For One Food Company, the Key Ingredient for Success is Fairness

“On average, Certified B Corps out-perform other sustainable businesses on community impact in general, and Alter Eco is leading the pack.”

This post is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond. Learn how UPS is helping small businesses work better and more sustainably here.

Eating could once be done without the considerable weight of a guilty conscience. Now, consumption of the simplest bowl of rice, the tiniest nip of chocolate, comes with countless silent questions: how many pesticides were used to grow this? What’s my carbon footprint? Were children sold into labor to grow it? It’s a heavy set of realities that quite rightly should provoke more than an upset stomach.

Food company Alter Eco is attempting to create a holistic, sustainable global food distribution system, one that resolves those moral quandaries by inserting a crucial ingredient—fairness. “We want to create a new model of a global company,” says co-founder and CEO Mathieu Senard, “a company that doesn’t destroy, but nurtures.”

Alter Eco’s model is truly one of alteration, an attempt to respond to doing more than just business as usual. “The way business has been run for the past 50 years is companies in rich countries going to buy commodities at the cheapest price possible, regardless of the effect on people or the environment,” says Senard. “We want to change that.”

Before the advent of big agriculture, the words associated with farming implied a sense of watchful cultivation. Farmers tended to their crops, cared for their herds. Since its founding in Paris, France, in 1998, Alter Eco has been 100 percent fair trade, recapitulating that level of care in its work with farmers in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Thailand and the Philippines. “We’re not just importers,” says Senard. The business logistics they use are based upon buying food directly from small-scale farmers, but they’re linked to them by more than simply a financial affiliation. “We work for our friends, really,” says Senard.

Alter Eco trades in chocolate, quinoa, rice and sugar—simple foods that are often linked to unfair labor practices. But with Alter Eco, farmers sell their crop for fair wages and build relationships with the company that span years, or in some cases, over a decade. Staff members visit with the farmers, sometimes multiple times a year. Even among other certified B Corps, Alter Eco’s relationship to its suppliers stands out. As Katie Kerr from B Lab, the B Corp certifying body, points out, “On average, certified B Corps out-perform other sustainable businesses on community impact in general, and Alter Eco is leading the pack.”

Nearly all of the company’s products are organic certified, non-GMO verified, and all carbon emissions associated with the business are offset and compensated through “insetting” trees—strategic planting of trees within their supply chain.

Launching during a period in which retailers increasingly embraced fair trade products, the company grew, and by 2003 was operating out of offices in Sydney, Australia and its U.S. headquarters in San Francisco. This year, the French arm of the company pulled in about $20 million in sales; with $7.5 million in the U.S. and $1 million in Australia. “So, we’re the smallest multinational there is,” Senard says, laughing.

While their customer base shifted from what Senard calls “very informed and activist” to those who often simply see fair trade as a plus, fair trade became mainstream. Nevertheless, it took ten years for Alter Eco to achieve profitability. The first eight years proving their business model were difficult—and then the Recession hit the company. There’s a tone in Senard’s voice that echoes some of the anxiety most of us felt during those years. Alter Eco didn’t make things easy for itself either. “We are very uncompromising,” says Senard. “We sort of tax ourselves with fair trade certification, organic certification, carbon compensation.”

Their experience is not uncommon. Most startups—both single- and triple-bottom line ones—sacrifice some initial profit to invest in building their business, Robert Tomasko, director of American University’s social enterprise program explained via email. Yet having a social interest doesn’t curse a company to limited profits. “Triple-bottom-line firms just have a broader definition of their purpose, which guides how they spend their money,” Tomasko notes.

Profit in dollars might have been slow to build initially—and is now multiplying—but the measure of Alter Eco’s success can also be counted in Bolivian farmers who have reinvested their earnings in training other farmers to grow quinoa organically and in a way that regenerates the soil. In Ecuador and Peru, their farmers have invested in side business in eco-tourism and raising trees to reforest. Others have put new roofs on their homes. In the Philippines, Alter Eco’s farmers bought goats for every family in the village.

Having some financial freedom gives farmers the means to reinvest in their own sustenance, in farms that will produce well over the long-term. “They put so much care and love into their fields and in their crops,” Senard says. Alter Eco believes it has the best rice, chocolate, quinoa and sugar on the market, because farmers with a margin to invest in their farms can continually improve their conditions over time. As a result, the food grown on these farms is better. Senard’s notion is that you can “directly correlate fair trade with higher and higher quality over time.” For a company set to continue growing, it’s an early hint of what cared-for food tastes like.

Illustration by Zoe-Zoe Sheen

Photo of beet salad by Kelly Burgoyne for Alter Eco.

Photo of Quinoa farmer Esther Guarachi via Alter Eco.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.


In the category of "claims to fame nobody wants," the United States can now add "exporter of white supremacist ideology" to its repertoire. Super.

Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made this claim in a briefing at The Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. "For almost two decades, the United States has pointed abroad at countries who are exporters of extreme Islamist ideology," Travers said. "We are now being seen as the exporter of white supremacist ideology. That's a reality with which we are going to have to deal."

Keep Reading Show less

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News