This article is part of a bi-monthly series focusing on bringing truly sustainable business practices to the restaurant industry. This series has been created in partnership with Thrive Farmers International, a leader in revolutionizing the coffee industry and teaching others to do things differently.

sustainabilityThere is so much talk about “sustainability” in the restaurant and corporate world. Founded on the principle of making farmers’ lives economically sustainable, Thrive Farmers International has grown as a beverage company and learned not to use the word “sustainable” too much in our day-to-day work and interactions. We find that this word is so overused as a filler in conversations, conferences and meetings that it loses significance every time it is used. Describing our work with this term actually dilutes the meaning of what we do every day at Thrive Farmers.

The bottom line is if the suppliers (farmers) to restaurants can’t make a living, the internal stakeholders (employees) in the restaurant company are not engaged with purpose and, most importantly, the restaurant is not giving its gatekeepers of success (customers) what they want, then the restaurant will not be SUSTAINABLE in the long run.

Thrive Farmers has been asked to lay out the case for actually taking action (and not just using the word “sustainable”) in your supply chain, with your internal stakeholders and for your customers. Why Thrive Farmers? What do we bring to the table? Why should you listen to just another potential supplier of beverages?

When we started the company with the simple proposition of empowering farmers to thrive, we thought everyone would want to join up right away. Who wouldn’t want a quality beverage at a competitive price where the value chain is structured for the farmer to actually share in real profits from the sale to the end user?

What we found was a lot of good intentions without a lot of action. We discovered everyone loved talking about the farmer but didn’t realize they would have to do business differently if they actually wanted to give that farmer new opportunities. We also found that people love to talk internally about making changes to impact the world, but the day-to-day bottom line is almost always the final rule. Crossing that line often seems like just too much risk.

With some incredible farmer success stories in the coffee lands, resulting in tangible economic and societal changes in communities and clients who sell to happy customers through engaged employees, we have seen true increase comes through beverage sales (which contribute to the bottom line). We have seen real business success over time by taking that first step to impact the world with an innovative program. Thrive has learned some important realities about this industry and the challenges it faces, as well as some ideas about where we think it’s heading. It is time we start jointly making fundamental shifts in how businesses operate to innovate our products and processes to impact the world around us.

Restaurants have an amazing influence in the world. The following areas of influence can each experience a positive impact through a renewed approach to beverage sourcing that puts farmers first.

Supply chain – one small item on the profit and loss of a restaurant can be the difference between someone barely surviving or thriving on their farm in another part of the world.

People and processes – one ubiquitous beverage on a menu can become a symbol that energizes and convinces the internal stakeholders that the company really cares about the world and acts with purpose, or it can become a source of disillusionment that the company just talks about caring but nothing really changes for the better.

Fans – one special story around an innovative beverage can bring a customer back time after time and turn that customer into a brand advocate. Lack of innovation and story could be the tipping point for that same customer not to return for the next meal with their family, much less tell the world about who you are.

In this series, we hope to give you some of our learnings as we continue to navigate these ever-changing waters with the goal of helping the restaurant world see the opportunities in doing things differently with something as simple as a cup of coffee or glass of tea. There is a tremendous opportunity, with very little downside and lots of upside, in looking at how your beverage program can impact the world and your bottom line.

 

Kenneth Lander is the co-founder and chief sustainability officer at Thrive Farmers International. Thrive Farmers was founded in 2011 to transform the coffee industry by connecting farmers to consumers through a new supply chain. To learn more about Thrive, visit their website or follow them on Twitter at @ThriveFarmers.