Housewife Najnin Akter was browsing through the shelves of a supermarket in Dhaka's Rampura during her weekly shopping trip. The "onion paste" label on a small plastic spice jar drew her attention.
She picked it up and curiously asked a salesman, "Is this really onion paste, or a chemical mixture?"
"No mam, this is not a chemical mixture. It is the onion paste we prepare at home with a blender or mortar and pestle," the salesman replied confidently.
The housewife told The Business Standard that she does her weekly shopping from the supermarket as it is conveniently located by her home. "But I did not know about onion and garlic paste before today," she added.
Though onion, garlic and ginger pastes were new to Najnin, the salesman said they have been selling the items for quite a while, and they are quite popular.
There are several brands of ground spices in Bangladesh, but conglomerates are yet to explore the market potential of onion, garlic, or ginger paste.
BTM Food Products, a small venture, currently sells these pastes, and the proprietor claims to be the first in this sector to do so.
Proprietor Mijanur Rahman completed his higher education in physics and started teaching at a college. He later quit his job to become an entrepreneur.
Apart from onion, garlic, and ginger pastes, BTM Food, with a monthly turnover of around Tk50 lakh, currently manufactures 120 varieties of spice and assorted food items.
The company currently employs 21 staff and ten market executives.
Mijanur Rahman said he designed the paste-manufacturing equipment, which was then built by a local workshop. Though BTM's pastes have generated a loyal customer base, they are still only available in the larger cities, such as Dhaka and Chattogram.
Given the higher price point, Mijanur says he has not supplied the pastes to grocery stores nationwide.
A 300-gram jar of onion paste costs Tk85, while equivalent amounts of garlic and ginger pastes cost Tk100. The products have expiry dates of six months.
Mijanur said some preservatives are used, given that onion, garlic, and ginger pastes are perishable.
"I use preservatives within an approved limit, which is not harmful to the human body."
The entrepreneur claims that he had extensive study on the amount of chemical substance needed to preserve his products for up to six months.
Turmeric powder and mixed spice power (for red tea) have also proven to be quite popular.
Upon visiting the BTM factory at Rampura, female workers were found peeling the essential ingredients in a room, while a crusher made the spice pastes. In another room, three small grinding machines manufactured the spice powders.
In the meantime, Bogura Spices Research Centre announced its successful invention of onion powder, with a two-year expiry date.
Senior Scientific Officer (Post Harvest) of the Centre, Md Masud Alam said commercial manufacturing of their onion powder and its large-scale marketing could ease the existing pressures on the domestic onion market. This could help avert the onion
crisis that befalls us almost every year.
Asked about food preservation, he told The Business Standard, "Preservatives are needed to protect food from going bad, but the use of the chemical substance must be within the permissible limit."