Herbal Master
    Category: Entrepreneurs By : Renjani Puspo Sari Read : 1923 Date : Thursday, September 05, 2013 - 05:12:10

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    Yoseph Irwan Hidayat, owner of PT Sidomuncul, is Indonesia's leading herbal medicine entrepreneur. He transformed the role of traditional herbal medicines, called jamu, from a popular folk remedy into a mainstream product. The proof is in the figures: Sidomuncul had turnover last year of Rp 2.5 trillion, giving it about 60% of the national jamu market. This month he is planning a Rp 1.5 trillion initial public offering of his firm.

    Irwan is the third generation to run the family-owned Sidomuncul, which means “dreams come true.” It was started by his grandmother Rakhmat Sulistio in 1940 in Yogyakarta, later moving to Semarang. Irwan took over in 1972, when the firm had evolved from his grandmother cooking up jamu in her home to a 600 square meter factory. It was still a relatively small operation, competing against hundreds of other jamu makers.

    To remake the firm, Irwan took plenty of bold moves, such as paying down some huge debts, modernizing the equipment and moving to a bigger location. Even then it was barely profitable and grew slowly for many years. The big change came in 1997, in the midst of the Asian financial crisis, after he got certification from the Ministry of Health for good manufacturing practices (GMP), the same qualification as a pharmaceutical company, effectively qualifying his products as medicine rather than a mere food supplement. At the same time he invested Rp 30 billion for even more expansion, a risky move given that the entire region was in crisis.

    While the certification was a good step, a skeptical public and medical profession needed to be convinced of the benefits of jamu. To be sure, jamu has deep roots in Indonesia. It's common on many streets to see local jamu vendors, usually women, walking with bottles with colored liquids, who will mix up a special jamu drink to fix whatever ails you. In fact, many common ingredients in jamu, such as turmeric and tamarind, have been shown by medical research to have various health benefits. Yet most jamu remain unregulated, some makers using subpar ingredients or manufacturing processes, thus leading to headlines about customers becoming sick after ingesting jamu. “It's been a long struggle. I've been in the industry for over 40 years. It's not easy to get people to trust jamu,” says Irwan.

    He keeps making the effort. He meets constantly with doctors and others in the medical profession, and attends medical seminars and events to promote jamu’s benefits. To improve his products' popularity, Irwan has been reducing the often bitter and herbal flavor of jamu with sweeteners. Irwan says he has heard President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife Anie have tried his products. With former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Irwan has seen him drink his products and regularly sends him Tolak Angin, a popular product to lessen lethargy and bloating.

    Currently, Irwan produces more than 120 different types of jamu, including best sellers such as Tolak Angin, Kunyit Asam and Kuku Bima. Irwan explains that all products are made from local ingredients, except for a few imported energy drinks, and he uses about 250 tonnes of natural products daily to produce the products. Aside from dominating the domestic market, Sidomuncul has a healthy export business as well, to places such as Australia, Hong Kong and the U.S.