Sustainable success for banana business
Chris Morrison knows that it's entirely possible to do well in business by doing good - he's done it twice, in fact.
Twenty years ago Morrison founded Phoenix Organics, offering an alternative to all those highly sugared and artificial soft drinks that had the field to themselves.
Today, he's one of three partners in Grey Lynn-based All Good Organics, the first company to import Fair Trade bananas into New Zealand, and now also a purveyor of a range of softdrinks made from organic and Fair Trade ingredients.
Business is steaming along, so much so that the original staff of five has expanded to more than 20.
The (organic) cherry on top of this commercial success was All Good's recent inclusion for the second year running on the New York-based Ethisphere Institute's "World's Most Ethical Companies" list, among such recognised names as Patagonia, Wholefoods and Marks & Spencer.
All Good is the only New Zealand company to have won that recognition. Morrison hopes the honour will convince others that ethical business can also be good for the bottom line.
He founded All Good six years ago with his brother Matt and former 42 Below marketing director Simon Coley, intent on building a company that had sustainability and ethical business practices as part of its engine rather than an add-on.
They wanted to support small scale farmers in developing nations, and later with the soft drink range to offer healthy organic options for consumers - quality, freshness and fairness were the watchwords.
Flagship product Karma Cola typifies the approach. Produced from cola nut grown by farmers from a Sierra Leonean village, combined with various spices and vanilla bean grown by a Fairtrade cooperative in Papua New Guinea, it's flavoursome and organic.
Moreover, All Good ploughs back part of the proceeds from each sale into good works for the Boma village in Sierra Leone; projects financed to date include a new bridge and sending several Boma girls to school.
"We have an ongoing commitment to this village. It's rewarding and, of course, a great story to tell consumers - a point of difference."
Good intentions and a nice story don't guarantee a thriving business, however. "We invest a lot in our branding," Morrison says.
"We use a different artist for each of our drinks. We've been able to connect well with customers, using social media particularly - Facebook and Twitter have been useful tools. We don't just tell a story and expect to sell.
"We have to go through the discipline of launching a product - it has to be economically viable and within the range of a large demographic, and to taste really good and be available when people want it. So it's multilayered."
It's also challenging. All Good sources some of its ingredients directly from the growers.
"It takes years to get that right. We're going into some far-flung places to get these ingredients and if there's a drought or a breakdown in transport it becomes a big issue. We have to hold stock and make other allowances for any contigencies."
"But we work with some great people around the world who help, such as Albert Tucker in the UK who's originally from Sierra Leone and has been our ambassador in the UK.
"He went with Matthew and Simon to Sierra Leone the first time. I think the fact that we're doing good work and sustainable business means that people are keen to support us."
Consumers, meanwhile, have shown they're willing to pay a premium for the All Good ethical product - in the case of the Fair Trade bananas, an extra dollar per kilo.
"With all the doom and gloom about climate change, water pollution, all sorts of enviromental and social issues, if people can make a difference with their dollar that's very empowering."
He adds that companies such as All Good need to keep proving their bona fides.
"There is a lot of 'greenwash' around these days, a lot of people getting on the sustainability bandwagon, but I think consumers are sophisticated. They talk to each other. If there's some doubt about the credibility of a product it can get around immediately on social media. We need to be squeaky clean."
Entries for the 2014 Sustainable 60 awards open on May 19 and close on July 11. The results will be announced at an event on November 11.