As a story in Adweek noted recently, “purpose transcends business and product (the what) and delivers on human principles (the why).” A lot of companies tend to tack this purpose on to the marketing department, or make it part of a corporate social responsibility programme. But All Good Organics, as the name implies, has goodness running through its veins and its efforts have been rewarded with a global award as the fairest trader of them all, beating out 27,000 products from 120 countries that carry the Fairtrade mark.
The Fairtrade Trader award, which takes place as part of Fairtrade International General Assembly in Bonn, Germany, recognises outstanding and special efforts from traders worldwide and takes into account innovation, ingredients, communication of its message and the tangible differences the company makes to the communities that supply it with products. Co-founder and director Simon Coley says a typical approach might be to put the Fairtrade logo and a picture of a smiling grower on the pack. But he thinks All Good has "gone a bit further than most do" by regularly visiting the growers, trying to understand the supply chain and using revenue from the sale of those products to create useful facilities.
Coley, Chris Morrison, founder of Phoenix Organics, and his brother Matt Morrison conceived the idea for All Good on a West Auckland beach over five years ago. They started with bananas because they are the most consumed supermarket commodity and arguably one of the least ethical. And in 2010 they began importing New Zealand’s first Fairtrade bananas from the El Guabo Fairtrade cooperative in Ecuador.
"There’s a 1950s song that goes, 'if you want to be the top banana you have to start at the bottom of the bunch,'" says Coley. “It certainly applies to us. The banana industry is big, its history isn’t pretty, it’s littered with failed dreams and there have been many times we’ve wondered if we’d bitten off more than we could chew. When we launched New Zealand’s first Fairtrade bananas just over four years ago we were told that no one would want to pay $1 more a bunch. But we’ve shown Kiwis where their bananas come from and why it's a good idea to buy the ones that directly support growers, their families and the environment—the All Good ones.”
All Good Bananas are available in supermarkets throughout the country and sales have grown by 30 percent in the last year (it's now selling 60,000 bunches of Fairtrade bananas each week in New Zealand, or one bunch every ten seconds). In total New Zealanders have consumed about 6.8 million bunches of All Good bananas in the last four years and that has contributed over $5 million to the El Guabo economy, with $500,000 earmarked for development projects including assistance to 17 school and two medical clinics.
The support of conscious Kiwi consumers gave it confidence to push on down that road, so in 2012 they launched Karma Cola (a recent blind taste test by The Guardian showed it did alright against other craft colas, but couldn't top Coca-Cola). Proceeds from the sale of every bottle go back to the Boma village in Sierra Leone to help the people who grow the cola rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war.
It followed up Karma Cola with two more Fairtrade products, Lemmy Lemonade and Gingerella, and it's selling 25,000 bottles per week in cafes, restaurants and bars throughout New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and, as of last month, London. It has also launched a range of sparkling waters.
He says its drinks business has grown by 500 percent in the last 12 months and, rather than sending bottles overseas, it's looking at manufacturing drinks in the UK in the next couple of months.
"We’re getting regular calls for our product from almost every continent."
And with very high awareness of Fairtrade in Europe and around the world, the award will probably increase those requests.
As a result of this growth, the All Good team has doubled over the last year and now numbers over 20 in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
In some cases, it seems like being good comes at the cost of making money. Profit isn't a huge motivation for Coley and co, but it is a great lubricant and Coley says it's working hard to manage this growth.
"We’ve been in the game for five or six years now and it feels like were here to stay. But we break even and occasionally we make a profit. The banana business in particular is really tough. We began as the fourth brand and now there are nine."
In the food sector, there is a trend back towards natural ingredients. And in an age of increased transparency, provenance has become increasingly important. So brands are increasingly realising that they can’t just tap into emotions, they need to find a purpose.
“It’s beyond the zeitgeist. It’s a trend and it’s about doing good all the way through.”
He admits that it's easier for a small, relatively new company like All Good to do this as it has no legacy or old systems to change. But it's good that more companies are thinking about their impact, as evidenced by the work of the B-Team.
Like most start-ups, it doesn’t have a huge marketing budget, so a lot of the awareness is created by seeing the products instore. The media also love a good food story, so it’s had plenty of positive PR.
As Ecostore’s founder Malcolm Rands (and presumably anyone else trying to sell environmentally-friendly products) said, there is a big difference between what people say and what they do, so people often say they'll buy the good product but end up sticking with engrained habits and buying a cheap and possibly nasty option.
"But there hasn’t always been a choice."
And thankfully All Good is offering it.