Last month, in May, 2010, a fast-growing Maui-based company made headlines in winning a coveted award for excellence. Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle presented David Backstrom, President and CEO of Noni Biotech International with the prestigious U.S. Department of Commerce Export Achievement Award in recognition of the company’s excellence in exporting products made in Hawaii. Also present at the ceremony, held at the Hawaii State Capital Building, were Marie-Laure Ankaoua, the company’s Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, and Paul Nordone, Vice-President of Research and Development. “We are honored and very grateful for this recognition”, commented David Backstrom, a naturopathic physician by training.
Noni Biotech currently exports over 70% of its products to a list of more than 40 foreign countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and demand for its products have been skyrocketing. Further expansion to markets in China, Thailand, Chile, and Morocco are in the final phases of negotiation.
Noni Biotech, dba Noni Maui, has its national headquarters and 3,600 square-foot high-tech biotech laboratory in Haiku’s Cannery Marketplace on Maui. The company has come a long way over the last 15 years since it began providing local consumers with the highest-quality Hawaiian Noni. In 2009, it unveiled a new 12,000 square-foot processing facility in Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island, and over the past year, the company has successfully taken over the assets of three competing companies. Sales for 2010 are projected to double those of $1.4 million in 2009 – a year which saw an 80% expansion despite a challenging economy.
“People are realizing more than ever the importance of maintaining their health with pure natural products like our premium Noni”, explained Scott Owens, Director of Operations. Noni Biotech is certified by the state of Hawaii as a qualified high-tech business, and the company is intent on developing its biotech potential.
So what exactly is Noni? It’s the fruit of a small evergreen tree, related to the coffee plant, also known as the Indian Mulberry. Noni is native to Southeast Asia and Polynesia whose hand-grenade-sized fruit has been used medicinally for centuries for heart problems, diabetes, arthritis, rheumatism, and hypertension. “Ancient Hawaiians used it for 200 different ailments”, observes David Backstrom. Today’s users cite its ability to slow the aging process and boost the immune system. Based on earlier studies indicating the benefit of Noni on the immune system, the University of Hawaii was recently given a federal grant to study Noni as a potential cancer cure.
The Noni plant grows best in open coastal regions and shady forests up to 1,300 feet above sea level. It has a straight trunk, large bright green leaves, and ovoid (egg shaped), yellow fruit, typically 4 to 5 inches long. Like pineapple, noni is a “multiple fruit” made up of an inflorescence, developing from a cluster of many flowers. If left to mature, the fruit develops a foul odor and flavor, hence the alternative name of “cheese fruit”.
Ancient Hawaiians used all parts of the Noni plant for their herbal remedies – not only the fruit, but also the leaves, stems, bark, flowers, and roots. They were used in various combinations for up to 40 known and recorded treatments, and the roots were used to dye the traditional tapa cloths.
Noni Biotech International has worked over the years to develop, manufacture, and market a variety of Noni products based on locally-grown, organic feedstock. It also conducts scientific research and contracted clinical studies with major U.S. universities and is in the process of isolating and identifying a cancer inhibitor; the company invests a share of its profits into cancer research.
The company is the largest Noni manufacturer in Hawaii, and recently received the prestigious seal of quality from the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture, guaranteeing purity. This is an important distinction that Noni Biotech justifiably promotes: Fruit harvested from wild plants grown using traditional Hawaiian methods results in a product free from pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, ensuring “Grade A” potency and quality. “When it comes to health, we know how important quality is and we strive each day to produce the finest quality Noni on the market” states Marie-Laure Ankaoua, VP, and Chief Operating Officer.
Noni Biotech not only produces a sweet and pleasant-tasting, pure, fresh Noni juice – similar products marketed by different brands are diluted and fermented — but also powders and concentrates, and spa products, including lotions and sunscreen. Its new facility in Hilo processes over one million pounds of Hawaii-grown Noni fruit a year, with the capacity to double that amount. The recent Department of Commerce award recognizes the company’s success in distributing Noni worldwide, with recent approval granted by the European Union – the first for a Hawaiian Noni product.