to local tastes and has a sorbet-like consistency.

However, Cinthya shares that creating and introducing a new product into the market is a daunting task. While there are a few experts they can turn to, they mostly rely on themselves to find new ways to innovate and improve their products.

Reviving the Amazon with açaí

With the demand for açaí increasing over the past few years, the açaí industry has the potential to save the forest – which is already affected by land clearing activities such as grazing or logging – by working directly with local communities in the Amazon.

Cinthya stresses that even today, people visiting the Amazon can encounter illegal logging and burning of forests to clear the way for grazing.

This is why even though açaí may come from a farm, Selva Foods decided to harvest it directly from the Amazon to keep the forest alive.

By partnering with the local communities there, Selva Foods helps increase biodiversity while at the same time harmonizing with the lifestyles of the river communities that have harvested açaí there for generations.

Amazon locals working with Selva Foods
Amazon Locals Working with Selva Foods / Image Credit: Selva Foods

The local communities they work with are Amazonian communities living by the rivers, who harvest açaí in season.

“It is knowledge and work that is passed down from generation to generation,” says Cinthya. “The women often work selecting the berries and blending the açaí for consumption. It is interesting to see their simple houses with freezers inside to store açaí. “

However, things went downhill when the pandemic hit. “We cannot take açaí from the cho [a while] because employees can’t come to the factory,” Cinthya shared, adding that they were also affected by the lack of shipments from Brazil to Singapore, which spiked their logistics costs.

According to Cinthya, the Amazon region is one of the first regions affected by COVID-19 in Brazil. Due to the lack of infrastructure in more remote areas, people have suffered greatly.

“It was a really dark period in the Amazon for almost a year. COVID exacerbates the socioeconomic situation of the people living there and shows a shortage of government resources and plans.”

To help the people of the Amazon, the duo organized fundraisers in collaboration with local NGOs to buy food and medical supplies.

Sustainable champion

Thankfully, the market has begun to stabilize and activity is almost back to normal. For açaí lovers, this means there will be more varieties of açaí on the market.

At Selva Foods, in addition to bowls of açaí and sorbets, there are sustainably produced “Selva Pops” made with ugly fruits – fruits that would otherwise have been discarded because of blemished skin or simply because supply exceeds demand.

“[W]e mixes açaí with ugly fruits, dips them in dark chocolate and cacao nibs or peels, and wraps them in biodegradable packaging made from corn. Even the patches we use are biodegradable,” shared Cinthya.

Selva pops
Selva Foods by Selva Pops / Image credit: Selva Foods

Over the years, Selva Foods has grown into a successful business founded entirely around açaí, what Cinthya considers a very affirmed and cherished feat, considering how a local dish of the Brazilian Amazonian she kept in her lap is now spreading in Singapore, especially since açaí didn’t even enter the market five to seven years ago.

“Selva was our first venture and it was a crazy ride creating a business and a life together,” notes Cinthya.

Besides continuing to bring açaí from the Amazon to Singapore and supplying the dedicated açaí cafes here, Cinthya emphasized that it plans to continue to share the best açaí with others, in the hope of bringing satisfaction for people by providing them with healthier food choices to nourish their bodies, and mother Earth.

“The goal is to bring açaí to the rest of Southeast Asia,” she concluded.

Featured image credit: Selva Foods

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