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TAQA is a living product

Lessons learned from a healthy Lebanese snack

by Soumaya Merhi

TAQA is a Tripoli-based wholesale bakery that produces and manufactures health snacks, such as cookies, maamoul, and dried fruit and nut bars. TAQA’s snacks are all wheat-free, GMO-free, palm oil-free, and vegan. We started out as an artisanal bakery called Bread Basket Square and progressively transitioned into a manufacturing facility with automated lines.

A business plan came eventually, but we certainly did not start out with one. Selling our cookies would prove to be a struggle, one that provoked self-ambition and discovery. It started with a farmer’s market, and a hunger for a food revolution. I wanted to give meaning back to a consumer good. I wanted the product to be transparent: What you see is what you get.

Today, only 10 companies control almost every large F&B brand in the world; these behemoths are dictating your diets and nutritional intakes with colorful packaging that is overwhelming on supermarket shelves.

TAQA is part of something different, and harder to achieve. As food becomes more specialized, branding is taking center stage. However, the more specialized food there is, the more costly supply chains will become; hence, mega food manufacturing facilities are on the decline. The more specific the food industry aspires to become, the tighter and leaner the manufacturing map will have to be.

Initiation to business

Two years ago, a normal day in my life included driving from Tripoli to anywhere from Barbir, Beit Mery, Corniche El Mazraa, Zouk Mosbeh, or Batroun, and back to Tripoli. Zapping morning radio shows, quick, stolen hellos, and senseless hours spent in traffic were my first experiences into distributing my products in the Lebanese market.

With sales routing came a sharpened mind and fine tuned observation. A quality, honest health snack at an affordable price was needed in Lebanon. With a focus on a fair and profitable business model and a three-year track record of proof of concept, I was ready to launch a proper manufacturing facility. Over time, the refined business pitch started bringing in funds, which facilitated my head-first dive into transitioning the product from niche market share to modern trade.

Help from friends and family, supportive suppliers, committed investors, and loyal customers are all sound pillars of TAQA. My initiation to a streamlined ‘business’ was the daunting task of proving myself.

Initiation to manufacturing

Running a manufacturing facility is about confidence and modesty. It is about balancing ambitions with the market’s potential, and relentlessly believing that the product will succeed.

Shifting from an artisan bakery to a certified ISO 22000:2005 manufacturing facility required no less than a culture shock. Implementing a food management system, training, procedures, regulations, traceability, and recruiting a dedicated team is an indefinite process constantly evolving. 

I believe skilled workers and simplified supply chains will eventually be the driving forces of manufacturing and, in the future, will replace outsourcing and low-cost mass labor. Small tweaks in our processing lines helped me and my team reach optimal scalability. As a manufacturing facility, TAQA is still on a learning curve and has much to overcome, but what is important is that procedures are in place to be able to absorb and adapt quickly to new changes.

TAQA as a living brand

I tend to define TAQA as more than a product: It is how we think. and how we share our product. Any output from the factory—be it a product or a photo on social media—is a true and genuine reflection of what we do. We are not a fan of generic material, packaging, or products. TAQA has dedicated itself as a brand to support many different communities in Lebanon, notably the athletic and outdoors community. I want TAQA to deliver an honest message about lifestyle and healthy snacking.

This has been a rollercoaster of a journey, with many milestones achieved along the way.  Having to tap into distinctively varied skillsets like sales and marketing, distribution, and production management; to getting deep into the nitty-gritty details of paperwork, pitching to investors, and acquiring a food-management system; and perfecting soft skills for customer service, as well as hiring and training employees have made this journey the most exhilarating one that renders you humble and appreciative of anyone that cares to do something of meaning in the Lebanese market place. 

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Soumaya Merhi

Soumaya Merhi is a Lebanese entrepreneur and founder of TAQA brand

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