A conversation with Heather Terry, CEO and founder of GoodSam Foods, about how an exit from a chocolate company led to a female-led consumer goods company, how education of consumers is key, networks vs. chains, multi-crop buying, and much more.
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Every CEO and high-ranking manager working in food companies should be obligated to visit the farms and farmers they source from. So many decisions in the board rooms would be taken differently. With Heather we dig into a story of a company about how an exit in a chocolate company led to a female led consumer good company focussing on chocolate, coffee, nuts and dried fruits. Preferably sourced from the same farmers paying them 2 to 3 times as much, marketed and sold throughout the US in Whole Foods and online and only being 2 years old. How is that possible? And why, according to Heather, is this the only way forward?
EDUCATION OF CONSUMERS IS KEY
Heather explains how GoodSam is using various channels to educate consumers on the importance of regeneration, such as through their website, social media, and press coverage.
”In the small farms messaging, we knew right away that people were picking it up because I want to support small farms. […] So, then they might come to our website, see how we are on the farm, see how our team is interfacing in different countries, then they might dig into our impact report.” – Heather Terry
”Consumers want to know that they’re doing the right thing when they buy something like a GoodSam. It’s something that they are excited about but sometimes don’t have enough time to really dig into and fully understand. And that was sort of how we have opened the door to the consumer to ask more questions, to engage with us, to try to understand exactly why they’re paying a little bit more money for something like a macadamia or a pecan or chocolate bar or a bag of coffee. […] In the American narrative right now, there’s an assumption that regenerative is good. They don’t know why it’s good. But they know it’s good. […] There’s something positive about that, that I should be participating in. […] GoodSam educates in a number of ways, obviously, by really drawing a customer in through the small farms messaging on our PAC. But then also online, on our social channels, in the press, why is regeneration so important?” – Heather Terry
NETWORKS VS CHAINS
Heather emphasises the importance of collaboration and mutual support within a network, rather than in a chain of command.
”And by creating that network of people who really know what they’re doing and understand how to do what they’re doing, and how it relates to the whole system. We’ve created just different ways of doing business that most of our partners are like, ‘I want to do this with everybody, this is amazing. We’re all working in collaboration to create this product, we’re all making money. We’re all doing good. We’re all taking care of each other.” – Heather Terry
”It is a network instead of a chain because the chain implies that someone is linked to this in a really aggressive way. A network is a network of people who decide to come together to help each other. […] Our networks are a group of people; we rely on a group of people that we can go to for multiple things. And the same thing with our farm: we treat our farmers the same way as we treat our investors.” – Heather Terry
MONO CROPS EXIST BECAUSE BIG COMPANIES CAME ALONG AND PUSHED FARMERS INTO IT
Business leaders can help foster regenerative agroforestry by bringing other players to the table to purchase crops from farmers.
”GoodSam takes all the commercially viable crops off of a farm. We don’t leave anything that is commercially viable on the farm, which means a lot of our farmers have a year-round stream of income from us now. Because we are actively seeking to take everything that they produce and also not to force them into a monocrop system. Mono crops exist because big companies came along to farmers and said, ‘Please farm this one thing; we’ll take all of it, and we’ll take it in this amount’, mono crops were created because of demand.” – Heather Terry
”So, we change the way we demand from farmers and say, ‘Okay, you’re growing macadamia, but you also have mangoes here, and you also have avocados, and you also have coffee. Could I buy all of that? […] That changes the way farmers farm because then they say, ‘okay, great, I don’t have to rely just on macadamias because they’re going to come and buy mangoes, and they’re going to come and buy my avocados. And they’re going to come and buy my coffee as well. So, I can continue to really foster this regenerative agroforestry system, this biodiverse system, and I can take care of the soil, I can create a livelihood, and I don’t have to depend on one crop to do it. That is a business shift.” – Heather Terry
”Farmers want to do this, they don’t want to destroy their land, but they also have to live. And so, we have to, as business leaders, if we believe in regenerative, we have to think about other things we can do or other partners we can bring in.” – Heather Terry
IF YOU RUN A FOOD COMPANY, YOU HAVE THE OBLIGATION TO VISIT THE FARM
CEOs and board members of food companies should visit the places where their products are produced to gain empathy and make more informed decisions.
”If you are the CEO of a food company or you sit on the board of a food company, you have the responsibility and obligation to go to where the food that you’re selling is produced. Your decisions in a boardroom will fundamentally change by understanding the plight on the ground, by understanding the circumstances on the ground, by understanding what the communities on the ground are going through for you to make money.” – Heather Terry
”When we see things that we cannot unsee as leaders, that leads to company action, which leads to consumer education, it leads to us opening the door to our capacity for empathy as human beings and for understanding that we are all inextricably connected.” – Heather Terry
EVERY CEO OF A FOOD COMPANY SHOULD UNDERSTAND SOIL
Heather argues that CEOs should understand soil health and its impact on the food system and company.
”A CEO should know what it looks like, a CEO should know what it smells like, a CEO should know the people on the ground and understand those things. Because, again, you make very different decisions in that boardroom, you bring a very different perspective to the boardroom when you have that experience. You just do. And you’ve got to understand soil in order to run a food company, you’ve got to understand how healthy or unhealthy the soil
is.” – Heather Terry
”If you, as a leader who’s putting food out, messaging out, and instructing your marketing departments on how to message consumers, don’t really understand those things, you are missing a huge opportunity to change lives and to protect your company. And you’re missing a huge opportunity with your consumers.” – Heather Terry
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Heather also talked about:
- Food transparency and ethical sourcing
- Investing in companies with long-term potential
- The importance of investing in small-holder farming models
- Dan Barber, great flavour, health benefits and healthy ecosystems can only come from healthy soils not a lab
- Emma Chow and Eliot Beeby on how circular design for food is crucial for regenerating landscapes, and how large food companies can lead it
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.