Beyond being a staple in the Lebanese pantry, Zaatar has a cultural significance to the huge Lebanese diaspora across the globe. As the herb gains popularity in new markets, The Good Thymes, a startup that grows grade A thyme and sells it in expertly branded, beautiful packages has been spreading new waves of excitement for Zaatar on both Lebanese soils and foreign shores.
We talk to Fady Aziz, founder, and QOOT member, on his journey of harvesting zaatar, branding it and innovating new mixes that appeal to the palates of old and new zaatar lovers.
Who is the Good Thymes and what do you do?
The Good Thymes (TGT) is a Lebanese agricultural startup that brings a fresh breath to traditional Lebanese savors through modern and inspired culinary creations, all based around the unequaled wild Lebanese Zaatar.
Why did you particularly get interested in Zaatar and what impacted your decision to create a household brand from it?
It all started with the love of nature, the passion for Zaatar and the desire to produce high-quality dried thyme in a rural environment, and the fact that I wanted to create a hobby business next to my daily job as a brand designer. After securing a long-term lease of an abandoned plot of land in my village of Kfarhoune, I’ve studied the specificities and complexities of the thyme market and the land to grow and produce grade A thyme, which later morphed into diverse mixes aiming to innovate the local heritage and culture. TGT embarked on an expedition with the best chefs and specialists in Beirut, to create the finest dried herbs mixes, seasoning spices, and other Zaatar-based products
What are the products that you offer and how did you diversify your lines?
We created the finest dried herbs mixes, seasoning spices, and other Zaatar-based products. Every mix and creation has been delicately researched and tested with renowned Chefs in Lebanon to reach the perfect well-balanced blend that can suit every taste. We offer 8 different mixes of Zaatar. Besides the classic mix, we offer mixes with nuts, dried fruits, seeds, chili, and other delicacies. We also offer drinkable Zaatar herbal infusion mixes in addition to seasoning mixes with sea salt from Anfeh. All The Good Thymes goods are handmade, all-natural, free from artificial colors or flavors, and without any additives or preservatives.
Who and where are your target markets?
We aim to be reachable to different segments of the Lebanese market, we are in more than 120 points of sale at the moment. We started exporting a year ago, mainly in the GCC (Emiratis and Kuwaitis for instance are big consumers of high-quality Zaatar), the USA, Australia, and some European and African countries. Americans and Europeans are getting more and more intrigued by this Mediterranean herb and they find pleasure in our mixes whenever they can put their hands on them.
At what point did you decide to start exporting and what was your main strategy?
When the pandemic hit Lebanon and we had several lockdowns, we had to react to the situation, moreover, when the currency fluctuation started taking place in Lebanon we had to find a way to cross our borders. That is when we started developing contacts with retail businesses, online platforms, and distributors abroad and with hard work and dedication along with the uniqueness of our product, we were able to secure several deals, and then one led to another and we expanded our network last year to around 11 different countries.
What kind of export deals have you gotten so far and what are the requirements?
We were able to list The Good Thymes in several shops in Europe and across the GCC, moreover, we have listed TGT on several online platforms such as Amazon Germany and UAE, and other local platforms. However, our main deals are the ones we acquire with importers/distributors, these are the most important deals which lead to a full expansion in the territory in question targeting all the retail markets as well as the HORECA. Each country we set to export to has a set of very specific labeling specifications as well as quality tests and laboratory tests.
What kind of challenges have you faced in targeting export markets?
To date, we have several complications with the permits from the Agriculture, Economy and Industry Ministries in Lebanon. The permits are always time and energy-consuming. We had to revisit our packaging to be able to fit the market needs of some European countries. It is not an easy job getting the right contacts for serious buyers across the globe, most of the time we end up wasting time with people who just wanted cheap products to sell non-professionally. And the most important challenge is to find the right partner/importer for your product who understands your brand positioning and can secure deals in the market in question.
Why did you join QOOT and what value did it bring to TGT?
The idea to create the first cluster in Lebanon dedicated to the Agri-food sector crossed at the beginning of my new business journey. It was at the right moment when I was discovering the whole sector. It was an opportunity for me to develop a new network, understand the industry more, and most importantly create bridges, and share knowledge and expertise with like-minded people in the field.
What is the importance of clustering in your opinion and why should agri-food companies strive to join the QOOT cluster?
The idea and mindset of business owners to get together and join forces for a common goal is extremely important. Companies should work together to fuel any initiative for the benefit of Lebanon or to promote the country abroad. Having a cluster of innovative brands from Lebanon under one umbrella and having them share, promote, and work together is in my opinion extremely important for the industry and especially during these challenging times.
How would you like to see the Good Thymes grow in the future and what do you need to achieve that?
Seeing TGT in every fine food shop around the world is my humble dream! We need to find the right partners/buyers/distributors to be able to do that!