Palestinian company Meera Soap boosts sales through better branding, market access

13 January 2017
ITC News
The woman-owned soap company accesses international markets, including Germany and the United States of America, after receiving ITC assistance.

Howayda Abuyacoub began her small-batch soap company in her kitchen just after the birth of her daughter Meera in 2012 – the company’s namesake. After receiving training from the International Trade Centre (ITC), she improved the quality of her products to attract buyers in Germany and the United States of America, resulting in an exponential increase in sales.

Sales increased from $1,000 in 2014, prior to ITC’s intervention, to $13,000 by the end of 2016.
‘I developed packaging for the soap from my point of view but it was not attractive to customers, especially those in international markets,’ Abuyacoub said. ‘After developing the new logo and packaging and gaining better access to international markets with ITC’s help, I managed to reach new customers and international buyers.’
Meera Soap uses high-quality goat milk, olive oil and honey, and does not add artificial colours or preservatives. Abuyacoub grows loofah sponges, herbs and other ingredients and sources locally what she cannot grow herself. The soaps are handmade in the State of Palestine using modern techniques and cold processing – in which melted fats are treated with lye without further heating – as learned from her grandmother.

Overcoming challenges

The path to growing her business has not always been easy. Due to limited financial resources and marketing opportunities, Abuyacoub started her business producing small quantities of soap. She faced challenges buying raw materials because she could not make consistent sales in local markets. Cosmetics shops and pharmacies refused to buy her products because of packaging and certification issues.

To help Abuyacoub and others like her, the ITC Women and Trade Programme has been working with the Business Women Forum-Palestine since 2014 to support women entrepreneurs in building their business skills and upgrading their product offerings.

Abuyacoub is one of the beneficiaries who received customized trainings and advice on product development to improve the competitiveness of her business. Through the Enhancing Women SME Development in the State of Palestine project, ITC worked with her to build her company’s brand and logo, resolving one of the main issues: lack of quality packaging.

In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ITC and UN Women launched a complementary programme called Creating One-Stop-Shop for Sustainable Businesses, through which ITC continued to build the capacity of businesswomen with a focus on helping them thrive in international markets. By facilitating their participation at international exhibitions and trade fairs, women-owned businesses made trade contacts and connected to potential international buyers.

Finding export success

Like many of the other beneficiaries of the project, Abuyacoub’s company overcame several business-related obstacles.

In 2016, Meera Soap sold products to local and international buyers in Bahrain, Germany, the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals Fund, ITC facilitated Abuyacoub’s participation in Bazaar Berlin in Germany. She sold 400 bars of soap and received two orders from buyers in Berlin. As a result of ITC matchmaking efforts, she received orders from a buyer with a ski resort in the United States of America, which will sell her soaps in a gift shop and use them in hotel rooms.

Abuyacoub said the increased demand for her products will allow her to employ women to help her to increase production capacity and boost sales.