FoodGrads Podcast Ep 31: Disrupting the banana industry through fairtrade and social impact with Kim Chackal, Director of Sales & Marketing at Equifruit, Inc.

On episode 31 we interviewed Kim Chackal, Director of Sales & Marketing at Equifruit. Equifruit is (Un)officially the most “extra” Fairtrade-certified banana brand out there. They are Fairtrade fruit importer and marketer that makes social impact as appetizing as pop culture. Stay tuned for their worldwide Fairtrade banana domination with their mission to go global.

In this episode Kim gave the low down Equifruit ‘s and the story of how they came to. Veronica and Kim dived into what exactly fair trade is and why conventional banana’s really shouldn’t be the price that they are. But (spoiler) purchasing fairtrade banana’s won’t actually break your bank. A lot of the episode was spent talking about Equifruit’s unique approach to marketing and how selling produce is different is than processed goods. Kim also talked about her career and what she does at Equfruit and how being interesting in psychology helps her with her job. The episode was rounded out by Kim teaching us more about what SheEO and how they are supporting women-led ventures.

Show Notes

[00:02:04] Can you tell me more about what you do and where you work?

  • Kim is the director of sales and marketing for Equifruit which a banana brand based in Canada and they import and market fair trade bananas. Currently, Equifruit only distributes in Canada, but they have their sights set on global fair trade banana domination. They are trying to disrupt the entire banana industry
  • Farmers in the banana industry are not paid well. Equifruit has a 100% commitment to fair trade sourcing.
  • Fair trade Canada which is apart of the fair trade international system.

[00:03:19] How was Equifruit formed?

  • The company was founded in 2006 in Quebec, by a mother and daughter who saw a gap in the market for ethically sourced bananas. They started a relationship with a co-op of small producers in Peru, and then they spent an entire year securing customers in Quebec to buy the fruit
  • The fair trade price is really not that much more. They spent the next several years slowly developing the market in Quebec and by 2013, but mom was ready to retire. Their daughter was going back to school. And so the company switched hands and Jenny Coleman, who is also here in Montreal. She’s now the president and owner of Equifruit. and the company came with one other employee who handled the logistic.
  • Equifruit is being trialed at Costco’s in the GTA

[00:06:52]  What is fair trade?

  • Business within an ethical framework.
  • Fair trade. In two words, business within an ethical framework, making sure that there is value along the supply chain on both ends, making sure that whoever’s harvesting this crop or whatever commodity you’re trading is being treated well paid well etc.
  • Equifruit, we have a 100% brand promise. Meaning that 100% of the fruit that we import is fair trade certified them. So our certification is with fair trade Canada, and that’s fair trade in one word.
  • Fairtrade one word is making sure that the prices, that equity fruit case, the farmers for the bananas at that minimum price that we have to respect, it reflects the cost of sustainable production.
  • Farmers are often subject to just take whatever the market will give them and it’s often well below the cost of sustainable production. So Equifruit is respecting these minimum prices, which are established between farmers and fair trade international. And these minimum prices have to be respected on a year long contract, which as you can imagine, also offers a lot of stability to the farmer.
  • In the case of Equifruit for every case that they import they also have to pay one US dollar to the farms in fair trade, social premium. And this $1 has to be reinvested in projects that have social, environmental and economic impact.
  • The farmers decide where this money goes
  • On the side of the growers, there are a number of standards that have to be respected because our growers are also certified by. They have to respect things like no forced child labor, making sure that there’s equality between men and women. There is a lot of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation in farming.

[00:12:57] Kim and Veronica start talking about banana marketing

  • Major banana companies started their business in the late 1800s and spent a number of decades marketing and teaching consumers about what bananas are, how to use it and what to do with it.
  • Old banana ads from the fifties and sixties.
  • Equifruit is trying to drive awareness and sales on why the price of banana’s shouldn’t be so low.

[00:15:21] Could you tell me more about your role as Director of Sales & Marketing?

  • Develop new customers for the Equifruit banana program. Dealing with both distributors who we sell bananas and retailers directly.
  • On the marketing side, my job is to make the brand promise of 100%  fairtrade front and center so that we capture the attention of people and they see us as an ethical.
  • Banana Republic

[00:17:09] Where did the idea for Equifruit’s unique marketing approach come from?

  • The brand has changed over time and had a different name but at the beginning of COVID they did a full rebranding strategy. They changed all their packaging, cases and bands on stickers. They used the familiar fairtrade brand approach but were only capturing the attention of like the real diehard niche, niche consumers but wanted to make it more accessible.
  • They decided to change up the band you get on bananas with something that would stop people in their tracks with impossible messages on them like “the only banana on 5g or the only banana to binge-watch”
  • The side of our case says “for the most extra fair treatment out of brand out there” , we just know that people find. Like w they, they just find it more fun to interact with a brand that will make them laugh and smile. And then at the same time, of course, what we’re trying to teach you about is fair trade and the importance of paying banana farmers fairly and paying a little bit more at the cash so that you have that equity along the supply chain.
  • Equifruit’s product locator
  • Equifruit is now available through Good Food meal kit

[00:23:13] Veronica and Kim talking about the movie stickers on conventional bananas the price of bananas

  • It’s just a way to promote movies that are coming up and the cost to the banana brand is pretty much just putting the sticker on the packaging.
  • We have the means to pay for the bananas and retailers who still believe that consumers won’t pay for ethically sources produce should rethink that strategy because Aqua fruit has proven over and over again.

[00:25:35] How is selling produce or buying it different than regular CPG brands like peanut butter for example?

  • Kim hasn’t worked in the CPG space but CPG, you have to pay to have your product on the shelf.  You’re renting space on the shelf and if your product doesn’t perform you’re out of there
  • With produce it is a highly perishable product, Bananas come into Quebec or Ontario and then have to be rushed them directly to the distributor or to the retailer who has their own ripening facility. The bananas are then right then over the next three to five days and then shipped up to the stores. And by the time they hit the shelf there they have like five to seven days to sell them tops.
  • In terms of sales on bananas is that it’s not like apples or tomatoes where you might have 25 different varieties of apples in a store. Kim is pitching to remove the banana offering and replace it with Equifruit fair trade but at a higher price point. You know, we can’t tell them what price point to Lista, but obviously. If retailors don’t want lose their margin they have to pass that price increase to the consumer.
  • However, the partnerships that they have had always ended up being a positive experience. Now that they’re at a higher price point, their margins could potentially be higher, so they could actually be having higher sales. And then the farmer at the beginning of the supply chain is paid well, and then Equifruit as a broker can come in and actually produce these sustainability reports.

[00:30:27] In terms of approaching retailers for sales has there been something that has been difficult for you? Has there been a skill that you’ve had to work out over time?

  • Kim has working in sales since she was 17 years old. She started in detail than moved to door to door sales which is just rejection 90% of the day. This built up a thick skin, to stay strong and self-motivate.
  • As humans we can sense when somebody really doesn’t feel confident and it comes through in our nonverbal communication. Study your own behaviour.
  • Kim suggests anybody that’s listening and curious about sales get a a door to door job, it could be tough, but it could be also the best thing that ever happened to you.
  • Kim got her degree at in psychology at Concordia but had no intention to pursue psychology afterwards. Then she went back to marketing and sales and then I took a year off and I went to culinary school because I love food and I love cooking and I wasn’t excellent at it. And I thought, you know what? It’s a great life skill.
  • People who are in college or university, you feel this enormous pressure to make like these huge life decisions in your early twenties. And my suggestion is like, go with the flow, learn from every experience and don’t feel like you have to come equipped with all of the answers.
  • Approach each opportunity with a posture of humility and ask for help and ask for guidance. I think that I think it’s human too, to want to help other people.
  • If you admire somebody because they’re strong, they have certain skillset that you admire, that something that you’d like to develop, then, you know, ask them for, out for lunch or ask them for a coffee.

[00:38:06] Can you tell me more about sheEO?

  • Kim is a sheEO activator and represents Equifruit as an activator
  • It is an organization based in Toronto and it offers interest free loans to women led ventures. It means that you’re committed to paying a certain amount every year. A good chunk of which goes to funding. These women led ventures, which tend to have almost a 100% loan repayment rate. So they’re,  funding different ventures across the globe.
  • It is just a terrific opportunity for networking, getting to know other strong women and learning about all these amazing projects that are being funded by women and that are being led by women.
  • Venture capitalists and women, women founded projects less than 2% of the venture capitalist funding goes towards women. So there’s a major gap in the market
  •  Vicki Saunders who founded sheEO she just said forget it we are just gonna make it happen. We’re gonna, we’re going to get women across the globe. All. I’ll you know, worked up about, funding women, lead ventures, and, , as a group, we’re gonna fund them ourselves. And so there are like millions of dollars because of this network of women globally. And it continues to grow this fund from year to year and every month or every week, even you can be as involved as you want.

[00:44:04] Where can you find Equifruit?

  • Instagram
  •  Facebook
  • LinkedIn

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