Peru's Fairtrasa Group reached an important milestone at this month’s Fruit Logistica, which fell exactly on the company’s tenth anniversary. Founder and CEO Patrick Struebi—who launched the company by shipping a container of organic, fairtrade avocados from Mexico to Rotterdam aboard the vessel Heidelberg Express on February 5, 2005— marked the occasion with members of his team, representing over 100 employees and 6,500 small-scale farmers across 15 companies in 12 countries.
Together they celebrated the first 10 years of a social enterprise that has grown from that single container of avocados into a global vertically-integrated group offering a large selection of premium quality organic and fairtrade fresh fruit.
“We started with the mission of helping small-scale farmers lift themselves out of poverty through good, innovative, and socially committed business,” Struebi said at Fruit Logistica, “and we've created a model that's been extremely impactful. I'm amazed at how far we've come since our first container 10 years ago, but I'm even more amazed by where we still will go.”
The first shipment in 2005 was, in fact, the very first container of fairtrade avocados ever in the world; while the company's second product, Soluna Wine, also launched in 2005, was the first fairtrade wine ever produced in Argentina. It is a pioneering spirit that the company has sought to maintain throughout its first decade with its innovative approach to business and farmer development. Among fairtrade food companies, Fairtrasa is the only one that partners with small-scale farmers at all stages of the development spectrum—undeveloped, semi-developed, and developed.
Its award-winning Three Tier Development Model gives farmers customised support and resources according to their specific needs, helping all of them develop into independent exporters and agro-entrepreneurs.
Struebi maintains that no for-profit company in the fruit space has such an inclusive, hands-on, farmer-centric approach to development. He claims Fairtrasa farmers have seen incomes rise by as much as 10 times, while yields, infrastructure, harvest and post-harvest skills, community investment, and overall independence have also improved.
“Small-scale farmer development is the heart of everything we do” he said. “Our business is about helping these farmers take their future into their own hands, while sharing a direct bond with customers who appreciate delicious, healthy, sustainably grown fruit, and who want to make an impact with their purchase.”
Another key to Fairtrasa's business-and-development model is its ownership of a vertically integrated supply chain with an increasingly global reach. In addition to many supply and farmer-development companies in Latin America, the group has its own import and sales companies in Europe the US, and since the beginning of this year also in China – an approach which it claims ensures fair deals and dependable markets for Fairtrasa's famers along with quality and traceability for its customers.
Struebi pointed out that the fundamental key to his company’s growth has been his team.
“From the beginning, I surrounded myself with fellow social entrepreneurs and leaders—passionate, mission-driven people who truly want to change the world. In every country that we've entered, I've found true leaders who share my mission and who have that unique Fairtrasa DNA,” he said.
Struebi himself has emerged as a leader in the broader social entrepreneurship movement, winning fellowships from Ashoka, Endeavor, and Yale University for his work with Fairtrasa, and being named four times Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, Univision, the abc* Foundation, and Visionaris. The World Economic Forum named him a New Champion in 2014.
“The recognition we've received is affirmation for our truly innovative and impactful social business model. We're succeeding in helping small-scale farmers transform their lives, and we're doing it through smart, sustainable business,” he said. “The combination makes us unique in the fruit industry, and it's the reason we're going to continue to grow. After a great first 10 years, it's still just the beginning.”