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Sunanda Weerasinghe : On a vegetarian mission

Name : Sunanda Weerasinghe

School attended: Sangamitta Maha Vidyalaya, Galle

Position: Managing Director Sujan International Pvt Ltd

Children: One daughter

Influenced by the writings of Ven Rerukane Chandawimala Thero, Anagarika Dharmapala and Mahatma Gandhi, Sunanda Weerasinghe, Managing Director Sujan International Pvt Ltd, became a vegetarian and started manufacturing vegetarian foods including jellies, desserts and meal mixes to promote vegetarianism.
Education - Weerasinghe was born as the eldest to a family of five children in Galle. Her father was a prominent businessman while her mother was a housewife. She had her education at Sangamitta Maha Vidyalaya and was a keen reader. "My father is my greatest influence. He always advocated that you should munch only what you can, and do it right without grabbing more, thereby becoming a borrower."
Career - She started her career as a trained teacher in English and worked for seven years in some of the remotest areas around the country where she saw extreme poverty. She later called it quits due to responsibilities at home, where she started experimenting on making various food items. 

Diversification - In 1988, Weerasinghe converted half of her house into a factory and started work. "I initially started making table jelly for the Cornels Supermarket and then ventured into contract manufacturing vegetarian jelly and desserts for Cargills and Sathosa supermarkets. The products were marketed under their respective brand names."They were manufactured according to European standards, using the choicest of imported ingredients.

Girls packing the products at the factory

The jelly has sea weed as its base and can be prepared by dissolving it in hot water. It is available in strawberry, apple and orange flavours. She said that moss jelly sets as it cools, and therefore can be prepared in any home even without a refrigerator. As the product does not need refrigeration, it can even be taken to a patient in hospital, she added. 

Weerasinghe said that it is ideal as a dessert by itself or mixed with fruit. She added that it can be displayed at functions for any length of time as it does not melt once set. She claims that moss jelly is rich in protein and calcium, and is a natural source of iodine, which is an important mineral for the body.
Moss jelly is ideal for the Muslim community as there is no question of halal. It is also suitable for the health conscious as it has no threat of animal-related diseases prevalent today.
"The demand for contract manufacturing necessitated the establishment of Superfood Industries. The factory was moved to the Industrial Park at Katuwana, Homagama after obtaining a loan from the DFCC Bank. My brother helped me in many ways to expand the business," Weerasinghe said.
Present - At present, she makes moss jellies and desserts under the Supersun brand name, marketed by Millers Ltd. The range includes China Moss Pudding in three flavours and moss jelly in three flavours. "I also make 100 per cent vegetarian desserts such as chocolate mousse and blancmange and vegetarian meals under the Supersun brand name. The vegetarian meals include the thosai mix, idly mix, chapathy mix and hopper mix.
These meal mixes provide upto 32 grams of protein per serving and are a great convenience for busy housewives."
Among Weerasinghe's product range is a fruit and nut bar. This, however, is done in a small scale as the ingredients are very expensive. "I am willing to do it on a large scale if I can get quality raw materials at a reasonable price," she added.
She also wanted to fulfil the main need of vegetarians for a high protein meatless meat which has the taste and texture of meat and contains all the nutrients that animal proteins offer. "It took nearly two years for me to research and develop these meat alternatives. I now make sausages which are available at the Cargills Supermarket."
Future plans - By being a vegetarian and manufacturing vegetarian food products, she says that she has greatly fulfilled the needs of the vegetarians as well as health conscious people.
"I want to expand the meatless meat range to include ham, burgers and meatballs, but I am holding back my plans until I find the necessary funding. If I can get the necessary finances, I am willing to venture into other meatless meat products as well," she said.
Training - She has been in the UK for three months to see the latest technology and has visited Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India and Thailand to attend seminars and workshops on food processing.
Exhibitions - "The USAID-funded AgEnt program helped me participate at the world's biggest food exhibitions, Anuga in Germany, Fancy Food New York and Natural Products Los Angeles. By taking part in these fairs, I learnt about the latest technology, presentation methods and materials used in packaging."
Advice - "Anyone moving on his/her own should be committed and determined never to give up. You should also have great respect and love for what you do and concentrate fully on giving a quality product at a reasonable price.
"Do not ever compromise on quality as quality is the key to success of any business," Weerasinghe said. (SG)

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