A Better Brew: Sustainable Coffee Initiatives by Thrive Farmers

The sustainable coffee industry is growing, and Thrive Farmers is leading the way by making the production of coffee economically viable. Kenneth Lander, co-founder and chief sustainability officer at Thrive, will present a session titled "Around the Kitchen Table: Life on a Coffee Farm" at the COMMIT!Forum. This session will focus on what Thrive does to help farmers with their business.

Thrive will also provide coffee at the forum. Stop by their booth to sample their brews and learn more. CR Magazine spoke with Lander about Thrive's mission and values.

CR Magazine: What drives innovation and sustainability at Thrive?

Ken Lander: Thrive Farmers was founded for one purpose: to empower farmers to thrive.

Sustainability for Thrive Farmers begins with economics. Everything we do focuses on putting more money in the pockets of farmers. When farmers thrive economically, it leads to thriving socially and environmentally.

Traditionally, the farmer, who is the foundation of the entire industry, is subjected to a broken supply chain that disconnects him or her from the real value of his or her work. Instead, volatile and arbitrary commodity market price dictates the value of the farmer’s product without considering the final price a consumer pays.

With Thrive Farmers, the producer is a stakeholder in the real value of his or her product. Farmers receive a predictable, stable and higher income based on a share of the revenue generated in the sale to the end user.

A special certification does not assure a transparent supply chain or trustworthy corporate social responsibility. Consumers must dig deeper and become partners with the producers to create true change. Enterprises spend millions of dollars each year on coffee, tea and other beverage products. Instead of supporting the broken supply chain, which hurts farmers, we help socially minded companies use those funds to help farmers thrive economically and have dramatic, positive impact on their communities as a result.

CR: Why is the ‘farm-to-table’ approach so important?

KL: “Farm-to-table” is a powerful concept from two perspectives.

First, if you just look at the explosion of “farm to table” eating opportunities now in restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets, it is easy to see that consumers want and will pay more for a transparent and sustainable supply for their food choices. This farm-to-table movement is causing the general public to look deeper into the realities of the people and processes behind the foods they purchase each day.

Second, the rising demand for-farm-to-table products informs how we should reconsider risks in our supply chains as suppliers. The movement began because our employees, the media, and our shareholders care about the origin of their food. In the world of information, there is real risk in saying you are sustainable, and then using products that actually hurt the farmers and workers who produced them. A sticker or certification doesn’t cut it anymore. Stakeholders want to know that brands have actually investigated and support the practices that underpin the ideals of the farm-to-table movement. Brands can supply socially conscious markets with the transparently sourced products they increasingly seek, and grow by meeting that demand.

Simply put, are brands and consumers putting their money where their mouths are when they talk about sustainability?

CR: What supply chain practices do you use to ensure sustainability?

KL: First and foremost, we don’t sell coffee to customers unless we are sure the farmer is going to receive a stable, predictable, and higher income from making the deal. The farmer is the central and first priority in our analysis.

Does this mean we aren’t competitive? Absolutely not. We are very competitive, and we bring better quality and better intrinsic value to the customer with our model. We take out all the market noise, unnecessary supply chain levels and speculation while aligning the farmer closely with the customer.

We make sure that there is equity in the supply chain with regard to margins for farmers. What do you predict in the future of sustainable coffee production?

A lot has been written on this, and many continue to talk about helping farmers with higher yields, helping them socially, and assisting them in being more environmentally friendly. While ideating ways to solve social and environmental issues is important, it hasn’t translated to a better industry. Farmers are still leaving the business in double digit rates while demand for coffee soars.

The bottom line is simple. Address the economics first. Be assured that the coffee you buy actually helps farmers thrive economically. If we don’t correct the economics, we will continue to loose farmers, and coffee farming will continue not to be sustainable.

CR: Why is participation in the COMMIT! Forum important, in your opinion?

KL: COMMIT! Forum is an excellent opportunity for Thrive Farmers to engage leaders of companies to actually go deeper and learn how they can make a difference in the lives of farmers around the world.

Often, leaders are so busy looking at the bottom line and working on macro-sustainability initiatives, that they overlook how a relatively small expense, like coffee, tea and other products, can have dramatic economic impact on the people in producing countries around the world.

Gathering with brands that share our ethos allows us to align our strengths and efforts with others who are changing the world for the better. We hope to inspire our peers to invest in the global economic sustainability of the future. Together we can share great stories, communicate corporate value, and lower risk as stakeholders take a deeper look into whether or not corporate purchasing truly aligns with what the organizations they support say they are doing.


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