Reflections of a CEO after a dangerous brand detour
If you're a fan of The Big Decision, you might remember the gut-wrenching choice made by Jennifer Williams and the rest of La Siembra Co-operative to cut their money-sucking new juice line. After spending $1.2 million and taking eighteen months to bring the line from concept to market, most of the fair trade drinks didn't make it out of an Ottawa warehouse. Customers who loved La Siembra's fair trade Camino chocolate weren't interested in Camino mango juice.
"If we hadn't cut it, we would have put the core of our business in jeopardy," says Jennifer Williams.
Halting their trade with small-scale mango and guava farmers was agonizing for the co-op, whose entire mission is to encourage fairness and decency in the global marketplace. But according to Jennifer, it had to be done.
"When it was a choice between compromising our existing core business and the current 39,000 family farmers we work with, or continuing on that trajectory, it didn't make sense to continue."
In 2009, when La Siembra came up with the juice category concept, their Camino chocolate brand was under pressure, experiencing tough competition from other fair trade chocolate goodies. The co-op did some market research and discovered that fair trade juices are a hot seller in Europe. But they neglected to fully consider their Canadian customers.
"As with most small entrepreneurial companies, we're always in a bit of a rush to get a product to market," says Jennifer. "We didn't take the time to do the consumer research adequately on the juices. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of headaches if we had done that better.
"I spent a decent amount of time beating myself up over it, but you can't not take risks in business."
Just finishing off a fresh fiscal year after the juice write-off, La Siembra has made a small profit and is projecting a bigger profit in the coming year. The co-op plans to stay within the sweets and treats arena for now — look for Camino chocolate Easter bunnies on store shelves soon. However, after fourteen years in the fair trade business, the juice experiment isn't preventing Jennifer from ruling out other products, or even other brands.
"It was a huge learning experience, especially as how it relates to how to launch a successful product moving forward."
By Tiffany Burns, YouInc Columnist