Coconut water has been making big waves in America lately and we are all about it. The taste is great and the antioxidants are awesome for a hangover! But there is a sad trombone to this story too. Many countries are over sourcing their coconut trees and depleting the land, not to mention the many farmers who aren’t getting compensated properly for their product. That is why we are excited about Harmless Harvest which has been meticulous about setting up its business to benefit fair trade, the environment and our health. They are the first American coconut water to be Fair for Life– Social and Fair Trade certified.
Two French friends, Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud who met 15 years ago, launched the brand. Throughout business school they daydreamed about how they could change the world. After five years in the corporate grind they decided to quit and pursue their dream. Harmless Harvest was launched in 2009 out in San Francisco but they didn’t produce the first bottle until 2011. That is dedication.
We spoke to Justin to hear more about the process.
We are reading on your site all about the process but not about the taste.
Basically if your source is getting the best treatment, most likely you will have the best product. That is what we are doing.
You don’t advertise?
Without any advertising or promotions we are the best brand in Whole Foods! It has all been about the quality of the product for us.
Tell us more.
If you look at hierarchy in our consumer world, products serve the brand. There is a whole lifestyle ‘proposal’ and it creates a desire and the product gets them closer to that lifestyle. It is kind of a perverse notion. This came about in the 60s when marketing came before the actual product.
So tell us more about your actual product:
The Nam Hom coconut grows in a specific area of Thailand and the water has a very sweet, nutty taste. Needless to say we don’t want to tamper with this taste so we developed this high-pressure process to increase shelf life. But ours is perishable where others are not. And who wants to put something in their body that can sit on a shelf for years at a time?
We are putting the plant back as the focus, opposed to the branding. Coconut trees have been planted extensively since they are cash crops and have sometimes resulted in deforestation. With coconuts however there is already a large market for their water, meat and even fuel in Asia. For any food, we should work with what is naturally preexisting right? We work with coconut farmers who have been in business for some time and with the fair trade practices in use, we know they are getting paid what they deserve.
Your business plan is pretty cool.
We had to build our factory from scratch near the farms in Thailand so we could bottle from the source. Very few companies can actually start like that. Our whole idea was to have the entire system in place before we sold the first bottle. Whole Foods has been working with us since the early days and gave us the freedom to take our time and fine tune our product. We started out as two guys and now we have a company of over 200.
The company has set up a subsidiary in Thailand to ensure excellent working conditions at the factory. We’re working on creating funds for health and education-related improvements in Thailand.
How did you decide to partner with Fair for Life?
That decision was not a quick one. Committing to a long-term partnership with a fair trade certifier is pivotal to verifying our ecosystem-based business model. From the beginning, Harmless Harvest looked to companies respected for their environmental and social mindfulness, such as Whole Foods Market, and that led to a partnership with Fair for Life to develop a full-scale social and environmental program.
Tell us about your newest products:
Just in time for the holidays the brand has rolled out Dark Cacao and Cinnamon and Clove waters. Using Trinitario Cacao beans sourced from a fair trade farm in the Dominican Republic, these beans boast the highest concentration of flavonoids in any known food. There are also plenty of antioxidants and polyphenols in the mix to keep you going through the holiday party season.
As for the Cinnamon & Clove, we have sourced organic Korintje Cinnamon and Clove from their native Maluku Islands in Indonesia. Known for their warming and soothing properties.