The business of ‘Letting Food be thy Medicine’
Given the prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) that the World Bank says is accounting for 70-75% of deaths in the region and thus imposing “large health, financial and economic costs” on Pacific Island Countries, this Issue of Melanesian Tok profiles a healthy vegan food shop in Fiji.
Highland Natural is a healthy vegan food shop and cafe that believes in “letting food be thy medicine…” with the goal of serving the people of Suva healthy, fresh, natural and sensually attractive plant-based meals through our juice, sandwich and salad bars.[restrict]
Being vegetarians for the past 20 years, it had always been hard to find good tasting, healthy and nutritious meat-free meals downtown.
There were also a lot of people who wanted to have these types of meals but did not know how to make them or how to enjoy them. So naturally, having a great passion for making wholesome plant-based meals, we decided to open a shop in Suva’s CBD area in August 2012 with products that cater to this growing need, said Repeka Uluilakeba, the owner of Highlands Natural.
“We were convinced that eating healthy meals and observing simple laws of health would help people reclaim their health and enjoy life to the full.
“We did meet quite a few road bumps along the way to actually setting up shop – one of these being regulations and licensing procedures. From our experience, processing times held us back and regulations were not clear – especially for newcomers, said Uluilakeba.
She said the need to comply with regulations for onsite cooking although food prepared and sold in the shop is raw was challenging.
“This all led to a lot of unplanned adjustments, frustrating delays, and unbudgeted expenses prior to opening shop. But once opened, it was amazing to see people coming in from far and wide to get something healthy to eat and drink. Within a short time we had people queuing out the door to eat this “new healthy food”.
“Over the next year or two, we continued to experiment until we arrived at a package that was popular and financially viable, said Uluilakeba.
A good part of our current success has been due to the dynamic team of young people running the café.
“Young people have so much energy and are not inhibited like adults, so with empowerment and direction, they can do any task – from thrashing ideas to seeing off satisfied customers. We try to look for young people who are enthusiastic about the products we offer and whose lives reflect the lifestyle we promote.”
The natural food outlet has served a wide cross-section of customers ranging from those who are strictly vegan to those who enjoy the occasional dose of goodness.
“We’ve seen that we also serve as a health oasis to those who are looking for that needed boost in their health or who want to do some form of detox. We also have a close link with some medical practitioners and hospitals where patients get food and natural supplements ordered from Highland Natural.
“This is an area that has seen an increase in customers as NCDs become a real crisis in Fiji and other Pacific island countries. Melanesian Tok newsletter /PACNEWS [/restrict]