Areca: Gulf-returnee couple makes a global mark with eco-friendly palm leaf business

Subsequently, the couple decided to start an eco-friendly business here. “Since I knew the technical side of machines, the initial plan was to start a machinery production unit,” says Kuriakose.

Published: 13th November 2022 09:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th November 2022 09:35 AM   |  A+A-

areca palm leaves

Kuriakose K Mathew and Shybi Mathew preparing products from areca palm leaf at Meenadom in Kottayam | Vishnu Prathap

Express News Service

KOTTAYAM: Thinking out of the box often throws up brainwaves capable of triggering a revolution. That’s what a Gulf-returnee couple, hailing from Meenadom in Kottayam, did as they embarked on an eco-friendly mission with something as simple as areca palm leaves.

After returning from Saudi Arabia a few years ago, Kuriakose K Mathew and Shybi Mathew started a small-scale production unit rolling out areca palm leaf products such as soapboxes, utensils and cutlery near to their house.

The initiative named Hanna Green Products, gradually, has flourished into a thriving business, with exports to several countries. Kuriakose worked with the electricity department in Sharjah and Shybi was a nurse under the Saudi health ministry. They, however, had to quit their jobs and return home to take care of Kuriakose’s aged mother.

Subsequently, the couple decided to start an eco-friendly business here. “Since I knew the technical side of machines, the initial plan was to start a machinery production unit,” says Kuriakose.

“However, while travelling in north Kerala, especially Palakkad, I found people wasting areca palm leaves that fall on the ground. That led us to the idea of making products out of these leaves.” After some research on the subject, the couple started off making boxes for local handmade soap units. They believed the concept had great potential, especially in the hospitality sector.

Soon, they diversified products and launched a website to reach out to more customers.That was a turning point – they got an order from the US in 2018. Today, their products reach various countries, including the UK, Australia, Germany, Japan, and the Middle East.

By 2020, Hanna’s annual exports grew to nearly five containers – consisting of 1.15 lakh pieces each – of areca leaf products.Then struck Covid. “The outbreak wrecked our business,” says Kuriakose. “We had to stop exports for two years. Now, however, we are gearing up to resume shipments by January.”

Following the ban on plastics, Kuriakose and Shybi expect a boom in the domestic market, too. “We make 15 products, plates, takeaway boxes, containers, ice cream bowls, cups and cutlery,” adds Kuriakose. “The fish curry bowl has huge demand in Australia. Similarly, the biryani container is a top-seller in the Gulf. We can produce any type of container, of any size and shape.”

While Shybi takes care of products and marketing, Kuriakose focuses on manufacturing machinery to make such products, which has a good market in north Kerala.

Though the products are small and simple, significant effort goes into production, right from sourcing the leaves to the final press in the machines, Shybi.

The couple sources the leaves mostly from north Kerala, between January and June, when the quality is at its best.

In case of short-supply, the leaves are procured from south Karnataka, at a relatively higher cost.
While leaves of lighter shades are used to make plates and containers, the darker, greying ones are picked for non-food products such as soap boxes.

Shybi adds that the leaves go through multiple rounds of washing before being put into the machines for hot-pressing.


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