“We have been greatly blessed.”
This is the thought expressed by Inter-American Health Food Company (IAHFC) representatives and managing director José E. Flores during a presentation at the 2023 Adventist Health Food Association (AHFA) Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, February 12-17.
The five-day conference drew CEOs of food factories managed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church around the world to hear reports, receive training and updates, and allow for discussions and networking.
“Since our beginnings, we have been clear about our goals, which are to serve as a strategy to fulfill the church’s mission, preaching the gospel message through the production and distribution of healthy food options,” an IAHFC promotional video states. “Also, to be a source of funds for evangelistic initiatives and Adventist educational institutions.”
The IAHFC Network
Church administrative regions typically boast one or two major health food companies, exporting their products to the rest of the region’s countries and beyond. IAHFC, an entity of the Inter-American Division of the Adventist Church, is structured differently. The company is a consortium connecting multiple factories of various sizes in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Venezuela, and Colombia.
IAHFC was launched in November 1977, and by March 1978 it had added health food factories in Mexico and Costa Rica to the fledgling network. From there, it has kept steadily growing, especially in the past few years, when it moved to open health food factories in Panamá, Guatemala, and other countries.
As of 2023, the IAHFC network includes 11 factories, 499 employees, and 543 products that serve a potential pool of 245 million customers. It includes Alimentos Colpac in Mexico, a company that pioneered textured soy protein production in that country. In addition, Cetebedi Costa Rica is a leader in the production of soy beverages and bakery products. The network has also added health food factories in Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The IAHFC network includes established companies with decades of experience and multiple production plants. Mexico’s Alimentos Icolpan has been around for more than 65 years, and Costa Rica's Cetebedi for 45. Both have well established distribution and export networks.
Other Adventist-managed health food companies are new and are just beginning to develop.
In Guatemala, Cetebedi S.A.’s William J. Castañeda leads a team of just six workers. The fledgling company owns only one distribution truck, and 50 percent of its sales come from textured soy protein imported from Mexico. “It occasionally happens that our truck driver is unavailable, and I have to leave my desk and drive the truck,” Castañeda said. “I do it with pleasure, because we are here to serve.”
Cetebedi Panama S.A., the health food factory in Panama, was born in 2019 when it changed from being a branch of the Costa Rica factory to becoming a manufacturing plant in its own right. General manager Evangelista Espinosa, the only female CEO in the AHFA, leads the growing company.
Castañeda, Espinosa, and other CEOs said they appreciated the opportunity of attending the AHFA Auckland conference to be inspired, learn, and connect with colleagues.
“For me, it’s a great privilege to be among big names, learning and getting wonderful ideas,” Espinosa said. “We are a small factory with the vision to grow, to carry a message of health through a healthy diet.”
Castañeda concurred. “I came here to be inspired,” he told other CEOs at the Auckland event. “Thank you for inspiring us. When I see some of your products, I feel we could eventually manufacture some of them in our country.”
Most factories across the IAHFC network manufacture similar products, even though the production focus in each country might differ. For instance, while Venepan and Viva Mejor in Venezuela focus on bakery and breakfast cereals, Icolpan and Viva Mejor Colombia include whole-grain dry pasta in their offerings. Caribbean Health Foods in Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, has developed a line of healthy granola bars and is working on hydroponics.
IAHFC has also developed products sold across several of its member factories. These include ready-to-eat lunch or frozen products, such as veggie hot dogs, hamburgers, and nuggets. They also offer various options of soy protein and soymilk. The latter is advertised either as a liquid or an instant-powder option.
“Every day, our employees show their commitment by being part of this superb healthy foods ministry,” the company said.
Support of the Church
The IAHFC network is also committed to making a difference on behalf of the church’s mission across the region. Every year, the organization sends funds to support evangelistic initiatives and to repair and upgrade Adventist schools, including donating computers to furnish computer labs.
The company also works hand in hand with the Adventist Church, helping local churches and fields to improve the lives of people in their surrounding communities through cooking workshops and TV programs on healthy eating for a healthier physical and spiritual life.
Despite problems such as COVID-19, global financial instability, an energy crisis, and a shortage of raw materials, IAHFC has grown in the past few years in production, sales, and profits, and also in the funds sent to church fields across the region. “We would like that growth to continue,” the promotional video states. “Our greatest challenge is related to innovation — in food production facilities and equipment, product quality and options, and customer service.”
There is much more to do, Flores said, but a lot has been accomplished. “We are very thankful to God for all the blessings He has bestowed on us so we could get where we are,” the IAHFC video states. “We are known as a leading company in health food products, which has grown through the years thanks to God’s guidance.… We are confident that God is leading our operations and are certain of His blessing.”