Entrepreneur / January 2016

Adding Value to ‘Beras Garut’

Andris Wijaya has increased the value of beras Garut with ready-to-eat instant steamed rice, or nasi liwet. The innovation has made an impact on the product itself and helps Garut reputation as a favorite tourist destination. By Albert W Nonto

Garut in West Java is well known for two things: the first is its breathtaking mountain views with gushing water from hot springs which many believe is good for the health of the skin. And second, the city, two hours by road from the provincial capital of Bandung, is heaven for traditional food. One favorite with locals and tourists alike is rice steamed in coconut milk (nasi liwet); another is the popular candy Dodol Garut.

In the field of agribusiness, Garut is one of the best places in the country to grow rice, its soil enriched by fertile volcanic dust. The area has long been famed for best quality Garut Rice that many believe is among Indonesia’s best varieties in terms of both quality and taste.

The secret to Garut Rice is the minerals in the soil around the city. “If you grow rice seed from Garut in another place, the taste will be different,” says a local farmer.

Andris Wijaya, 36, saw an opportunity to create a business producing instant nasi liwet under the brand Nasi Liwet Instant 1001. Those with fond memories of the real thing can now go to a store, buy a box of Andris’ product, open the package and heat for 15-20 minutes, then the meal is ready to be enjoyed. Most importantly, for visitors to Garut as a tourist or traveler, the product is top of the list as a gift to buy friends and family. There are no concerns about spoilage as it can last for more than a year.

“Beras Garut, Nasi Liwet Garut and now Nasi Liwet Instant 1001 have become a trademark for visitors as it is one of the factors that attract people to the area along with the beautiful mountain scenery,” says Andris. The taste is said to be the best, another result of all the minerals in the soil. It is a natural bright color, has a touch of sweetness and will sit happily for hours after cooking. Andris created his product after more than six months of trial and error, with a series of blind taste-tests for customers. His experiment worked: they always chose his product above others. “It gave me confidence to continue my production process and start market trials. In the beginning no shops or stores accepted my product but now orders are flowing in thanks to continuous and tireless marketing and promotion activities and some media coverage,” he recounts.

The ‘secret’ recipe is just common knowledge for Garut people but Andris claims that the milling machinery he modified to suit his own requirements makes a difference. As a businessman with strong roots in rice milling, Andris was able to take conventional equipment and improve it to produce better quality rice. Investing in the latest and sophisticated milling machine was based on the gamble that the product would sell.

After his success with Nasi Liwet, Andris turned to other popular foods, including oily steamed rice (nasi uduk), which he says is popular throughout Indonesia with a standard recipe using coconut oil and herbs mixed with rice. Sold as Nasi Uduk 1001, that too has won a positive response from customers throughout Indonesia.

“In some places, nasi uduk has some specialty taste and appearance, but in general Indonesians love the rice and just think of the size of Indonesia’s market,” Andris says confidently.

Rice milling family

Andris was born into a business family engaged in milling and trading Garut rice in local and regional markets. His father was a trader at the main Jakarta rice market at Cipinang. When he graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Andris went to work for a firm on a good wage. Then his mother called, asking him to come home to save the family business, which had been falling apart after his father’s death in 1996.

The rice market and consumers were well aware of the quality of Garut rice but Andris believes that his father and the farmers of the area fell victim to crooked traders. He discovered that they were repacking the rice as “Thailand Rice” or other premium rice in order to inflate their profits.

The milling and trading business got back on its feet and the packaged products were expanding rapidly in a receptive market. From only 50 boxes sold per month in 2011 sales have soared to 2,000 boxes per day at an average retail price of about Rp23,000 a box.

Nasi Liwet Instant 1001 and Nasi Uduk Instant 1001 are sold not only in the home market but also in the US, Malaysia and some Middle Eastern countries. “The brand name 1001 is our philosophy, that there is only one product which is special out of 1,000 items,” says Andris.

After success with these two products Andris is now preparing other product lines. One will really be instant: “Just mix it with hot water like you make instant coffee. It will be out in the next six months,” says Andris.

The entrepreneur believes that his work helps to promote Garut as a tourism destination as well as spreading the word about Garut rice. He also hopes his success will encourage other local start-ups to be more confident with their inventions and innovation.

Given the excellent quality of local foods, he is sure that other new businessmen will think of other innovations. He sees plenty of creative people in the food business, but says lack of consistency makes them fail to make their dream come true.

“One factor is to protect the name of the product, so I urge new entrepreneurs to register the name and process of the product with the government,” he says, adding that many parties helped him to realize his own dreams including food scientists at ITB and the Bandung University of Pasundan.

An independent observer in the food and beverage business notes that the key to success is consistent taste, hygiene and, most importantly, price strategy. He recalls that big companies such as Unilever used to sell instant rice and porridge but failed to achieve business success. For Andris, the unique taste of his products and the image as a tourism product may have helped him to grow.