“I translate health from Japanese into Polish” – Monika Kowal and her idea for an innovative food brand
Where did the idea for SOTI’s activity come from, what were its beginnings? What were you most afraid of then?
The idea was born when I was in high school. During my holiday I went on a modeling contract to Japan. I quickly noticed that Japanese drunk a huge amount of green tea. The change in my mood after drinking the brew led to the idea of finding the way to gain as many health-promoting properties as possible and at the same time close such drink in a drinking bottle. A few years later I found out that my friend suffered from a cancer and it made me reading the literature on products that offered solution for the treatment implemented so far it also brought ideas how to prevent this type of disease. Products rich in antioxidants, namely green tea are becoming priceless. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables often do not contain as many valuable antioxidants as they suppouse to, because it depends on different factors for example storage and transport. Tea can contain small amounts of valuable micronutrients if the leaf is exposed to fresh air for too long or the brewing process is carried it out in the wrong way. At that time, I joined different courses to be able to start a research project that was supposed to answer the question “How to brew green tea leaves to extract much more health-promoting properties than you can get it making brew at home”. I was faced with the task of producing the same tea on a massive scale. Industry specialists doubted saying that it would be impossible to brew the leaves, close such drink in a drinking bottle without added sugar, sweeteners, preservatives. They changed their point of view when the first bottle of SOTI Natural was avalable in the store.
Climate protection is an important element of the SOTI brand development strategy. Which of your activities fit into the sustainable development strategies?
First of all, I invested almost a milion of Polish zlotys to change all packaging to 100% recycled ones. The bottle was supposed to be light and easy to hold, with the lowest carbon footprint and BPA free certification. I analyzed different processes in order to achieve the intended effect with the lowest possible carbon footprint.
Before covid, sales growth was 100% every year, covid stopped SOTI’s production capacity. What attributes allowed the company to survive this period, how do things look now?
What helped was the innate curiosity and, at the same time, the awareness that covid can help to demonstrate how important it is to take care of your physical and mental health – also through the selection of appropriate dietary ingredients. Many people developed diabetes during the pandemic and it changed society’s approach to health issues. A large percentage of people decided to maintain a healthy weight. SOTI Natural drinks, which do not contain sugars, sweeteners, and are rich in antioxidants that help to accelerate metabolism and facilitate digestive processes, have become the object of interest of many consumers. In the initial phase of the pandemic some owners of diffrent companies contacted us in order to buy vouchers for our online store to support our brand during production problems – it was a stimulus not to give up and create the basis for further actions and adapt to a new reality.
You are the winner of the Businesswoman of the Year competition, the Brief 50 Most Creative People competition, as well as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women competition. Can you advise others on how to become a successful woman?
First of all, you need determination to take the first step, e.g. start creating a business plan, describe your idea for a company or product, and then isolate and implement actions to get closer to the implementation of the project. We, women, are extremely creative, and at the same time we are able to underestimate our personality and and we do not even try to run a business. Hence I want to be an example to others and show that even in an industry dominated by large corporations, if the product is unique, meets needs of others, and a person who creates it has a great passion to it, it is possible to break the “glass ceiling”.
Looking at your brand, it’s hard not to notice the fascination for the Land of the Rising Sun. When did this love for Japan start?
Being a young woman, a little girl, I could only dream of going to Japan. I read Jules Verne’s books and was always driven by curiosity about the world. Modeling opened the door to the Land of the Rising Sun for me. I was impressed! Therefore food in many ways play a large role in Japanese culture, thanks to the right diet they have more energy, also in old age. It was a completely different image of mature people than the one I was used to in Poland. I noticed that Japanese brew tea diffrently than us and they really pay attention to the proces of makinhg and drinking tea.
What is your target group? Are there any contraindications when using SOTI Natural products?
First of all, these are all people for whom the composition of the drink they choose is important and pay attention to whether the packaging comes from recycling. They are both women and men, as well as young people, because awareness is growing both in terms of what antioxidants are and why they are so important. These are such “vacuum cleaners” for our body, they “clean up” free radicals that get with oxygen and damage cells, e.g. causing faster aging processes, as well as abnormalities in the functioning of the body, are the cause of many diseases. There are no contraindications when consuming SOTI Natural products, as long as we follow a balanced diet and the doctor does not recommend otherwise. Usually, however, doctors recommend an increased number of SOTI Natural bottles during the day, which is why we receive many inquiries about for example new products.
9 out of 10 Polish startups disappear from the market. What is the secret of SOTI’s success?
I noticed that many good restaurants or products have disappeared from the market. Certainly, there are many factors that contributed to it, but I think that the secret of success is keep trying. I created a vision of the future for a new generation. The quality of many products is becoming no good, even the quality of air, the quality of vegetables and fruits is becoming worse, while the amount of preservatives is increasing – we need products that will use modern research and technology to counter these changes. I hold opinion that you should be a smart shopper, not only in the context of the price. Technological progress makes it possible, for example, to communicate faster and more conveniently, progressing biotechnological advances such as SOTI Natural drinks help us to comfortably cleanse the body from the inside without affecting our intestines (i.e. no sweeteners, no preservatives) and our sugar economy (no sugars including, no fructose).
How do you reach out to your customers?
Consumers recommend our products and that is how we gain new clients. Many people are looking for a way to supplement valuable antioxidants, although without taking synthetic supplements, in the form of pills made of coated substances and other fillers. There is also a large group of people interested in limiting sugars in drinks, and they refuse drinking water because it has no taste for them. I conducted unusual research that showed that our nervous system can not tell the difference between water and saliva and thus does not transport it as it should to ensure the best hydration of the body, so it is advisable that the water contain additives. This is how SOTI Natural is designed – pure infusions, infusions of leaves, herbs and fruits. We get new customers mainly through chain stores, petrol stations and an online store – shop.sotinatural.com.
What business decisions turned out to be groundbreaking for the development of the brand?
One of the recent one – certainly the new version of the website www.sotinatural.com. The new website designe allows not only to easily browse products, but also to obtain complete information about ingredients and recommendations for specific groups of people. In the FAQ section, you will find information about, for example, which of our products should be used by pregnant women or which contain natural caffeine, or an energy booster for active people. I think that the publication of the book “Memoirs of a Businesswoman 1.0” and the website are two new sources of information on products. A milestone in the development of the brand was its introduction to the largest chains such as Lidl, Żabka, Biedronka.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
In 2016, I completed my research and unveiled my first proposal, but it was only one product it was introduced to the chain of stores and was available only in one flavor variant which was not very succesful move. However, I quickly realized that it was necessary to “enlarge the product family” and put SOTI Natural Pearl Jasmin Tea and citrus SOTI Natural Lemongrass Mint Tea next to SOTI Natural Gyokuro Green Tea in Carrefour stores. Now I would not hesitate to take a risk and introduce them in parallel, because the market turned out to be receptive to the innovative product. This helps to have criticism for our ideas!
What are your plans for the coming years? Is it still possible to plan long-term strategies in these times, when the economic situation is changing so dynamically?
In 2022, I started cooperation with Kuba Grabowski (Quebonafide) and Kamil Rąpel (FORXST) and launched innovative products named MISS TI, including plant drinks matcha latte, milk energy milk tea, nut creams with functional and sensory additions of tea and coffee, and Japanese mochi ice cream dessert. In the FMCG industry everything is planned on an annual basis, but there is more and more room for flexibility, understanding the challenges in supply chains, partnership action – which began during the pandemic. Certainly my mission is to make it possible to people to benefit from the richness of antioxidants and the convenience of using SOTI Natural on a daily basis – many people still have no idea about their existence and breaking through advertisement of different products, habits, is a challenge for me. I am also planning to lunch a few new products, I encourage you to follow the social channels @sotinatural and to go on our website, there will be a lot going on, and we are starting during of New Year’s resolutions period!
Monika Kowal – businesswoman, model, owner of an innovative food brand – unsweetened beverages SOTI Natural.
The SOTI Natural brand was established in 2015 and has since taken the hearts of customers and the shelves of major retail chains such as Żabka and Lidl by storm. In 2021 Monika Kowal also began working with Kuba Grabowski, known as rapper Quebonafide on a project for a new brand on the market – MISS TI.
Previously, Monika Kowal worked as a model in Tokyo. She later opened a language school offering a unique form of teaching through language immersion – through sports classes with native speakers.
She currently divides her life between Warsaw and Alicante, Spain, where she has undertaken the revitalization of two historic townhouses.
Monika Kowal has won many awards and honors, including the title of Businesswoman of the Year 2019 of Success Written in Lipstick, Business Gazelle 2020, the Brief 50 Most Creative competition, and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women competition.
She is also the author of the book “Memoirs of a Businesswoman 1.0: The story of a woman who is the blacksmith of her own destiny + practical tips.”
Last Updated on March 8, 2023 by Anastazja Lach