The connection between food security, food production and the climate crisis has become crystal clear. We know food systems are both major contributors to and impacted by climate change, and as the world’s population rises, if we are to meet our global climate goals, our need for more sustainable, regenerative and holistic farming and sourcing practices will need to increase too. Essentially, we need to turn back the clock on how we grow, farm and consume food if we are going to be able to feed the future.
Agriculture accounts for around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a significant contributor to climate change. But emissions are just one part of the problem. To unlock the potential for our world to feed the rapidly rising population, let alone those who currently live here, there has to be a dramatic shift in the way we eat, from farm to table and back again.
March is B Corp Month, and the theme this year is “Go Beyond” and I had the opportunity to sit down with Brad Charron, the CEO of plant-based B Corp brand ALOHA, to discuss how he is doing his part to go beyond. His newest launch, the Kona Bar, demonstrates a few ways brands, no matter how large or small, can go beyond, with ingredient sourcing, meaningful partnerships, and first-to-market innovations that broadcast potentially game changing products to a broader audience.
Among the things we discussed is the potential of a new ingredient innovation from the climate resilient Pongamia tree, featured for the first time in a food product, the Kona Bar, to be part of the solution. We also delve into the critical importance of brands, people, and communities working together to make a bigger impact, why Hawaiʻi holds the key to what sustainable farming should look like in practice, and why ALOHA is committed to becoming Climate Neutral Certified in 2023. Below is a lightly edited version of our discussion.
Christopher Marquis: Why is this product launch significant for the brand?
Brad Charron: Brands launch new products or categories for myriad reasons. Sometimes it’s a new flavor combination that seems to have consumer excitement or interest, especially if it’s sourced from your most passionate fans. Other times, it’s a solid business reason to add new dimensionality to your product offering, to create a narrative of differentiation in a cluttered competitive set. In this case, the idea for this bar originated from BOTH those reasons…but with one really important addition…the ALOHA Kona Bar originated directly from a place, a source, a community. It all came about from a snap decision to grab a $39 Hawaiian airline flight from O’ahu to Hawai’i island. I rented a seriously beat-up Hyundai off Turo and I was cruising for a couple days up and down the sides of volcanoes on a journey of discovery, looking to find special ingredients directly from the source to make a product truly new to the world.
So what did I find? I started with 100% Kona-grown coffee from Greenwell Farms, a fifth-generation family farm committed to regenerative practices that nurture the health of the land. Even with a volcanic ash layer lingering on the horizon, this farm is breathtaking in every possible way. Secondly, our new bar has macadamia nuts from Hāmākua Nut Company, a tree farm hanging onto the southern volcanic slopes north of Pahala that dries their nuts quite sustainably, converting energy through clean burning macadamia nut shells into steam and utilizing hydroelectric power from water running off Mauna Loa. And then there’s Terviva, a sustainable orchard in Hale‘iwa, on O‘ahu’s North Shore. After more than a decade of innovation, Terviva has discovered a way to harvest and transform pongamia, a subtropical legume tree capable of revitalizing under-used agricultural lands, into a first-of-its-kind ingredient innovation, Ponova™ oil. Just like all products ALOHA makes, this new creation lives up to the macronutrient standards our brand loyalists expect from us while delivering great texture and taste. No shortcuts. Never. Ever.
This is our first “Special Edition” bar. That’s not marketing-speak or some clever nomenclature. This bar is seriously special for many reasons. Firstly, it underscores our holistic approach to food while allowing us to generate awareness for the sustainable and regenerative farming practices in Hawaiʻi and the amazing people driving them. Secondly, significant proceeds from this product’s sales support the Hawaiian community, namely Kupu, a long-time ALOHA partner and nonprofit organization investing in Hawaiʻi’s youth through land stewardship and hands-on education. Lastly, this product allows us to advocate for and support our company mission, allowing us to “walk the talk”, to do what we do best; make plant-based food that tastes great, is better for you, and better for the world. As you remember, ALOHA is an employee-owned and operated company and, as a team, we’re committed to finding new and innovative ways to use our small business as a force for good while partnering with others to make a bigger impact through delicious and nutritious food.
Marquis: What is Ponova™ Oil and why did you decide to include it in the bar?
Charron: Ponova™ oil is a premium oil made from pongamia “super-trees.” Developed by Terviva, an innovative food and agriculture company, Ponova™ is a game-changer in the world of plant-based oils and regenerative farming. We are immensely proud to have incorporated this ingredient innovation into our Kona Bar.
The process of making Ponova™ oil involves expeller pressing and lightly refining the beans of pongamia trees. The result is an oil that is neutral in flavor with a buttery mouthfeel that improves texture in food.
Pongamia trees are climate-resilient trees that revitalize the land and communities where they’re grown. Historically used for reforestation in Asia, they sequester carbon while improving soil health and water quality. As they naturally resist pests and require minimal water, they are highly resilient, low maintenance, and environmentally friendly. For thousands of years, the oil has been used in Ayurvedic medicine and skincare. But until now, it had not been used in food. After more than a decade of innovation, Terviva has unlocked its potential as a climate-friendly and nutritious food ingredient that can help to sustainably feed the world’s rising population. We hope our use of this “super oil” inspires others to follow suit, making Ponova™ oil a go-to ingredient for health- and sustainability-minded brands across the globe.
Marquis: Why did you pick Kupu as your give-back partner?
Charron: Stemming from the creation of the company, ALOHA has a local advisory board of native Hawaiians who help us understand and live the aloha spirit to the best of our ability. To be an ambassador to the spirit, we consciously think and act according to the principles of aloha. Kupu, well-known on O‘ahu, certainly, is Hawaiʻi’s leading youth-focused conservation non-profit. They have over a dozen programs aimed at empowering and fostering the next generation of environmental and cultural stewards, all while giving back to the land and community.
Over the course of the nearly 3 years we’ve been working with them, I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the impact Kupu’s program has on local communities, and met many young adults who have benefited from their free learning, service and work programs. In a recent study, Kupu was estimated to have contributed more than $150M in positive socioeconomic impact for Hawai’i. Anyone who purchases an ALOHA bar should feel proud that they are investing in future leaders of this community and its wide-reaching impact in the islands and onto the mainland.
Marquis: What is different about farming practices on Hawaiʻi vs. the mainland?
Charron: Hawaiʻi is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, with 10 out of the world’s 14 microclimates, the greatest concentration in one small area on earth. Sustainability and what we now call “regenerative agriculture,” is innate within Hawaiian culture. Through my long-standing relationship with Hawaiʻi and in listening attentively to our local ALOHA Advisory Council, I’ve witnessed this deep connection between the people of Hawaiʻi and the land itself. There is a well-articulated understanding that the community’s well-being depends on how well the land is cared for; it’s a reciprocal relationship embedded deep within Hawaiian culture.
If you want to get deep into the science, I honestly don’t feel qualified to answer. But I can say this; advocates for farming in Hawai’i are clear that, ecologically, it is the perfect place for growing food. From the volcanic soil, consistent rainwater and sunshine, to the surrounding wind and ocean supporting renewable energy, Hawai’i is in a unique position to show the world what’s possible when we produce food in a way that is regenerative instead of being extractive. We hope that some of these conversations can shine a light on that.
Marquis: What made you want to commit to becoming Climate Neutral Certified this year?
Charron: My ambition is always to “be on the front foot.” That harkens back to my athletic training in hockey (FYI – you get speed from pushing forward on your toes when you cut into the ice), but is a great progressive business lesson. I want to ensure the company is thinking about how to be “better” holistically each and every day. So why add “climate” to the list of ambitions? Simply said, we believe that it’s the right thing to do. Having a credible and actionable climate plan will soon become non-negotiable for consumer-oriented businesses and we want to be near the forefront of that. In partnering with Climate Neutral, authentic experts on the subject, we’ll be able to better measure our environmental impact and, even though we are a small company, build out a plan to do our part. I’m not aware of any other plant-based protein brand that has obtained this certification to date but I certainly hope and expect that we won’t be alone for long. The more we, in the broader food community, take action on climate, the better all of us will become.
Marquis: Why did you choose Thrive Market as your launch partner?
Charron: ALOHA is currently the fastest growing and second largest brand at Thrive Market (in the bar category). The fact that we are bigger than all the largest CPG brands at Thrive is so crazy to think about. I remember days in the past, all too well, begging for audiences with retailers. let alone hoping we would become category leaders in such a short period of time. Reflecting on this, and why Thrive is a perfect partner in particular, I think a lot of our brand success on Thrive can be attributed to the massive overlap of values that the two companies share. Thrive’s unique business model allows customers to not only shop brands by product type or flavor, for example, but also distinguish by values, by how a company operates, what it stands for (or against). Thrive understands better than most that their shoppers want to support companies that support the causes they believe in. ALOHA does just that.
Lastly, and writing this as we enter March’s B-Corp impact month, Thrive is a fellow B Corp who has also made a commitment to becoming Climate Neutral this year. They have a founder-led team, mission-driven culture, and purpose-built approach. They want to lead a broad-based shift in consumer lifestyle towards health and wellness, environmental sustainability, and social impact. We can definitely get on board with that.