It’s not about tea and it never was

Many people are surprised when they hear that I’ve ventured into tea. ‘’I didn’t think you were the tea type (whatever that means)’’. Correct, I am not. I am the type that wants to dedicate my career to changing the value distribution of supply chains in the agricultural sector. Starting with the world’s most consumed beverage next to water, and major cash crop for many developing countries, seemed like a logical move.

I refuse to dunk another Lipton or Pickwick tea bag into my water, like ever. No, not (just) because of the fact that it is stale tea infused with aromas, but because by doing so, I would be supporting the system that has brought this teabag into existence. Having seen that system close by, I can no longer do so. I realized I was drinking a commoditized beverage all my life, one defined by stock exchanges and mass production, not by taste or quality.

We simply can no longer create companies that are detached from the origin of the products they sell, and we do not need to either. Integrating a fair supply chain into a company’s core business model has passed the stage of idealism, and has become a viable business option instead.

What it comes down to, is putting the ‘human’ (back) into the capitalist equation. Despite having lived through various crises of sorts as a society, it doesn’t seem that we’ve changed our behaviour at all.  Our way of thinking and doing business is so rusty and out-of-date that it is preventing progress, i.e. the tea sector having operated pretty much the same since colonial times. That’s why we need to transition, as fast as possible, towards a new, more integrated way of thinking and doing business.

Dutch company Philips, in the 90s, was known to take exquisite care of their factory employees, providing them with housing and healthcare and thereby creating a safety net beyond monthly salaries. Over time, companies slowly gave up the responsibility of maximizing the welfare of their employees, and we started to trust on governments to take care of our and society’s welfare instead (that didn’t go that well either..). It is time to move to a model where companies take responsibility for all stakeholders throughout their supply chains, from tea pluckers to accountants. Those stakeholders aren’t necessarily only of a human nature but include the entire ecosystem a company is part of and operating in.

The documentary ‘Rendement van geluk’ mentions an interesting concept: Minimum Viable Profit. Minimum Viable Profit (MVPr), as the phrase suggests, is the minimum profit that must be generated by a business to make the business viable and sustainable. By definition, the business ceases to be driven solely by profit maximization, removing pressure on operational cost reduction and efficiency. Social impact can, therefore, become one of a company’s core objectives, and should be included in the (financial) valuation of a business. This obviously doesn’t mean a business shouldn’t make a profit, as long-term viability is crucial, but profit maximization ceases to be the core objective. End-of-year (financial) reports will not be dominated by numbers anymore, but include impact analysis and social indicators.

FRANK about tea has a very long way to go to become an example of the new-age business model, but the ambition to do so certainly runs in our DNA.

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It is increasingly becoming difficult for large companies to make consumers believe in the good they do with just big words and shiny pictures. The moment a company needs expensive campaigns to show their CSR efforts, we should wonder why such big words and budgets are even needed in the first place, to explain something in fact very simple; is impact an inherent part of your core business: Yes or no.

That is why FRANK about tea is not (just) about offering better tea, it’s about turning an industrialized, anonymous cup into a human cup with a story. Because we can, and because we must, to ensure future tea production, for generations to come. And let’s be frank, a fair cup of tea with a story tastes a hell of a lot better too, trust me on that.

Love, Valerie

(Co-founder FRANK about tea)

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