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Mathieu Senard and Edouard Rollet, Founders of Alter Eco (INTERVIEW)

Fair Trade Food Importers

— April 9, 2012 — Social Good
If you shop at stores like Whole Foods you've probably seen Alter Eco products (like chocolate, quinoa and rice) on the shelves. The certified B-Corp is a triple bottom line company dedicated to being both environmentally-conscious and empowering agricultural communities through fair trade.

We wanted to learn more about the conscious company as well as the social entrepreneurs behind it, so we caught up with Alter Eco founders, Mathieu Senard and Edouard Rollet. In the interview below they tell where the idea for the business came from, how they decided to join this sector, and how the Burning Man festival has helped spark their creativity for 10 years!

4 Questions With Mathieu Senard and Edouard Rollet, Founders of Alter Eco

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
Alter Eco was started by a group of friends who share a passion for economic and social justice and food. From the start, their mission was to work with small-scale farms in the developing world. The initial spark came from an article in a Catholic Services magazine that described a new economic model in which the price paid to small-scale producers in developing world for their crop was an important part of the trading relationship. Small-scale farmers produce excellent quality products and deserve a just and equitable price for their crop, this is the basis of fair trade.

No matter the type of food -- red, white or rainbow quinoa from Bolivia, heirloom Jasmine rice from Thailand, Mascobado cane sugar from the Philippines or dark chocolate bars made with organic cacao from Ecuador and Peru -- each has distinct flavors that result from native soils, climate and farming techniques. Our business model combines high quality foods with sustainable development that nurtures small growers and the environment.

2. How did you decide to join this sector?
We were passionate about food and about social justice, went to business school and at the same time had our first experiences working in NGOs in developing countries. Alter Eco was at the intersection of all of this, a natural path for both founders.

3. How do you get your inspiration?
Our number one inspiration comes from the small-scale farmers we buy from in places like Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, the Philippines and Thailand. They are under-privileged and work in harsh conditions in remote areas of the world. Some of them are among the poorest people on this planet, yet they have a dignity and strength that is admirable. As westerners that had the chance to grow up in Europe and in the US, we have learned humility at their contact, and the will to spend our lives trying to create a better world that will eradicate poverty.

Other sources of inspiration are authors like David Korten ("How corporations rule the world") who describes how broken and unjust the current economic system is, and describes how to fix it in the favor of the entirety of humanity and the planet.

4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
Travelling to the coops is really our number one boost, how we recharge our energy and creativity. We also have found tremendous inspiration in the desert of Nevada, where both founders have been attending the Burning Man festival for the past 10 years. The gift economy, amazing art and sense of community has been a powerful driving force in our lives.