Gero Leson with his new book, Honor Thy Label. Dr. Bronner 's
Chhabra: Why did you- wrote the book to you? To encourage others to follow Dr. Bronner's path?
Leson : Since we started our work in 2005, I have foundthat many people in the natural products industry used to appreciate and admire what we do, once they have visited projects or seen videos. After s ome 12 years, I thought: this story should be told not only to other brands, but to consumers as well - to offer a realistic and optimistic sense of what committed companies can accomplish, and inspire both groups to use their work and business to pursue a vision. Naturally, I also wanted to tell a "light version" of my personal story - and the rather unique story of the family and the Bronner brand. I knew people who were curious about "what is the story behind the label"?
Chhabra: To what extent is it possible for other companies to create a similar supply chain?
Leson : It is quite difficult for size companiesaverage to build an organic and fair agricultural supply chain if such sources do not already exist. This was the case for all of our main ingredients in 2005. Times have changed and many ingredients are now available in organic and fair trade quality and, increasingly, as certified organic regenerative. So today's businesses don't have to do all of the heavy work that we did. They can research existing sources, engage, see if that meets their needs. Large companies, due to their generally high volumes, have very complex supply chains. Yet they also have the resources to do something comparable to what Dr. Bronner did. They could thus focus on major ingredients, on particularly problematic ingredients such as palm oil or cocoa, get their hands dirty and explorer obstacles and opportunities. The point is: start committing, be realistic about your goals, stick with it through challenges, and be honest about your accomplishments.
Chhabra : What was it? challenge that you have seen in all the regions you source from?
Leson : Smallholder farmers in the Global South have become our main trading partners. They have the potential to feed much of the world, but their yields are generally poor. Many also use agrochemicals in ways that are destructive to the soil and possibly to the people around. Depending on the crop, the shift to a more resilient agro-ecological or regenerative organic farming model requires funding as well as in-depth training.ondie. Government extension services usually do not provide this. Thus, offering these services became one of our main challenges, but also a greater source of pleasure when things improved. Of course, finding trustworthy and knowledgeable local partners was a challenge for any project, but it is no different for any collaboration.
Chhabra : What is most exciting in the future?
Leson: In each of our projects and our partners, we are now expanding the range of products to be grown, processed and sold at favorable prices to brands and consumers of the North who wish. to find out where their ingredients come from and how they affect "the neighborhood". We are already far in this process, beyond the products that Dr. Bronner 's needs. We produce peanuts, a range of coconut products,medicinal herbs, cocoa and thrive in cassava flour, turmeric, ginger and fruit purees as these crops fit into a more persified regenerative mode of cultivation. skills, grow professionally and develop commercial relationships with brands engaged in the North. There is no better way to build North-South links. Dr. Bronner’s is not the only brand supporting this development. We have allies in the US and in the EU; the concept is very appealing and it is very exciting for our team to be an active and respected member of this movement.
Chhabra : Do you think all businesses should have a goal at heart, much like Dr. Bronner's?
Leson : I think they should - beyond just m aking money. For most people, working with a goal makes work more enjoyable and fulfilling. I am however realistic. Ofmany companies will struggle to have a credible goal for their people, but there is plenty of room even for companies that are not seen as visionaries. Be fair and supportive with your staff, be honest with your customers, support the community in which you work. I suspect that if only 10% of all small and medium businesses in the North were as conscious as Dr. Bronner's of working with purpose, a critical mass can be formed that provides more satisfying jobs, beneficial impacts on their business chains. 'supply and motivate others.