What drove me to start a business? Failure rates are high. So are the costs. The ever-present uncertainty is scary. Confronting these realities requires strong motivation, which is why many entrepreneurs refer to their decision as a calling.
I remember that feeling. I’ve felt it before.
I grew up in Kansas — in farm country. Both my parents grew up on farms. Agriculture is in my blood. Yet, after college, I took out a $3,000 loan on a credit card to move half-way across the country in the hope of working on Capitol Hill and becoming part of something important. I felt a strong desire to contribute to something big and meaningful. It was the second best bet I ever made.
Over the past 20 years, I have worked on issues ranging from farm policy and soil health to climate change to business sustainability. I have worked on these issues in the U.S. Senate, in the non-profit sector and for private companies.
These experiences left me with a wealth of knowledge and connected to a broad network of very smart people. They also gave me the opportunity to study the shift in consumer preferences around food in particular.
What has emerged is nothing short of a consumer engine generating solutions to some of society’s toughest problems — problems that I saw first-hand go unresolved for years in the public sector. Specifically, I’ve long been frustrated by both the lack of recognition and the lack of financial reward for farmers that go beyond being sustainable — and actually help restore our natural resources.
These are farmers that can actually mitigate climate change and restore soil health — even if they are not organic. They are referred to as “regenerative”. These are farmers like our Director of Agriculture, Justin Knopf pictured to the left.
And, over the past year as a consultant, I saw repeatedly how difficult it is using a conventional consulting model, to help emerging better-for-you companies. Their desire to grow in a balanced way and to work directly with farmers is high — but their budgets are not. So, despite facing one of the best market opportunities the food sector has ever seen, many of these companies won’t reach their full potential. And because they won’t, the farmers that can solve so many of our natural resource problems won’t either.
According to the 2015 Nielsen Consumer Survey, 66% of global respondents are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.
The 2017 Snipp CPG Industry trends report notes that from 2011 to 2015, the top 25 largest food and beverage companies drove only 3% of total category growth. The smallest 20,000 companies drove 49% of all category growth — growing at a rate of 6.3%.
But it is still a difficult, expensive and often lonely journey for businesses in this space — especially emerging ones, to grow. And, despite the fact that consumers continuously show a preference to know where their food comes from, and to support positive farming practices; it is almost impossible for farmers to work directly with food companies — and therefore, connect to the marketplace. Until now.
My new business is the Noble Growth Network. We provide access to professional business expertise from finance and business analysis, investor relations and organizational leadership, marketing and engagement, supply-chain, sustainability, regenerative agriculture, and legal. Network members are able to access our expertise through an annual membership. I’m so honored to be joined in this work by an all-star team of experts that make this network approach for small businesses possible.
We help companies that make better-for-you food deepen their value proposition. We help regenerative farmers to find value-added markets. We help consumers identify and engage with these balanced brands that are working with farmers to restore our natural resources.
We are the support system for noble business growth.
What does it mean to be noble? It’s about going above and beyond in pursuit of a moral purpose. What it is not is a series of individual traits that describe how something was made. Just because something is made with non-GMO or organic ingredients doesn't necessarily mean they treated their people or their community well. Noble Brands and Noble Farms are about balance and transparency -- first and foremost. It means using the power of business to both make people’s lives, and our planet, better than they were. It means going beyond sustainable — and toward regenerative!
There are four primary ways in which we add value to our members — and consumers.
We conduct an initial business analysis and establish triple bottom line measurement and management for the food companies and farmers in our network. The term “triple bottom line” is used to describe a management system which measures impacts and optimizes outcomes for people, the planet and profit.
Second, we create the means for food companies to be connected to farmers that are mitigating climate change and restoring natural resources like our soil and our oceans.
Third, we engage with consumers about these activities through live events, seminars, tours and social media.
Fourth, we advocate for Noble Brands in the marketplace and with investors.
By optimizing and balancing food companies and connecting them to farmers and consumers, we create supply circles in place of supply-chains.
We are the catalyst for a regenerative food system.
The transformational, scalable and unifying power of triple bottom line businesses regenerative farmers truly can make our world so much better. And in a time of deep division in our culture, they provide inspiring, positive examples of how business can solve problems.
I’m betting on them — and it’s the best bet I’ve ever made.
Follow Sara on Twitter: @SustainAg On Facebook: @NobleGrowth