An Ancient Craft Finds a Modern Market

For more than a thousand years, olive oil-based artisanal soap has been manufactured and traded throughout the Middle East. In the historic city of Nablus, Palestine, a major centre for this craft, the Al Qaryon Natural Soap Industry and Trade Company Ltd. has been producing and exporting its centuries-old recipe since 1922.

“Our goal was to continue to improve production and to expand into different countries,” says Yasar Albualrous, Managing Director of Al Qaryon, which employs twelve local workers. “We saw Canada as a country that was open to natural products, a country that appreciated the health benefits of olive oil. It was also strategically situated for the whole North American market.”

Al Qaryon dove deep into TFO Canada’s website and expressed interest in its Market Study Access program. This program, which has been running for more than ten years, links teams of MBA students with companies looking into the Canadian market. A major partner in this program, Wilfrid Laurier University, took up the challenge for Al Qaryon.

“The students assume the role of consultant and make recommendations for a market entry strategy,” says Jack Schnabel, Faculty Supervisor. “They’re graded on the value added; this is not philanthropic. It is a great opportunity for the students but the bottom line is that the company expects significant benefits.”

From January to April of 2012, a team of five Applied Business Consulting students analyzed the highly competitive consumer soap market. They capitalized on the soap’s unique qualities—all-natural ingredients, locally sourced, fair trade certified—and found a promising niche in the growing natural products sector in Canada.

“Working with the TFO was a great opportunity to apply what we were learning in the classroom to help impact a real business,” says Adam Seeto, one of the team members. “Our value-add was going above and beyond researching the soap market. We developed and created insight on how the product should enter the country and included a prescriptive next-step process.”

“The study presented a one-year marketing plan which I immediately put into operation,” says Yasar.  In response to the recommendation to get into on-line marketing, he participated in several workshops and seminars offered by the Mississauga Business Enterprise Center. He joined the Mississauga Board of Trade and networked with other members. He got feedback on his product and made sure that it met Canada’s regulatory and health standards. The study also recommended that he establish a base in Canada, so, in early February, Al Qaryon Natural Soap was incorporated and registered in Ontario, and Yasar opened a distribution centre in Mississauga.  In August, he officially launched Al Qaryon’s product at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto to rave reviews:

I have just bought four of your Nabulsi soaps (2 classic and 2 laurel) from a very respectful man at a booth in the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, Canada. Once I got home I researched your company, and I am extremely proud of the history and pride this soap comes from. I am honored to have this product and will praise it. I am a young man and will be a long and loyal customer. Namaste. 
 — Tyler Jennings


“We truly appreciate the excellent support and cooperation extended to us through TFO Canada’s MBA Export Market Study Access program,” sums up Yasar. “The thoughtful report produced by Wilfrid Laurier University helped us a lot in setting up our business. It is a very useful guide and a valuable reference.

“Our product is now available at two major retailers of Mediterranean goods in Toronto, on and through our website,” says Yasar.  “We are continuing to experiment with new product offerings and a more modern package design. I am now approaching distributors and brokers for the natural products market in Canada, and our long-term vision is to repeat this success in the US.”