Our series Brand Story Heroes puts different brands that we think tell their story well in the limelight. In this week’s instalment, we take a look at Thrive Farmers, a coffee company that is all about ethical sourcing.
Brand: Thrive Farmers
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Coffee, tea, equipment
Founders: Michael Jones and Kenneth Lander
Year founded: 2011
Mission: You drink. Farmers thrive.
After founding, building and running his own healthcare service company for 10 years, Michael needed to take a break and a step back. So in 2009 he exited his company and set to figuring out his next move. During that time of contemplation, Michael revisited a conversation he had had some time ago with his father-in-law who is a Blue Mountain coffee farmer in Jamaica. The topic of their talk had been the severe disadvantage of farmers in the value chain of coffee and the negative impact that consequently has on their lives. The injustice had been nagging Michael ever since.
It is important to know that even though every year $100 million is generated in the coffee industry, the farmers see barely any of the profit. Instead, the majority of the revenue is constituted once they have sold their beans and given up their claim to the additional value created after the sale. Traditionally, coffee is traded as a soft commodity, which means that the price of the product is subject to fluctuations of up to 30% per annum.
For the farmers that means that they could be delivering first class coffee beans and still be paid less than last year and definitely less than what their product is actually worth.
Many coffee companies have started setting up sustainability programmes. At first glance, this seems to be laudable, but is in fact quite the opposite. Each company has their own opinion on what sustainability means and for many, their own profit is what is closest to their heart. They set up standards their farmers have to meet in order to be allowed to still sell their beans to them, completely disregarding the additional financial strain they put on their suppliers. The bottom line is: farmers don’t get paid enough to make a living from their coffee.
This left a nasty taste in Michael’s mouth and he decided to do things differently. He founded Thrive Farmers in 2011, a company that believes sustainability means economic feasibility. They created a new revenue sharing model which ties the price paid by the customer directly to the sack of beans. Thrive’s farmers are included in the whole process, from harvest to retail and are guaranteed a predetermined percentage of what the coffee is worth at the end of its value chain. That way the prices remain stable over the year and so does the growers’ income, which makes Thrive Farmers’ concept economic and truly sustainable.
Their Storytelling Lessons
Lesson #1 Focus on what matters.
There are probably a few thousand coffee farmers, roasters, brands and companies in the world and they are all competing against one another, all wanting you to drink their coffee. But then, what is it that sets you apart from everybody else? What makes your brand unique?
Thrive Farmers are concerned with the ethical production of coffee. Michael and his colleagues care about their farmers, they are more than just suppliers, they are people. Coffee is not only a commodity, it is a livelihood for them. By putting these values first and profit second, Thrive stands out from the crowd and attracts attention. Nowadays, people care a lot about what they put into their bodies, they want to feel good about themselves and they can, when they drink Thrive Farmers’ coffee, because they know the priorities and values of Thrive align with their own.
Lesson #2 Be boldly innovative.
Taking the road less travelled is always hard, but it is also the only thing that allows you to be truly innovative and to actually make a change. Making a change is the key phrase here, because at the end of the day, that is what Thrive Farmers aim for. They set up a completely new way of trading coffee, thereby ensuring that what is most important to them is realised in their concept. The customer recognises that Thrive Farmers are willing to do whatever it takes to make their vision come true.
Lesson #3 Deliver world-class quality.
Coffee can be bought everywhere. In grocery shops, supermarkets, cafés, gas stations, literally everywhere. But is what you are purchasing there really worth being called coffee? Or is it more of a hot beverage that tastes unbalanced, so you have to water it down with tons of milk, but it contains caffeine and you, therefore, gulp it down anyway? The worst-case scenario would be instant “coffee” and yes, the quotation marks are intentional.
Everyone who is a passionate coffee drinker will only drink high-quality coffee. And this is where Thrive Farmers come in, because they only deliver world-class quality coffee. Trying to cater to the whole market is always impossible, because people’s priorities, tastes and preferences vary. This is why it is so important to find your niche, set up your business and defend that corner of the market that you have conquered with tooth and nail. The farmers at Thrive have found their niche with people who are passionate about what they put into their bodies and about coffee.
Lesson #4 Be transparent.
When you are open about who you are and what you do, you gain credibility, because people feel like they can trust your word. By making no bones about their own motivation behind setting up the company, Thrive Farmers disarm and at the same time intrigue you with their honesty. Michael and his colleagues are open about what they hope to gain with Thrive, about their values and what they stand for.
Also, it is very unusual to know anything about the farmer who grew your coffee. Revealing that information to the customer is not necessary in order for a company to sell their product, but it helps lift the veil of anonymity and build a relationship with the customer.
The transparent, personal approach makes you feel valued by them as a customer and you are in consequence much more likely to come back to Thrive Farmers when you run low on coffee beans the next time.
Their Storytelling Tools
#1 Invest in an excellent website.
Not much makes a customer feel as appreciated as when their vendor goes out of their way to make the experience of dealing with them as enjoyable as possible. At Thrive Farmers, their very detailed, well-designed website has “made with love” written all over it. Every farmer who is a member of the Thrive community is presented. A biography gives information on how they came to work with Thrive, some information about their farm, what is important to them as a farmer and what you, the consumer of their coffee, mean to them.
All over their website, short videos can be found that either shows the roasting process of coffee, the correct brewing method demonstrated by one of their farmers, or simply the beautiful landscape in which the farms are located. The best thing, however, is the so-called “Brewing 101”. This guide that shows you how to make the perfect cup of coffee with different types of equipment. To make it easier for you to follow, they have made video clips demonstrating the brewing process and include little tips as to how to make your coffee taste even better. It is basically an encyclopedia of coffee-brewing.
They did not need to do that, but the fact that Thrive Farmers went that extra mile to produce that content for you raises them above all their competitors.
#2 Engage with your audience
Thrive Farmers are very active on social media. Customers are invited to use the hashtags #ThriveFarmers and #YouDrinkFarmersThrive to share their stories on Twitter and Instagram. Thrive Farmers regularly retweet their customer’s posts and they themselves keep their followers posted on any break through moments happening regarding the company. In addition to that, whenever representatives of Thrive Farmers are invited to give a talk or workshop, they announce and cover that on Twitter.
On Instagram, Thrive Farmers often share behind the scenes content, such as snapshots of events they have participated in or of people they have worked with. They also repost photos from customers and reply to questions or comments from their followers. The tone is always witty, colloquial and easy-going, which has helped them attract over 7,000 followers on their social media.
#3 ThriveWorx Foundation
Change always starts with individuals, growing to shake up whole communities and societies. Thrive Farmers pride themselves in measuring their own success only by the impact they have made on their environment. This definitely falls into the world-changing category. This is why they do not stop at farming and selling fairly produced coffee, but step their game up another notch by empowering the farmers at Thrive to set a chain of change in motion. Thrive Farmers has provided a framework in the form of ThriveWorx, a private operating foundation hoping to mobilise everyone who is involved with the coffee at any stage and to therefore change the world step by step. It aims solely to pave the way for its members, so that tackling tough economic, social and environmental hurdles becomes as easy as possible.
Creating better, more meaningful livelihoods for the farmers themselves is the foundation on which all other change rests and it leads to so much more.The individual empowered farmer in turn strengthens their families and communities and local leaders. From these driving forces consumers and other strategic partners draw strength to work together to overcome challenges they all face.
#4 Quality over quantity.
The idiom “quality over quantity” is probably as old as time and definitely true. In the long run, it is always better to have fewer, but great quality products than a lot of mediocre ones. Thrive Farmers have taken that concept to heart, because all in all they have only seven different high-quality coffees available. Thrive are expanding their product range with tea, but are unwilling to compromise on their criteria, such as sustainable and ethical sourcing. They would rather wait until they can supply high-quality tea before selling a lower quality one, because world-class quality is crucial for them. Thrive Farmers adhere to their beliefs and you can’t help but admire that.