ReGen Brands Recap #73

Allie O'Brien @ Harmless Harvest

Why Regenerative Is The Right Thing To Do AND Better For Business

On this episode, Anthony interviews Allie O’Brien, Vice President of Marketing at Harmless Harvest. Harmless Harvest is supporting regenerative agriculture with its Regenerative Organic Certified® coconut supply chain for their coconut water, smoothie and yogurt products. Harmless Harvest can be found online and in retail stores throughout the United States. 


Disrupting Supply Chains Through Conscious Capitalism

Harmless Harvest was created out of founders Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud’s journey to disrupt a supply chain through conscious capitalism. While traveling in Brazil and drinking fresh coconut water, they realized there was an opportunity to create better-tasting packaged coconut products while supporting sustainable farming. The pair traveled the world in search of the best-tasting coconuts and landed on the nom ham coconut grown in Thailand, known for its fragrance and sweet taste.

To preserve the freshness of the coconut juice, Harmless Harvest developed a unique processing method where the coconut water is microfiltered rather than thermally pasteurized or acidified to sterilize for consumption. This process is much more delicate, allowing for the natural flavors and antioxidants to be preserved in the coconut water. The other result is a natural pink color, making Harmless Harvest’s coconut water easy to recognize on the shelf - it’s the pink one!

Harmless Harvest has grown exponentially since its launch fifteen years ago. The brand has over 30 SKUs including coconut water, flavored coconut water, sparkling coconut water, coconut yogurt, and coconut-based fruit smoothies. 

“Our founders about fifteen years ago set out not to create the best tasting coconut water, but to disrupt a supply chain and disrupt a business model through conscious capitalism. So that was the ultimate goal that they had set out with, and they were scouring the world for products, and supply chains that they could do that to.” - Allie


From ReCAP to ROC

From its inception, Harmless Harvest aimed to not only source delicious-tasting coconuts, but to build demand for more sustainable farming that also economically benefited coconut farmers. The brand quickly found out that sourcing organic coconuts alone would not achieve this goal. Chinese importers’ willingness to pay a premium for conventional nam hom coconuts weakens the incentive for Thai farmers to produce organic and obtain certification. Also, coconut farming in Thailand is susceptible to cyclical droughts, which means farmers need to apply additional practices outside of what is required for organic in order to become more climate resilient. 

“How can we touch our farms in a climate-positive way that makes them more resilient to climate change and therefore creates this financial incentive? At the end of the day, our farmers are going to need this financial incentive to opt in when the market structures aren't necessarily there otherwise. And so our goal and where we initially launched with ReCAP was: what does a regenerative model for coconut farming look like? How can we entice farmers to adopt that? Let's go and study the various regenerative practices, see which ones have the best financial impact, whether that be through greater yields or additional revenue streams…that was the ultimate goal.” - Allie

With some financial support from Danone’s Ecosystem Fund, Harmless Harvest started its Regenerative Agriculture Coconuts Program (ReCAP) to identify the most impactful regenerative practices for coconut farming and support farmers to adopt these practices. The program started with 10 farmers and has since scaled to 350. Through testing, data tracking, and analysis, the Harmless Harvest team has found that composting, cover cropping and intercropping drive the highest collective impact at the intersection  of soil health, climate resilience, ecosystem benefits, and financial return for the farmer. 

When analyzing their GHG emissions, Harmless Harvest found that 46 percent of their emissions were coming from the farms they sourced from, with much of that generated from the decomposition of palm fronds and coconut husks on the farm. To reduce emissions while improving yields and income, Harmless Harvest supported farmers to use production waste to create on-farm compost, and to integrate fish into the water-filled canals between the palm trees. The fish eat the organic material in the waterways and farmers can sell the fish for additional income. The ReCAP program has published its results on the program webpage, along with regenerative agriculture training manuals in English and Thai so that these methods can be replicated with nom ham coconut farmers across Thailand. 

After identifying and implementing regenerative agriculture practices through the ReCAP program, Harmless Harvest turned its attention to supporting its supplier farms to become Regenerative Organic Certified®. Overall, Harmless Harvest was able to be certified at the Bronze level, though the farmers they work with are already meeting gold standards in some areas. By 2030, Harmless Harvest aims to source 100 percent of its coconuts from farms practicing regenerative agriculture. While the brand is meeting thatgoal today, it must continue to work hard to support more farmers to implement regenerative practices as the brand significantly grows its revenue and coconut needs every year. 

One of the things I'm most proud of too, is that we don't have to do it, but we are. Everything that we do from a mission standpoint… there's no one saying you have to do this or you won't be on the shelf. But we've made huge investments and huge commitments, whether it's in our packaging format, whether it's in our claims and certification, whether it's our farming practices. I mean, millions and millions of dollars of investment because it's the right thing to do. And we believe in it. And we also believe that business can be better for it, and I think we’ve proven that.” - Allie


Bringing Regen To Their Bottles

When it comes to product claims, Harmless Harvest is currently placing the ROC label on most SKUs in their lineup of coconut water products. Like many other regenerative brands, it becomes much more difficult to meet the 95 percent certified ingredient threshold required to place the ROC label on multi-ingredient products. So while all of their products contain ROC-certified coconuts, only the coconut waters are currently labeled as ROC. 

While regenerative certification is important, it has yet to hit top priority for package claims. 

Harmless Harvest has kept the more well-known USDA Organic and Fair for Life certifications on the front of pack. Rather than relying on a certification label alone, Harmless uses the side panel to describe what regenerative agriculture means and why it’s important. They also include a QR code linking to the mission page of their website so consumers can learn more. 

“We just didn't ultimately feel like we could trade off the space on the front of the pack yet for that claim. Regenerative organic is not as well known as regular organic. We felt it was important to keep that certification on there. We're Fair for Life certified, which we are really proud of, and that's important to have on front of the pack.” - Allie


Upleveling Regenerative Consumer Education

In a recent survey of premium functional beverage consumers, Harmless Harvest found that only 11 percent were aware of the term ‘regenerative organic.’ While Harmless is using its limited packaging real estate to educate consumers, Allie hopes that moving forward, other industry actors will use their resources to help brands educate consumers and to create more awareness and demand for regenerative products. . As a  brand, Harmless Harvest must first work on general brand awareness and educating consumers on its overall product line. This fundamental education on what their products are and why they’re better than other options in the category will always come before educating consumers on why regenerative coconut production is important. For retailers specifically, she would like to see more point-of-sale marketing and promotion focused on regenerative, whether it is brand-specific or for regenerative products overall. 

“My hope is that we as brands can help educate consumers and do some of that heavy lifting, but that also that other organizations are there along the journey with us and helping create consumer pull for regenerative products because we're small.” - Allie

Allie also asserts that what is most important at the end of the day is that Harmless Harvest continues to grow. Since it runs a business model designed to support regenerative agriculture and farmer livelihoods, the more Harmless Harvest grows and sources more coconuts, the more it can support its mission.

“I hope regenerative becomes more of the reason that consumers choose Harmless, but at the end of the day, we want to grow and make the business as big as possible because it's going to support these practices. And if those practices then become a greater reason for why consumers are choosing Harmless, all the better. The more we can sell, the more good we can do. We’re constantly plowing that back into the business and trying to achieve that circularity, and ultimately live into that conscious capitalism mission that our founders had 15 years ago.” - Allie


50% Market Share 4 Regen

In addition to greater CPG ecosystem support for consumer education on regenerative agriculture, Allie also thinks the sector needs consumers to vote with their wallets, which can be supported by more clarity and unification within regenerative product certification. She is also curious to learn more about how government policy can support the regenerative transition, not only for farm production in the US, but also for products that are grown outside of the US but in high demand from our consumers. 

“I hope that at a minimum, everyone is living this, breathing this, and buying this because that's going to create the pull from retailers for more brands to adopt these practices because they're going to see them performing better. Another way to drive those velocities on brands like this is seeing some consolidation and some sort of anointing of what the certifying body is and what that certifying [regenerative] seal is, because multiple is only going to create confusion with consumers.” - Allie


This ReGen Recap was written by Katey Finnegan

The illustrations were created by Stacey Shaller

You can check out the full episode with Allie O'Brien @ Harmless Harvest HERE

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