Some of the key questions people (whether customers or friends) ask us are “why go organic?” and “why bother with Fairtrade?”
To be honest – when we started out, it was not something that we thought through in any great detail, rather it was simply an expression of our life philosophy. As people, we simply believe in being decent, fair and reasonable and having respect for people, nature and the environment.
From this simple way of looking at the world, many things follow on.
Steenbergs’ products are as natural as we can get them with the core 95%+ of our products being certified organic. We don’t add manufactured chemicals to our products (from organic spices through to organic teas) as we don’t like using things that either impact the flavour of a product (however slightly) or have an unknown impact on our health (however small). I remember going to the Food Ingredients show in London in 2008. I tried a lemon-flavoured drink at the stall and whatever was in it went straight to my head; I didn’t know where I was and had to be held up to stop myself keeling over. Not a happy experience.
There are downsides to this though – lots of paperwork, our products can cake up as we don’t add free-flow chemicals to the mixes, and our flavours can be more subtle (many chai teas for example have “natural flavourings” in them rather than just the spices). However, we feel that these downsides are worth living with.
It also means that we try to be ethical in everything we do. We pay our staff a reasonable level of pay (more than us currently) and try to buy from certified Fairtrade sources for as many of our products as possible. In fact, we were one of the first Fairtrade businesses for spices in the world, well before any of the more well-known names in spices (such as McCormick/Schwartz, Bart Spices, British Pepper & Spice or Seasoned Pioneers).
Steenbergs brought the first Fairtrade spices into the UK; it was Steenbergs that launched the first Fairtrade spices onto the UK retail and wholesale market; it was Steenbergs that developed the first Fairtrade vanilla extract, developing it for inclusion in Divine and Co-op Fairtrade chocolates. These things cannot be taken away from us and we are rightly proud of these milestones.
Once again, we suffer the extra hassle of being pioneers in the field of Fairtrade spices, because it’s what we believe and is fundamental to the brand values that we are trying to nurture.
Sometimes we question whether it’s worth the effort.
It costs us more to run our business than our competitors – we use green energy, green telecoms, green ISPs etc.
We also spend a lot of time, trouble and heartache following through on our principles, but then it’s our competitors (who are mainly non-organic/conventional in the way they work) that get their Fairtrade and organic products onto the shelves of shops.
But we will continue to stay true to who we are. Why? Because we believe it is the right way to run our business. It may take us longer to get there (wherever there is), but so be it.