“From Apivita to Symbeeosis, I believe in our values instinctively”
In this interview, Nikki Koutsianas, president and co-founder of Symbeeosis – and former president of Apivita – explains how values have guided her through a successful career in defense of hippocratic dictums.
“Our name”, explains Nikki Koutsianas, sitting quietly in the garden at the Symbeeosis headquarters in Attica – about an hour outside Athens -, “combines the Greek word symbiosis, which means ‘the harmonious coexistence between different organisms’, and the bee, the most important pollinator in Nature. We want to indicate with our brand name our philosophy of the harmonious coexistence of people and the planet, and the interdependence of diet and health.”
It is not the first time that Mrs. Koutsianas was faced with choosing a company name and a consistent strategy that could guide and summarize a strong family vision. “We launched this company two years ago, after a successful journey of many years with Apivita, the pioneering natural and sustainable cosmetics company that we founded 40 years ago.”
The first proper name she is likely to bring up in any conversation is probably Hippocrates. “Faithfully, the Hippocratic philosophy was important to us at Apivita. Now, with the new company, Symbeeosis, we also want to focus on a quote by the holistic doctor, Hippocrates: your medicine should be your food, because better health is achieved through a better diet. We totally understand and strongly believe in this important connection between health and nutrition, and also between human health and environmental health.”
Therefore, the idea was born for a range of functional foods and beverages that would be equally beneficial for humans and for the planet. For the president and founder of this company, “people suffer in part because of the food they eat and the way these foods are grown and produced. A healthy diet can save us or at least help us and our planet, as food is our medicine, and only a healthy planet can offer us healthier food.” In her opinion, each of us individually can bring a positive change every day: “From simple changes in our diet to simple changes in waste management, with less use of plastic, each of us can do small but important actions.”
A VALUE-DRIVEN MISSION
Q: After more than 40 years as the founder and president of a natural cosmetics company and now a bio-functional products company, have any of your values slightly changed in their definition?
A: Our values have not changed, because our times demand the same values we shared when I started APIVITA. I definitely believe in business ethics, I have always believed in creation, innovation and especially ecology. I believed in these values instinctively. After 40 years of experience, I say that no one can do business without ethics. You cannot love yourself if you do not love the planet, you cannot do good for yourself if it is not good for the planet. Ethical business is a necessity for the environment. I also believe in innovation, and I believe that innovation includes well-being, in the way that the ancient Greeks thought of it.
Q: Why do you think nutrition is directly connected to good health?
A: It is simple: we are what we eat. For example, if we don’t eat organic foods, if we eat too much sugar, or we expose our body to harmful substances, we will have bad consequences for our health. We must have a holistic approach to our health and understand the value of prevention above cure. Good prevention certainly includes a very good and healthy diet. And here come the functional foods that are now proven not only to provide the body with the necessary nutrients to survive, but also to contribute to our health, by supporting the immune system, energy intake and fighting stress.
Q: What do you think about the Mediterranean Diet?
We believe that we should work together as a country to highlight the value of our products worldwide, with an organized effort to promote the Mediterranean Diet, which is recognized as the best and most sustainable diet in the world every year. Our goal is to highlight the value of proper diet and Greek organic food worldwide, to support and develop the Greek primary sector, to propagate the principles of harmonious coexistence with the planet, and to lead to a sustainable green future. We chose Greek mountain tea and honey, as they are primarily Greek products with unique properties.
Q: Would you affirm that the Hippocratic dictum is still essential for us as a society?
A: It is impressive how relevant Hippocrates is today, who has always been an inspiration to me, as a pharmacist 40 years ago, that is, “Prevention is better than cure”, “Let food be your medicine”, “Nature is the most dominant ruler of all.”
CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION
In various ways, creativity is a pillar for Symbeeosis. In Mrs. Koutsianas’ opinion, “creativity keeps people alive and active, and has always been identified with our company’s life”. With the word creativity she means “to do new things creatively, and the beautiful aesthetics and the art, as this is the highest aspect of creativity. Creativity is to be in direct contact with the creators and to be inspired by them and by Ancient Greece”. Creativity can be found in different ways in Symbeeosis: in the packaging but also in the communication, in the way they produce any piece of information. Moreover, you can understand this fact after a visit to their offices, a house surrounded by a magnificent Botanical Garden.
Q: “Regenerative” is an adjective that we use more nowadays, what does it mean for you and why is it important for its impact?
A: Regenerative means to leave something better than you found it, and for us it is a cornerstone of our philosophy. We do regenerative business, as we believe in fair competition and ethical business in order to create a better business world. We do regenerative agriculture, so that the environment and the soil become better. We apply regenerative beekeeping, aiming at the regeneration of ecosystems by enhancing biodiversity and reducing energy inputs, leaving the minimum environmental footprint.
Q: What is your favorite tea, how do you prepare it and when do you drink it?
A: Definitely my favorite is the Greek Organic Mountain Tea Trinity, which includes 3 varieties of mountain tea: Sideritis scardica, Sideritis perfoliata, Sideritis raeseri, as it is a nice base. It is a very nice tea that is very good for memory and the immune system that people need today and it is also a good antioxidant. I also like it because I can combine it with other ingredients. For example, one day I am in the mood to add vanilla, or to add lemon or cinnamon or orange, so it is a very nice base to create. It is unique in itself but I can create combinations according to my mood, I always like to change and to create. I also like very much what the Cretans drink, the Greek Mountain Tea with Dittany, two unique herbs. It is what we call endemic of Greece, Greece has so many unique plants!
Q: What is the meaning of “Functional Honey“?
A: We innovate by enhancing organic honey varieties with active dry extract of ginger, propolis and turmeric, in order to maximize the nutritional value of the final product and to gain additional benefits (she refers here to the concept of superfood). Honey is a superfood itself: it has been used for therapeutic purposes since antiquity, as it can act as an excellent antioxidant and has antimicrobial properties. Therefore, why not enjoy a spoonful of honey every day, instead of another diet supplement, with all its benefits? By boosting honey with active dry extract you can enjoy a “nutritional supplement” with health benefits. With modern green methods, we obtain dry extracts that have a high concentration in nutrients and active ingredients, maximizing the nutritional value and benefits of the product. Therefore, functional honeys, enhanced with active dry extracts: propolis for strengthening the immune system, turmeric for anti-inflammatory action and ginger for good functioning of the gastrointestinal tract – a daily wellness boost with great flavor.
Q: Many people ask about the benefits of drinking mountain tea, what was your first encounter with it?
A: When we founded APIVITA and made cosmetics 40 years ago, we noticed that cosmetics were mainly composed of water, which is also the most essential ingredient in skin. Then we studied about green tea and our first cosmetics were made with Japanese green tea. But we were definitely always thinking of using Greek products, so we started to study Greek mountain tea. To our great surprise, we noticed that it has the same antioxidants that are important for the skin, but also that it has unique properties, as I said about memory and the immune system, something that other teas do not contain. Then came the idea that this tea should be used in people’s daily lives, so it is very important for us to put tea into people’s diets and to use it every day. Like with all herbs and teas, only with the correct and daily use we can have results.
Q: Do you think Supplements are now the future of nutrition?
A: One of the reasons we started Symbeeosis is that people do not eat properly: if we do not practice proper agriculture, we cannot get the right products and nutrients we need. Therefore, we developed the nutritional supplements, and we will also innovate in this field with something completely natural. What is required, of course, is people to get what they need from food, which will be ensured by regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming, beekeeping, and production practices. But functional foods come as an intermediate stage, which means that I upgrade the food that I have, by adding some completely natural ingredients. Therefore, I do not believe that supplements are the future of nutrition, but that they come to do exactly what their name implies, to supplement our diet, because even if we eat right, many times many substances are not absorbed, so we need the food supplements, and they will certainly be an important part of our diet in the future.
DIVERSITY AND THE FUTURE
Q: As a female entrepreneur and supporter of female and diversity leadership, how is this aspect included in this new project?
A: I have always supported diversity and made sure to have women in Apivita in senior positions, because companies never had so many women in key positions. This is a change that happened 20 years ago, when the percentage of women in Apivita reached 50%. Now this new project continues the same course, with women in important positions, not to the detriment of men, because I definitely believe in the cooperation of men and women. The percentage of women in Symbeeosis is over 60%, but first of all I concentrate on skills, because I think collaboration is very important. One of my big goals is to get more women involved now in the agricultural and beekeeping sector as it develops. The State and all of us have to provide the necessary conditions, because women have always been capable. As a woman, I can have an impact on diversity again.
Q: A goal or a dream for Symbeeosis…
A: A planet where people live in harmony with the environment. I believe that the future is to have the right food that we grow in a harmonious and regenerative way, so that we and the environment are well. Getting proper nutrition through your diet does not have to be complicated. Take a holistic view of the issue: to relax because one goes and listens to nature, because one walks, because one gets energy from its honey and vegetables, from herbs…