"We love third-party certifications. One hundred percent Fair Trade and organic certifications have been part of the company's DNA since day one."
Editor's Note: Today we launch a new weekly series aimed at learning more about the 92 B Corporations who won the 'Best for the World' title earlier this year from nonprofit B Lab. Through short interviews with company founders, CEOs and directors, we'll dig into their motivations, missions, challenges and what makes them truly Best for the World.
Through their stories, we'll search for best practices, tips on aligning mission and profit, and identify gaps where better regulation can help or private-private partnerships can play a role. Becoming the change is an ambitious order – and one that over 1,000 companies have accepted already. Let's learn how they're doing it.
Today we spotlight Alter Eco, a company that connects food with economic empowerment. Or in their own words:
"A values-based brand of specialty food products that brings sustainable, delicious, exotic and healthy ingredients from around the world to people in the United States and Canada while directly benefiting farming communities in the Global South."
Directly from the farmers, Alter Eco brings food products that capture distinct attributes of various regions around the world including ancient supergrain Royal Quinoa from the Bolivian Andes, heirloom Jasmine Rice from Northern and East Thailand, Amazon-grown and Swiss-made dark chocolate bars, and unrefined ground Mascobado cane sugar from The Philippines.
- Products are 100% fair trade certified, organic, carbon-compensated and soon to be packaged in home-compostable material.
- Founded in 2004.
- Distributed at key retailers such as Whole Foods, NCGA, Wegmans, Sprouts, Vitamin Cottage as well as numerous coop and natural regional chain stores across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Here we go:
What motivated you to start your company?
Both of us – co-founders Edouard Rollet and Mathieu Senard – worked for development organizations early on in our careers. At age 19, Edouard worked for UNICEF in Africa while Mathieu managed an orphanage in Northern Cambodia. Those experiences convinced us to spend our time and energy serving the underprivileged in the third world.
With degrees in business and communication, Fair Trade became the ideal intersection to achieve social change through business. Combine this with a love for travel and for food, and this is how Alter Eco came about.
Why did you become a Certified B Corp?
At Alter Eco, we love third-party certifications. One hundred percent Fair Trade and organic certifications have been part of the company's DNA since day one. Next came carbon neutral certification thanks to Alter Eco’s reforestation/conservation programs developed by sister organization Pur Projet.
The last frontier for Alter Eco to reach its full-circle sustainability goal is now home-compostable packaging certification, which we're working on.
Becoming a B Corp in the early days and most recently a Public Benefit Corporation helped us put all the elements of this mission into the heart of our organization and into the heart of our legal structure. Going through the B Corp certification, we went even deeper into learning about the impact of Alter Eco on all its stakeholders (Alter Eco employees being a top priority) and were able to ensure we applied the same high standards at every level of our company.
Within the B Corp movement, we hope to build a new model of corporation that serves the public and the greater good, harnessing the power of business to build a better future for our children and our planet.
You were named among the B Corp ‘Best for the World’ list. What were some of the challenges you faced in meeting your CSR goals?
We believe placing the mission at the heart of the company is the best way to achieve long-term sustainability and profitability for our company.
It does, however, come with challenges.
All those sustainability standards stacked one upon another add layers of costs and reduce our margins. We thus operate with the smallest margins in our industry. Yet, we have to play by the same rules, play the same costly game. So everything is always a bit more challenging for companies like Alter Eco.
But we believe we provide the products that people want and will increasingly want in the future, positioning us to thrive in the 21st century.
What is one critical area that you're challenged with because of lack of industry participation or government regulation?
The main difficulty for a mission-driven food company like ours is that we are part of an industry that is very expensive. All costs related to distribution, promotion, slotting or free fills add to staggering amounts, presenting difficulties for any brand, and even more for mission-driven brands, especially in the early days.
We hope in the future to see industry programs or government regulations that help mission-driven businesses become established and mature.
Next week: How Atayne is driving social and environmental change by combining technology with some ingenious creativity.