Triodos Bank’s Executive Board provides a perspective on the wider world it operates in, its impact and activity in 2017 and its prospects for the future.
Färm is a cooperative of organic stores with a product offering which is as committed to sustainability as possible; supplied by organic Fairtrade, local and small family-owned companies, among others. But Färm is much more than just an organic store. It is a cooperative from producer to consumer that shortens the distance between the customer and the producer ensuring that both work together so that the food in our society cements relationships and so that everyone can feed themselves in the most sustainable and delicious way possible.
What challenge was the inspiration for your project?
Our vision is to make food a link between people once again. We want to use food to convey meaning in society, which in recent decades has lost its way slightly, because the agrifood industry has become a financial industry more than a real foundation for human society.
Basically, a store is a place where we can create this link. It’s a place where the products are a means of communication between the consumer, who also rediscovers meaning in their action, and the producer behind the product, who uses all their expertise and passion to transform it into a product that will be consumed with pleasure.
When we started in 2009, we were very aware that organic consumers were people who were extremely mindful and thoughtful about the entire universe, about any impact, environmental or human. They too were an inspiration to start our business.
What was your innovation that addresses this problem?
We have commercial buying procedures with producers as well as cooperatives. So we intended to develop these relationships to make Färm a tool to help build resilient industries by creating effective cooperative partnerships with producers. Agribio is one example. It is a cooperative of grain producers in Wallonia, who are also millers; they make their own flour on the farm. In 2016, we joined forces with them to create a 50/50 cooperative between them and us to set up a new bakery cooperative. This cooperative makes all the bread that we distribute in our Färm stores but also for any other stores that want to take advantage of this offer of 100% natural and organic bread, without any added products other than flour, water and salt.
The next step will be to establish other new production sectors in a way that has much more impact, for meat, for dairy products, grain products and market gardening products.
What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?
Working with Triodos Bank has enabled us to increase our number of sales outlets since it finances us with enthusiastic support for each of our requests. We have established a relationship of trust between our two organisations. And associating Färm with Triodos Bank also shows we are consistent in putting sustainability at the centre of everything we do. I therefore consider it to be a real partnership that we strengthen together.
What impact has your business had on the sector you work in?
It is really interesting that suppliers and producers increasingly want to build resilient and sustainable industries with us when they grow through our network. We agree much better contracts with them and are primarily concerned with developing specifications that are committed environmentally and socially, further increasing the social impact of organic and sustainable food.
A producer no longer wants to be just a tool for the mass production and industrialisation of food, they really want to become craftsmen again in terms of both the products themselves and the land. To be able to give these producers an opportunity to develop their business, their passion and their values because of the Färm cooperative and stores is extremely exciting.
What impact has your business had on the community?
There are two types of impact when a Färm store is opened. Firstly, the local customer base is very happy because we set up sales outlets on a human scale where the relationship with the shopkeeper is important, our staff are in the store and know our customers and their habits. So there is a much more family-like relationship reinstated with the shopkeeper.
In terms of employees, I generally think that people are also looking for meaning in their work today, regardless of the job. And that's really challenging. It's not always easy to connect to a reality and with meaning in a job that may not always seem easy on a daily basis, working the land, working in a store, or working in an office. Our ambition is that every day, each action at work is an act of passion connected to something stronger, larger and more cohesive between various stakeholders, whether colleagues or producers with who eventually become partners.
Through the Färm cooperative, our aim is to re-establish the link in society thanks simply to food which is the basis of our entire system.
How does Triodos Bank share your vision?
An interesting element and common ground between Triodos Bank and Färm, is the choice of products. Just as Triodos carefully selects its investment products and loans - the entities to which it provides loans, so does Färm select its products and producers. We do not work with just anyone and do not stock just any product. That is an example of genuine common ground between our two organisations.
To ensure that the products we sell in Färm stores are the most thoughtful and committed on the market, we have set up a Brand Committee, in which all employees are now invited to participate, to select the products and brands to be included in the Färm catalogue. The products comply with a very strategic set of criteria, defined in our product charter that translates our values into reality. These are criteria such as Fairtrade, organic, local products, direct products, company size, whether a product comes from a family-owned company or not, etc. All of these criteria are reflected in each of the brands that are listed in Färm stores by all employees in a participative and equal way.