Anna Hagemann Rise, Group Communications and CSR manager, interviewed for a different role at Froosh but within minutes she and the CEO were talking politics and it ended with him asking if she would like to run the Fruit Farm Programme. She talks to Zoë Arden about the company’s connections with the countries from which it sources.
ZA: What is the Fruit Farm Programme and what does it mean for Froosh?
AHR: A couple of years ago, the Fruit Farm Programme was a side project. Now its something that all the countries that we operate in want to be involved in and more staff are involved. I’ve spent the last two years building the programme. In 2014, we did 7 trips, we have 11 planned for 2015. I invite media, customers, people in the public sphere who we identify with and who share our values and do this in order to tell our story and open some doors. But it’s not just about trips but to build the political message. I also present once a week at either a conference or a university, explaining the political mission of the company – trade not aid.
How important is it for the Fruit Farm Programme to be connected to the business?
The connection is highly important. This is not a marketing campaign for us. We ran the Fruit Farm Programme for two years before we got media involved. What’s important for us is that staff are fully involved. Unfortunately, there are many brands in the fruit and beverage sector for whom sustainability just means branding. They do it for marketing. They are talking but without really doing anything. Here at Froosh, a strong connection with the fruit farmers is key to our business.
As a company, you have been fairly outspoken on the need for “trade, not aid”. How do you respond to the argument that communities need “trade AND aid” – particularly countries like Malawi that have suffered decades of underdevelopment?
We are stressing trading with developing countries and the breaking down of trade barriers that are still relevant today. I studied international development 15 years ago and the same issues are still around. We should make it easier for countries to trade, not bog them down in obstacles and quotas. We see that fruit farms are making a difference.
Obviously we support humanitarian aid, it’s important in crises. What we want to question is the benefit of development-related aid. We have seen a number of examples of where it has back red, particularly in Malawi, and has made it harder for business to grow. For example, NGOs give out free tomato seeds to poor farmers in a village. They all go to the market at the same time to sell the tomatoes, so they don’t get a good price and end up feeding them to their cattle. We see this again and again. Another example is that NGOs have a tendency to offer high salaries that are higher than local businesses offer. Whilst well-intentioned, if all the biologists and chemists go to a Danish NGO, private businesses can’t compete for the educated workforce. We are not saying all NGOs are doing a bad thing; we just want people to figure out how to do the best.
How do NGOs respond?
It’s difficult to have a constructive dialogue when you are questioning how they operate. It doesn’t always go down very well for obvious reasons. However, now the media is getting involved. One example of a high profile about-turn is Bono. He just did a big emotional rock star-ish public realisation on what aid organisations have done wrong. We’re at the point where we need to see how to make the most difference. Is a donor relationship the best way?
I have a personal example from the last time I was in Malawi. I was working on a farm and at the end of the day I was sitting by the lake, enjoying the sun setting. Whilst sitting there, I find out that the President has just bought 7 armed patrol vessels to put on Lake Malawi at a cost of millions of dollars. For what? What’s the threat? It’s completely absurd.
How do you measure your impact in communities?
It would be nice to have a clear correlation between the mangoes we buy and the number of schools being built, but it’s not that easy. I can say that when we work with farmers, we specify that as long as quality and price is right, we will always buy our fruit from them. If they can show that commitment from European buyers it means they have a bigger chance of getting more funds. In Malawi, where they are moving a part of their production to organic banana production, it means farmers can get the extra resources they need. If you talk to anyone who has been on one of our trips, we take our smoothies with us and it gives the farmers incredible pride to see the end product. We also invite them here and we have a Malawian farm manager visiting us next month in Copenhagen.
What evidence do you have that consumers care about the fruit farms?
Here in Scandinavia, there is a growing interest in knowing where food products are from and the conditions in which they are grown. If you launch a new product in this region, you are expected to have a related CSR initiative. We show the range of initiatives that we are supporting and get a lot of positive feedback.
What advice would you have for other businesses with regard to understanding their value chains better?
In terms of strategy, it’s very important that your CSR activity is linked closely to your actual product. For us, it’s obvious that the connection is the tropical fruit from developing countries. Unfortunately, the value of corporate social responsibility has been eroded by some companies. The most important thing is to get the management support. I’ve worked in big companies where CSR is seen by management as a headache. When it’s difficult to quantify benefits, management support is crucial.
Originally posted on Radar, Issue 6