On this episode, we have Will Burke who is the Founder and CEO at Sol Simple.
Sol Simple is supporting regenerative agriculture with its Regenerative Organic Certified® dried tropical fruit products and broader ecosystem of enterprises working with 1,200 smallholder farmers in Nicaragua.
In this episode, we learn about Will’s journey from educator to entrepreneur and why he had to build multiple businesses and tons of infrastructure to support the commercialization activities of his farmer partners.
🎒 Will’s transition from educator to entrepreneur
🥭 How his wife inspired their focus on tropical fruit
🤩 Connecting 1,200 smallholder farmers to a better market
☀️ Investing in solar drying tech for higher quality & lower emissions
🔥 Why they needed to build a consumer-facing brand
👏 Creating an agronomic consulting and farmer financing company
💫 Building a processing facility and a B2B ingredient company
🌴 Helping farmers diversify through regenerative agroforestry systems
🍌 Becoming the 1st Regenerative Organic Certified® fruit supply chain
💰 Building better incentives for regen through economics and policy
ReGen Brands Recap #48 - Connecting 1,200 Smallholder Farmers To A Better Market - (RECAP LINK)
Disclaimer: This transcript was generated with AI and is not 100% accurate.
Kyle Krull - 00:00:15
Welcome to The ReGen Brands Podcast. This is a place for consumers, operators and investors to learn about the consumer brands, supporting regenerative agriculture and how they're changing the world. This is your host, Kyle, joined by my co-host ac who's going to take us into the episode.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:00:34
On this episode, we have Will Burke who is the founder and CEO at Sol Simple. Sol Simple is supporting regenerative agriculture with its regenerative organic certified, dried tropical fruit products and its broader ecosystem of enterprises working with 1200 smallholder farmers in Nicaragua. In this episode, we learned about Will's journey from educator to entrepreneur and why he had to build multiple businesses and tons of infrastructure to support the commercialization activities of his farmer partners. This is such an amazing story of systems thinking, true farmer partnership, poverty, alleviation and social development through business. Ah It was so cool to hear it from. Will we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Let's dive in what's up everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The ReGen Brands Podcast. Super excited today I have our friend Will from Soul Simple with us. So welcome. Will.
Will Burke - 00:01:30
Thank you. Thanks. Ac. Hi Kyle, how are you guys doing?
Kyle Krull - 00:01:34
We do well, man, you know, ac and I are uh living in first world country lives right now. Uh You're coming to us, live from Nicaragua, uh where there's no ac it's hot doors are open, dogs are barking. So setting the expectation for our listeners that this is coming from an authentic place of regeneration. Um So here we are. Um, so for those who are not familiar with soul, simple, well, give us a quick lay of the land. Like, what sort of products do you make? Where can people find you today? What distribution look like? You know, just give us a high level.
Will Burke - 00:02:03
Yeah. Uh So simple is a brand of um regenerative, certified or Regen of organic certified dried fruit. It's solar dried fruit uh focused on tropicals, mango, pineapple, banana, dragon fruit. Um And uh we, we've got about seven skews uh family pack and snack size that's in uh mostly the east coast coast and also the west coast. We whole foods on the east coast and some independence and uh smaller chains on the west coast. Uh We've had the brand for about 13 years now, 14 years and it's grown slowly, slowly um just through, you know, organic growth and, and marketing. Um but uh it's got a cult following, I think over in New York especially. Um and it's been known as one of the tastier uh dried fruits out on the market. It's because we focus mostly on heirloom varietals uh which has been really helpful. But, but that's, that's, that's mostly what it is. Solar dried organic fruit fair Trade Regen Organic Certified.
Kyle Krull - 00:03:03
I need you to, to double click on two things for me here. Number one. What are the fruit flavors? And number two, what is solar dried?
Will Burke - 00:03:10
Uh So uh again, we're, we're on tropical. So we focus mostly on mango, which is our number one seller. So solar dried organic mango, pineapple, banana, and pita, which most people know as dragon fruit. But uh usually it's, it's known as Pita spelled with an H pizza. Yeah. So solar dried. So there's a difference between sun drying and solar drying. Sun drying is like your sun dried tomatoes that you buy at the supermarket or if you're in Italy, you can go buy in the, you know, the farmers' market whatnot. Um And that's a product that's uh dried out in the sun. So it's exposed to all the elements and food safety issues that could happen. Um In an open environment, solar dried is using solar technology to heat air and draw that solar heated air down through a manifold and then circulate it in, in our cabinet dryers. Um So it reduces our carbon footprint.
Will Burke - 00:03:49
Um It uh also potentially, you know, depending on what kind of um temperature we're using, could also increase um the level of nutrients and enzyme activity. Um If we were to dry it at, at the raw level in terms of temperature. Um And it's, uh you know, since we're reducing our, our consumption of propane, um then there's potentially a taste factor that that's increased. So it's solar heated air naturally heated. That doesn't have this burn uh burned taste or aftertaste that would come through that this
Anthony Corsaro - 00:04:38
for, for the audience, for the audience that hasn't had this product like this is not your uncle's banana chip like that. That's my favorite product of yours as well as is the banana. It's not like a hard gonna break your tooth like chip. It is a dried piece of fruit that still has some moisture and it's almost like it eats like candy to me like it, it's, it's truly a phenomenal product.
Will Burke - 00:04:59
Uh Thanks, you see it. You know, I don't eat bananas but our banana is my favorite product. It's, it's, it's ironic but, but it's true. It's true.
Kyle Krull - 00:05:09
Well, you're freaking me out, man.
Will Burke - 00:05:13
Good point. But bananas are, I just, I don't know, I can never handle them. Yeah, I still can't. But these are phenomenal. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:05:23
So will two questions. I want you to take us into the origin story because you're obviously not from Nicaragua. So how did you get down there? How did you do this work? I know a lot of it comes from a social development angle. So I definitely wanna give you time and space to share that story. But just really quick for the further background, there's two other entities that are part of this ecosystem that you've built beyond. Just so simple. The brand. So what are those two entities? And how do they, how do they work with? So simple? The brand?
Will Burke - 00:05:47
Yeah. Um Thanks ac so um I moved to Nicaragua about 25 years ago and I came down as a, as a, as a teacher, as an educator. Um I studied education uh for a number of reasons um back in Chicago where I'm from and uh there, there's a whole other side stories of why Nicaragua et cetera. But anyway, so I found myself here in Nicaragua working at the US Embassy School, uh teaching, you know, the sons and daughters of foreign nationals and, and locals as well. Uh teaching English lit, which is, you know, a, a subject I love. And uh I was here for two years, went to uh grad school at Cu Boulder um in education as well and moved to Venezuela for six years. And again, I went to the US Embassy School there and I moved to um to Venezuela in 2001 with my wife and it was six months after Chavez took power. Um We're 36 years, had two kids and, you know, most people know what the disaster is that Venezuela became. And um so we, we had, you know, a toddler and a baby at that time. And so it, depending the week we couldn't get milk sugar, coffee, meat, chicken.
Will Burke - 00:06:43
Uh, you name it? Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was pretty brutal. I mean, we were living a great lifestyle going to the beach all the time and traveling everywhere. Um, but, uh, it just, it just became a grind and, and we just got tired of it. And so we thought, well, ok, we can move. Um we could try somewhere else in, in Latin America or go to Asia or what not and continue the overseas teaching work or we could look at potential business opportunities. And my wife was born in Nicaragua.
Will Burke - 00:07:14
Um Dad's from the US and her, her mom's Nicaraguan, but she grew up in Miami because of the revolution that happened in the eighties here in Nicaragua. So um she and I thought, well, you know, we got these two kids, we could go back to Nicaragua. Uh and they have, you know, my in-laws help us raise them and then, you know, like for vacation time, we can, we don't split vacations so much. We get up to the States, give our kids more of, you know, like roots in the US. They can feel that, you know, they can feel maybe more as American, I guess is, is sort of what the goal was. And so, so we decided to do it, but what was gonna be the vehicle to get us there and I said, look, I've always, I, one of the reasons I got an education was because I felt that, um, if I get into business right away during college, um, I might always regret not having tried education because I'd always love kids.
Will Burke - 00:08:03
I always worked with them and, and I thought, you know, if I do that, um, and I don't like business and I want to try education later on I have to go back to college. I'm gonna have to get my degree. I'm gonna have to, you know, to get a teaching certificate or probably to get a master's and then we can get paid probably 1/4 of what I was making, you know, selling fax machines or whatever it was. I was gonna end up doing. And so I thought, well, why, why don't I try education first and then I can go into business later because, you know, know it, anyone can start a business. So I did, I, I taught for, for 10 years and I just, I just said, hey, Maria, my wife, you know, maybe it's time that I, I try my hand at something and I wanna start a business that gives back in Nicaragua.
Will Burke - 00:08:50
What, you know, let's brainstorm some ideas. And I was thinking like, maybe coming up with the consulting service, like working with the Nicaraguan government or some sort of NGO that worked in literacy. Um And, and so we were bringing some all sorts of ideas. And my wife just said, how about dried mango? And I was like, what, what is that? What does that have to do with teaching kids how to read?
Will Burke - 00:09:17
And she's like, remember when we were on the beach, you know, a long time ago in Nicaragua and we saw mangoes rotting on the ground. And we just talked about how in Boulder people paying 15 bucks a pound for organic dried mango. It, it, you know, the whole food velvet. I was like, yeah, she's like, well, you know, there's tons of mangoes in Nicaragua. What you like? What do you think about trying fruit?
Will Burke - 00:09:37
And so it's a long story from there, how, how it all evolved but, but I connected with a couple of NGO si was flying out to Nicaragua from Caracas and, and really starting to cobble together a business plan. Um and, and I did it and, and part of it was focusing on merging commercial drying technology with um at the time what was available, um solar technology, energy used to heat air and there, there are not a lot of products out there. So I do a lot of research like FA O and with um even the Peace Corps looking at these artisanal solar dryers with like little pinball machines and stuff. And so again, it's a long story but, but it took a lot of innovation and then, and then to create recreate what's been done at like the cottage industry on an industrial level and, and then come up with a budget for it. Um And so that, that's what I did. Uh And then it took me like a year while I was still in, in Venezuela just working weekends and nights and then, and then I put it together and, and uh moved to Venezuela or sorry, I moved to Nicaragua to, to make it happen and piece together and all of the idea.
Will Burke - 00:10:40
So the genesis of it was to connect smallholder farmers to a sustainable market. And that's all I wanted to do. And again, like that, I'll tell you one quick story about it is I never really wanted to have a, a processing plant. I wanted to provide the technology to growers and, and like I mentioned, like these pinball machines earlier and have these like uh about 100 solar dryers out in the field. And all I would do is like drive around and, and collect the fruit like every week. Um And then, you know, maybe I'd have to go pack it somewhere and then ship it up to the US. So I wanted to add value in the farm level as much as I could.
Will Burke - 00:11:20
And then I didn't know anything about food safety, but once I started reading about it, that's not gonna work. There's yeah, who's gonna buy that? You know. So, um and again, and then the next step was looking at gender equity and trying to empower single mothers in a community and, and try to get them to run a plant and there are some legal issues. I couldn't get that done. But, but in the end, I saw this idea had legs and like, well, you know, I never wanted to become a, a plant owner. I just felt like I'd be good on the marketing side to provide the solution to them.
Will Burke - 00:11:50
Um But I, you know, this idea is pretty good. So I'm just gonna do it and I committed all the capital, I had to, to get it done and invested in the Yeah,
Kyle Krull - 00:12:11
that's awesome. I uh I number one, I want to say, you know, as you're giving the origin story, I was waiting for the curveball because everything you were talking about like to me, it's like there was no path to food, there was gonna be some weird like 90 degree turn in that story. And uh I love that you, you know, saw mangoes on the ground and like, hey, let, let, let the mango. Um I also
Will Burke - 00:12:31
wanted to kind of,
Kyle Krull - 00:12:34
you know, you know, it, it's, it's, it's an interesting way to start a business, you know, those mangoes here. I know that people want mangoes there to connect the dots, right? It's simple. Uh Sometimes you
Anthony Corsaro - 00:12:42
don't need to validate common sense,
Kyle Krull - 00:12:45
right? You know. Yeah. Um I do want to dig in, you mentioned it's a long story like with the solar powered drying technology, I wanna kind of just without getting into all of the logistical parts of the story. But why was that important to you in integrating that solar technology into your business? You know, from like the inception point?
Anthony Corsaro - 00:13:04
And what, what, what year was that?
Will Burke - 00:13:07
Uh 2006 is when I find yes, 2007 is when I moved to Nicaragua to, to launch this
Anthony Corsaro - 00:13:15
is early, this is before solar was, you know, some big, some big thing then.
Will Burke - 00:13:19
Right. Yeah. Yeah, there was a lot, it
Kyle Krull - 00:13:21
was a big thing in the US, let alone Nicaragua. Right.
Will Burke - 00:13:25
Right. Yeah. Yeah, there are no, there's, there are some businesses or whatever that were selling TV cells and panels. That's right. You know, but, but solar drying technology was totally,
Kyle Krull - 00:13:35
so why, why was that important to you from like uh you know, you're already developing a business where you're exporting, you're doing something you've never done before and then you decide to throw in this additional difficult problem to solve and incorporating solar. And to me there must be like a, a foundation of why you wanted to do that. I wanna, I wanna hone in on that.
Will Burke - 00:13:52
Yeah, it really came from my time in Boulder. Um You know, I, I'm in Chicago and I, I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy and being a grad school in Boulder and II I learned to eat better. I learned much more about food, health, diet exercise. Um, I'm a big skier. You know, that's one of the reasons I was out there, I was, I was a ski instructor for a long time. Um, but, but I never really got to live it so much like I did in grad school and, and part of it is in Boulder. It's a fascinating town. It's, you know, the atomic clock is there, the National Regenerate or Renewable Energy Laboratory is there? And um I just got to learn more about it through osmosis really. And I thought, you know, if I'm gonna do this, I wanna make sure I'm doing it right. And, and I need to differentiate ourselves a little bit from the other suppliers.
Will Burke - 00:14:29
I knew Mango was coming out of Mexico and I was pretty certain that there was nothing really um innovative coming coming from these, these farms, these mango farms in Mexico. And so I thought, well, you know, um N A was so sunny. There's, there's got to be some, some way I can use rene renewable energy in, in this business model. And, and so that's what it came from is really just knowing about the new, the National Laboratory for Renewable Energy um in Boulder and, and just starting to read about it, I just, I was just curious um and then lo and behold, there's, there's actually some literature out there about solar drawing which is cool and it was really helpful. So I went to Google University and, and figured out just my own curiosity from that time of bo good
Kyle Krull - 00:15:26
Will Burke - 00:15:27
Yeah. Yeah. So, well, what,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:15:30
what was V one was V one you bought like a small facility or you were paying rent in a small facility and you had like one drawing machine and you were just doing mangoes and you were selling them as an ingredient, you're selling them direct to consumer like what was V one as you built this?
Will Burke - 00:15:43
Yeah. And so, you know, you, you mentioned the three different companies earlier. And so the V one V two and V three is really the like the um evolution of us opening up other companies. So it's, it's a great place to start. So V One was um me driving around Nicaragua in a pickup truck and trying to identify growers, smallholder farmers that had uh mango and then, you know, pineapple and banana and, you know, I I knew we couldn't just have a one trick pony, I need another fruit. Um But it was, it was driving around. Um meanwhile looking for a plant that I could rent a small one, you know, like 3000 square feet um and also importing the, the dryer from Colombia, importing the solar panels from Canada um and making sure all that's up and running. Um and then just um drying conventional fruit, just buying different varietals, you know, are we gonna work with an MD two pineapple or a Monte pineapple and, um, trying to find out like you sort of take a census of what's available in the country, all these different varietals. Um, and then how far it is? So one was, was me really just driving around buying mangoes putting in the, in the bed of the pickup, um, asking questions about it
Kyle Krull - 00:16:57
when you around. Did you lay on the horn as much as the people who are driving by your place right now? You can hear that just like a way of life in Nicaragua.
Will Burke - 00:17:06
Yes. Yeah, definitely, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Uh So, so it's, uh, you know, i it, it evolved like to me starting to, you know, research also organic farming because I knew I didn't want to work with, with conventional practices and so we want to evolve, I want to evolve into organic farming, but it didn't really exist here. And um one of the concepts that I came up with was, you know, a lot of these farmers were poor organic, they're organic just by default because they're so impoverished that, that they couldn't afford agri chemical inputs. And, and so it created an opportunity for me to say, hey, I think I can, I think we can work together. I'm gonna find some organic inputs for you and we're gonna see if your production bumps up. Um, and, and, you know, I'll provide this on credit and, and, um, you know, let's work together to see if, if, if there's, you know, like a low risk model where um we can provide new opportunities to access the market for you and, and provide some value with the eventual certification that I was hoping, imagining dreaming. Um And so, so that was basically the one, it was me really doing all the purchasing, me hiring just three people on our plant um to process the, the mangoes and the pineapple and bananas eventually.
Will Burke - 00:18:16
Um, and then on the market side, the one was, um, I was just looking at co-ops, like in Minnesota and, and Washington Oregon and trying to get our product into a bulk bin and in those, those states and, and co-op grocery stores
Kyle Krull - 00:18:47
and so you're selling bulk, no brand, no packaging, like big bulk packages into like those, those big containers.
Will Burke - 00:18:55
Right. Right. Exactly. Exactly. And, um, you know, I, I, there's, there's another part of the story, I can maybe tell it between one and two. But, um, I, I had a little bit of experience in marketing when I was, when I was in college. Um, and I'd go to trade shows and stuff. So, like I thought, you know, I don't, I don't think I could afford to start a brand. It was, it didn't even cross my mind. Honestly, Kyle, um, I just wanted to get that product to market and I knew like, you know, the bulk sales would probably be best but now, now I start to do it as seeing what our, our cost structure was, but we're getting hammered, hammered. There's no way to compete with Mexico um in Africa and, you know, back then it was like 3 50 a pound, it was costing me like 5 50 a pound um to process and, and they, they were buying, yeah, in, in California, in L A for like 3 £50 back then, you know, it's gone up since. Wow. Um Yeah, so there's no way to compete and, and I was, you know, generating some sales and stuff. It was $15,000 a first year, $35,000 a second year, $75,000 or third year. And yeah. Oh yeah. Hockey stick. Hey, yeah, 2008. So it was worse still.
Will Burke - 00:19:54
Um So 2007 is when I launched and we, when I started selling the product in 2008 and that was in, you know, that was when we had $17,000 in sales. Um So, so it was, it was, it was pretty tough and, and that's where version two starts. I realized that, you know, these bulk, these bulk sales, you know, are just gonna cut it. I need to add value. Um We have more value proposition that said, and I need to add margin and how I'm gonna capture that margins by having your own brand, which is differentiated in the market. And there weren't too many, the space wasn't too crowded.
Will Burke - 00:20:40
So I, I created a brand called Soul Simple. Um So the first company is called Burke Agro because that's, that's all I really want to do is work with growers and connect them to the market. And um so this the second company that I started in Chicago is called Soul Simple, which is now an importer in our brand. And the idea behind that was just become the face of all the social environmental impact work that we're doing in Nicaragua. And this before I even knew what a social enterprise was or, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't even a term. But I started to realize I have, I started a social enterprise.
Will Burke - 00:21:16
I, I had a company that um it really created a lot more impact than, than I ever really could imagine, had a lot more potential, creating impact and you could draw um consumers but also um supporters and investors. Um because of the work, the development work that we're doing in Nicaragua and Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere. It's next to Haiti. Wow. So, yeah, yeah. Yeah, think about that.
Will Burke - 00:21:42
So the amount of opportunity here for social impact development and looking at market based solutions for poverty alleviation were incredible. Um And that's, and that's really what, what drives me. Um So I create it so simple to tell the story of the farmer. Um And to tell the story of, of the work that needs to be done. Um and, and present it it through a really tasty, delicious uh product that has a great aroma when you open the bag. Um and that's a good for you snack as well.
Will Burke - 00:22:13
Um And so it, it works and we got into whole Foods, we got into a bunch of markets in on the west coast as well and, and you know, just because of all of our resources really going into um rural development and farmer development, we haven't invested much in marketing and so so simple still today, just kind of coast along, you know, gets a little more notoriety year over year, over year. But now we're starting to invest in the brand um a little bit more uh to tell that story. Um But during version two, so now I've skipped the V two. But during that time, we also diversified into B to B and in, we discovered um through fruit juices and pure that we could create a lot more volume through the capacity we have in our plant and have a lot more impact in the field. Um So through volume and high volume, we increase impact, we increase revenue, we increase, you know, our margin, we get better and then we can keep reinvesting in in the work that we're doing in Nicaragua. And so that's so that's where so simple kind of has been missing out, not ignored but neglected. Um and, and us really investing so much in that brand is because there's so much work to do here and it's, and it's really capital intensive today.
Will Burke - 00:23:33
We've got about 16 economists that are out in the field every day working with 1200 growers. Um And that's part of the V three comes in, but I, I'll pause there for a second because it still a lot to chew on.
Kyle Krull - 00:24:00
No, it's a, it's a really great story and I appreciate, you know, it feels like like you mentioned the driver here is really that social impact poverty alleviation tool that, you know, so simple is sort of serving as um I'm really curious to better understand how and when regenerative became a part of that conversation and how you married those two things with like the on ground impact with some of that social development that you've been talking about. So, you know, one of the questions we really like to ask people, you know, people have like this aha moment with regenerative. So like, what was that for you? How and when did you start to incorporate that into your business?
Will Burke - 00:24:34
So there um 22 issues kind of came up at the same time as um I had a lot of conversations with Michael from Whole Foods. I don't know if you fellows know who he is, but um he had just retired and he came down to visit me. He was, he was the operations manager at Whole Foods. And um uh basically, like the number three, number three guy was responsible for uh incredible growth, like opening up um new locations, I think under him, they opened up. I, I'd be making up the number but a lot. Um and so he, he went into retirement and he wanted to work on, on uh a mango project in um Mozambique. And um somehow I got in touch with him when I was in Haiti. It was right after the earthquake in Haiti.
Will Burke - 00:25:05
And um I, I was hired to consult on, on developing mango value chains in Haiti because the work that I did in Nicaragua. So um through that work, uh Michael and I started, started speaking and he wanted to come down and visit me. And so he and I started talking a lot about our, our AG program. So in we're the first company to certify anything outside of coffee is organic. We're the first company, uh one of the first companies in the world actually to get fruit is fair trade, certified, fair trade USA certified the first in Nicaragua, the first be court. And so, um you know, I think Michael was um you know, curious about, about how we were able to do this and, and want to know more about our, our extension work with our growers in Nicaragua and what that meant and then what the farming practices were that, that we were focused on And so when he was here he started talking about regenerative agriculture and I didn't, I mean, I didn't know what it was and, and give
Kyle Krull - 00:26:16
us a, give us a, a quick year here. What, what time period are we talking about?
Will Burke - 00:26:20
This is 2012, about, um, whole foods. And, you know, we're, we're flipping along. We've got our be, to be business, you
Anthony Corsaro - 00:26:29
certified or Connecticut side.
Will Burke - 00:26:32
Yeah. Yeah. And so there's a whole story there about how, how we had to do that. Um because um it's just like I never wanted to have a process processing plant. I never wanted to have an agricultural development team. But here in the, we were a square pig trying to fit in a round hole with NGO S. When I first came, I thought that NGO S would do this work for us. NGO S are non-government organizations for our listeners. And, and there's a lot of, a lot of development money in Nicaragua, you know, being the second poorest country in the a lot of development money, but no one wanted to develop. None of these NGO S funded by your tax dollars wanted to develop um fruit organic fruit value chains here. And so I ended up having to do the work myself. And so that, that's why I became so capital intensive.
Will Burke - 00:27:04
Um I just never, I, I went in with the assumption that that someone else would do it for me and it didn't. So I had to hire an agronomist and then another agronomist and another agronomist and, and for them to begin to do that extension work with through workshops. And then we created um uh credit programs and input programs and got our growers become bankable. Um And so Michael understood all this through our conversations and so he wanted to come witness it and see, see how it was organized. And um that's where we started talking about regenerative ag and, and then I started communicating with, with our, with our, with our economists and our field team manager about it and they didn't really know what it was, but they understood it. And they said, well, will we actually already have some girls that work in agri forestry systems? Why don't we go take a look at those guys and those ladies.
Will Burke - 00:28:01
And um and so I started learning more about it on the ground and Michael was right there looking at, he said he was pointing out practices that are, you know, good and maybe questionable or whatever. But um but he was sharing wisdom with us as well. And so that's when I thought, OK, there's, we, we can do more and around the same time. That's when there are little murmurs of the US C A potentially considering improving um hydroponic as, as being organic or potentially organic certified. And so there are more and more uproars. I started attending um conferences to learn more about it. And I went to the first Regenerative our, our Regenerative Earth Summit. Uh and I went to it every year after that.
Will Burke - 00:28:43
And so I became more and more involved until, um and I assume we'll get into this later, but until I learned about their general organic certification. Um and uh through a partner at the time of ours, we uh we decided to um focus on that and become the first Regen Organic Certified fruit brand and value chain in the world. And that, and that led us up to 2019. So between 2012 and 2019, that was my, my learning journey um inspired by Michael Johnson. Um And then there's a lot that happened between but, but it's kind of bumping into version three or um it was, it was then when I said, OK, we want to become Regen Organic Certified and there's a lot more work for us to do that be a, that base company was also our processing company in Nicaragua. And I decided to split them apart. I said we need a processing company that that's all it does and we need a development company that that's all it does. And um it was really helpful. So we, we split them up and that's when Sol Organica was born.
Will Burke - 00:29:41
So we've got a, that, that provides all the credit, all the inputs, et cetera and, and then it, it purchases all the raw material. Um And then sells it to sol organica. So, organica transforms it. It's, that's its sole purpose and then it exports to, you know, around the world. Um All of the products that, that we're processing and that all happened this year in 2018, 2019. And that's when we jani Organic Certification came out.
Will Burke - 00:30:06
So it was perfect timing that, that we separate them out. And so we had just one team that all they did was focus on, on growers. And so that's when our team grew from maybe 11 to ground us to 16 to 18. We've now been able to dial it back a little bit just through efficiencies. But, but um that's, that's how it happened. And then so simple is the third member in that, in that in or vertical integration where it's the importer, it's the, it's the brand face and, and it's the, the one that every once in a while you'll see out at trade shows in the US.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:30:50
Yeah, so cool man. Kudos on, on all that and it's so aligned with, I think our biggest takeaway from doing this show which is regenerative brands, regenerative enterprises, regenerative ecosystems, whatever they are all designed with farmer livelihoods and ecology at the table. Whereas most of the businesses we see in this space today in CPG space are not and it's so evident in the work that you have done. Um I'm gonna ask you, I'm gonna, you a dense question here before we go into Roc and, and kind of bring us to present day and I'm trying to decide in my brain how I want to ask it. But I really want to get to two things for the audience, right? High level from an agronomic standpoint, how is one of the farms that you're sourcing from, you know, how have you helped them be different or, or how are they more regenerative or what practices or, or whatever at a high level versus someone that may be a commodity grower in Nicaragua or, or growing something else because they don't have these resources, right? And then from a social perspective, how have these enterprises that you've built changed, you know, uh economic outcomes for farmers, but also maybe some of the people that are working in the processing facility or something like that. I just, I wanna just double tap a little bit more on agronomic and the social impact of the enterprises
Will Burke - 00:32:01
itself. Yeah. Sure. So, you know, as I mentioned, some of the farmers we worked with, even from the very, very beginning had agri forestry systems, but I didn't even know what an agri forestry system was at the time. Um But, but I knew
Kyle Krull - 00:32:14
I just wanna acknowledge that real quick. Sorry to interrupt. Well, but you know, this goes back to another recurring theme that we have on the podcast and it's like, you know, giving indigenous wisdom, like the shout out for people who have been doing this stuff before the term regenerative existed. It's great that we now get to market that. And it's like this like recognized term, at least to some degree. But you know, it does feel a little bit um imperialistic that we now call this regenerative. And we take their practice and say, hey, now we can wrap it up in this bow. When in numerous countries around the world, people have been doing it right from the get go. So I just want to call that out and acknowledge it real quick.
Kyle Krull - 00:32:36
Will Burke - 00:32:47
Kyle. No, absolutely. And, and that's, and that's what we found in the conversations with the growers. They, they acknowledged that this is how my father farms, this is how my grandmother, my grandfather farms. And I just know that that my soil is more fertile when it's done this way. And this is how the farm was handed to me and I'm not going to change their practices. So there, there are a lot of cases like that and so many times we were learning from the farmer because they have a century of experience. And um but in many cases, especially when we're developing a value chain because that's what Burke Agro really does. And, and Solar Organic is for a team of companies, we develop value chains. We're, we're really um rethinking the food system and providing those opportunities for brands that want to source um you know, products that are that are transparent that have i high impact um you know, through, through metrics and indicators that, that we've set up.
Will Burke - 00:33:25
Um So, so those, those systems that, that we're looking at in, in the different growers, some, some have a system like an agri agri for system all set up. Others are total monoculture. And so going to agri system, how do we help them? We become their, their resource to fight pests and disease. Um We help them because like I said, they're poor organic. So maybe they're not uh working with inputs or maybe there, there's new technology that they can use to create molasses.
Will Burke - 00:34:00
Like right there on the farm, maybe, uh you know, they're not working with the livestock on the farm um to help aerate the land. Um because they just, that's one component that was missing. And so we're tweaking with those farmers and the changes that they see which we'll get into a minute are, are impactful because the, the yields will go up or um now they've um now they're planting other crops that we know go well with their main crop. And so that, that other crop will help fight off the pests for their main crop. Um So that's, that's how the agriculture systems are changing a little bit when, when, once we come in for the better. Um And then the monoculture systems, um you know, that's when we really get into talk of ground cover, cover crops Right. And, um, looking at how do we diversify a monoculture farm, especially in an area of Nicaragua. It's, it's in some of the areas of your work.
Will Burke - 00:34:57
It's the dry quarter and nothing else really grows. Especially this one area. It's underneath the, um, the prevailing winds that cruise right over a, an active volcano. And so the acid rain just pours down on these farms, you know, 10, 10 mile swath of land, um and just burns all the, all the flowering um on, on a mango tree or on a um like a so tree, you know, you name it. So sometimes the only thing that grows there is a cactus, the dragon fruit or a pineapple. And, but a lot of farmers were just focusing on one or the other.
Will Burke - 00:35:43
So we've been able to work with some of the dragon fruit farmers and they've got crops that, you know, it's, it's been there for, you know, these perennials were there for like 2030 40 years already. And so I said, ok, in the alleys, let's start planting um fixers. We can, we can plant jack beans. Um We can plant pineapple, maybe, maybe there's room for just one row of pineapple right down the center of the alley. Um But at the very least, you know, we need to look at the cover cropping, we need to make sure when they're, when they're, sometimes they got grass, we're working with them like to not use a machete to half the way at it which releases carving the machete keeps going to the soil. Um And so those are some of the techniques that, that we use with them. Um terrace farming as well. Uh That's really big with, with a lot of these growers in um in the monoculture, er uh monoculture farms and those zones that are really madness.
Will Burke - 00:36:34
So we, we'll, we'll educate them on that. So it's, it's us providing a resource for both kinds of farmers tweaking the agri forestry systems and then really trying to convert the, the the mindset about how to diversify in this monoculture, really fragile system or not a fragile system, really degenerated system that they have because nothing else really grows. How do we, how do we try and yield more um production, more profit, more diversification um for those families and, and sometimes, you know, it just means planting timber around the perimeter. So we got and, and planting that timber. So we've got um um protection from the wind. Um There's better flowering that happens. Uh and then eventually that's timber. They, they could, they could sell, that's a legacy item, you know, for their, for their Children. Um But those with both groups, what we talk about mostly is soil health and, and erosion and, and watershed management.
Will Burke - 00:37:38
And how do you how to manage those two main aspects so that their farms become resilient, um resilient to climate change, right? But also attractive for their families to stay on it. There's a whole other social matter here which is climate migration, um migration to the cities. Uh, the aging farmer that, that we see today. Um, you know, the average age is about 60 probably higher now, uh, you know, 62 or 63 I bet. So all these farmers are going to go into retirement and is the farm attractive enough for the, the next generation to feel like they've got a dignified life by staying on that farm.
Will Burke - 00:38:24
And, and so that's, that's what we try to do is create um a business out of each of these farms and, and mind you, the smallest ones are about a half acre. Um And the largest ones maybe 10 and so how to create these business so that the next generation will the the a the average size of those 1200 farmers, the average size is about uh 1.4 acres. Um And so
Kyle Krull - 00:39:01
how many are you working with? How many individuals? One
Will Burke - 00:39:04
Anthony Corsaro - 00:39:09
And I, I want to just do like a quick recap of like everything I'm hearing will, which is like from a business perspective, you came in with the goal to do, you know, basically social enterprise work and create a stable profitable market for these, for these crops, right? And that turned into agronomic support, agronomic insights, input, financing, financing the farm operations, aggregation, processing and even more right, which is goes back to this whole design function of, if we're going to truly have regenerative systems, we can't just be buying an output from the farmer running the cost down as much as possible and then commercializing that on the back end, right? You're commercializing that on the back end, doing the exact opposite, investing all of that into building this infrastructure, right, in this ecosystem that then takes those things to market in a much more equitable, right and and profitable for the farmer capacity, which is is beautiful man.
Kyle Krull - 00:40:01
I I was gonna say the other part that like is really intriguing to me is like you're doing all this stuff on the ground. And what I love about your story is that you want to sell this bulk originally without a brand without a story. And what you realize was in order to really get the margin that you deserve and that your farmers deserve for the work that's going on is that you needed a brand to tell that story to be the vehicle for that message, right? So, um I don't know if now is the right time or not, but I'd like to kind of pivot into more of that brand side. And especially I'm really curious to get your take as a, as a former educator. Like how do you take brand education and educating your consumers about the regenerative story like via the brand? And what does that look like for you.
Will Burke - 00:40:41
Yeah, that's um you know, before I answer that I just want to mention, you know, like climate change and poverty really have the same root cause and it's, and it's extractive economies. Um and, and so we can't save the planet without taking care of its people first. So to me that, that's, that's, that's why we focus so much on this. So um education, it's, it's a great question, Kyle, because I should rely on, on my education background a little more than I do on the marketing side. You know, I mean, I think about a teacher, what, what a teacher has to do is they have to go into a, well, think about like, like a sales person, like selling, like, selling fax machines. Like that was like, you know, one of my classmates ended up doing that right out of college and I was like, oh, I could do that and then, you know, but, you know, you're a sales person goes into a meeting or they, you know, they're presenting something typically to an audience that wants to buy it and it's an audience of one, maybe two people. And it's something that you practice over and over and over and over. You got to pitch and, and, and, you know, it becomes a little well oiled machine.
Will Burke - 00:41:41
A teacher, an educator is, is a salesperson trying to sell something to, you know, 25 or 32 kids that don't want to buy it and they're gonna, you know, and they're, they're, you know, a lot of more reluctant to even be at school. And, um, and you're not just the sales person, you're, you're the person who's really trying to enlighten them and, and help create, contributing, contributing members of society. And on top of, you're also like a nurse or psychologist or, you know, the list goes on. Right. And so education for me is so key in what I do. But I've always channeled it towards the growers and trying to use education for them to improve their livelihoods rather than improve our, our sales and marketing and, and, and reach.
Will Burke - 00:42:16
Um So I'm glad you brought that up. So I'm like, oh shit. Yeah, I, I there's probably more I can do II I maybe I actually have some skills there. Well, I think that speaks to who you are as a person at all. But
Kyle Krull - 00:42:48
no, and you see what I mean by that is you focus on development on the ground. You're not focused like your goal in starting this, this business wasn't like I want to create the best tried fruit, you know, like that's not, it's never been your goal or priority. Your goal is like the impact on the ground. So that makes total sense to me. And I would love to see what the result of that, that paradigm shift in your brain. Like, how do I utilize my educator? You know, foundation to help develop this brand. I think that'd be really interesting because one of the key pieces that the entire regenerative movement is missing is that education piece, you know, the, the lack of unification and the competing certifications and all those different things.
Kyle Krull - 00:43:15
I think you are, you are uniquely positioned as a former educator to assist with some of those problems that we're all facing. You know what I mean?
Will Burke - 00:43:35
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for enlightening me. I just never really looked at it that way. It's just, you know, meanwhile I'm just, I'm helping write curriculums for, for uh workshops for, you know, growers. Yeah. So which is good. But that's I need that too. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But uh you've inspired me. Thank you.
Kyle Krull - 00:43:55
Your story inspired me. You know,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:43:59
talk, talk about Roc and how you saw that as a potential value add, you know, way to communicate the story and going through that whole process and you know, how you use that to tell the story to, to
Will Burke - 00:44:09
customers. Yeah, I, I think there's, there's more opportunity for us to tell that story better. Um Because again, you know, I look at things pretty pragmatically on the ground here. Um So I base decisions on what's next, what do we need to do to continue to improve our impact, whether it's social environmental. And so when the Gene of Organic Certification came about, um I, I knew that that was our next step because we are pioneers, we've always been pioneering um new concepts and, and um here in Nicaragua and soon Guatemala. Um and so it was just, there wasn't much of a decision tree that was visited. Um When, when we learned about it, it was just we have to do this, whether there's a marketing opportunity or margin opportunity. Um It's, it's just, it was necessary because the planet needs it and, and if we can figure out how to market it, well, great. But, you know, speaking about marketing, you know, both of you, um sort of pinpointed that I do think that we're doing our work and the work of everybody else, whether it's in regenerative ag or social impact, a disservice when we're not out there yelling from the hilltops and being on tiktok and creating views and engagement.
Will Burke - 00:45:05
It's not, it's just something we're not really good at which we're starting to invest in now. So I think, you know, it, it, it does do the work that we're doing and also for other people a disservice because the more that the consumer and the, you know, world public hears about this, the more they'll, they'll become concerned and then the more they'll want to support it, um, you know, whether it's like, like hitting a like button or by actually voting with their dollars and, and um supporting, you know, supporting these, these brands, um, and the companies and corporations that, that you know, really put their money where their mouth is. So, um there's, there's a lot more to do on the marketing side of percent of organic certification. But the reason we did it was, wasn't because of the opportunities there, it was the opportunities for our growers. And then, you know, the so simple, obviously knew that as a company, it knew that it could use that for its own branding. But we also saw the B to B opportunities, opportunities and if there are other companies that are willing to spend a dollar in marketing, that um that we don't have to spend, and it means that I can continue developing these value chains for them or, or um creating better impact with some of the same products we're already working with uh for our growers.
Will Burke - 00:46:19
Great. And that's always been my focus and, and I think it's been in some ways, a smart business choice because we haven't had to go through five rounds of fundraising, um you know, to, to prop up so simple as a brand and then, you know, it never making money. Uh And then what would happen to the company and then what would happen to the work that we're doing on the ground? So, so I've also thought about it in that sense, like let these other companies that were supplying really, you know, yell from the mountain top and, and they can be our, our voice in many ways. Um So I can, I can save my money and not save money, but invest the capital where, where it's really impactful. Both are impactful. Right. But, but I'm much better on, on the field side.
Will Burke - 00:47:08
Kyle Krull - 00:47:23
I think you're, you're solving a huge need right now. Right. Because as a sales guy who works for a brand who's trying to source more regenerative supply, it is so constrained right now. And especially if you've got, you know, rock certified regenerative supply that you can provide as an ingredient and or like it's a finished good product to a variety of brands like that need is only going to increase. I would bet exponentially over the next 135, 10 years, right? So if you can continue to focus on what, what feels to be your passion and core competency of developing those supply chains and that value chain, like you're, you're well positioned to really assist with um the, the change we need, right? Because people want to buy more of these products and you can, you can serve as that source.
Will Burke - 00:48:10
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for knowing that. I, you know, I fully agree.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:48:14
Go ahead. Yeah. And it, it's all context, right? Like that's what region a is about. It's like what's the, what's the most optimal optimal situation and continuous improvement for your context and your context is what you've said. And you've, you've been a little hard on yourself about the lack of brand development or marketing will, but I, I give you more credit than you give yourself. Um And it's also like we gotta take a step back and say the people on this podcast and the people that we hang out with are such on the vanguard of this thing, but the average consumer is still so far behind. And so you've done the right things in ensuring the supply chain supporting the farmers, making sure the products really high quality, making sure the throughput's there from A B to B perspective to support this opportunity in the future in a more stable way rather than let's go raise a bunch of money. Let's chase the branded business and let's, you know, have the best tiktok in the game that maybe won't even translate to, to sales right now. So just a, just a hypothetical. But I think, you know, one give yourself more credit and two, I think there's a beautiful opportunity uh within the regenerative value chains around similar commodities or similar branded products. Actually, that's never been available to us from a pre competitive, you know, collaboration standpoint in CBG.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:49:03
But like when, when so simple, good Sam, simply Braner and everyone else that's working in Agri Force systems in the global South can like unite to like tell this awesome, amazing story and like show that the infrastructure investment in these communities and the vertical integration in the various enterprises are like bringing this level of uh you know, reversing this colonial extraction that's happened, but also bringing this wealth back to the smallholder farmers. Like I'm I, I'm getting tingles just like thinking about it like there's so much power in, in that story. And I think this, this still latent capacity for us to collaborate and tell it together. So that that's very exciting to me personally.
Will Burke - 00:50:00
Well, thank you and, and for sure. And, and you know, I never answered the second part of your question, which was, what is that, what does that impact look like at the level? You know, how does it affect their personal lives and their, their livelihood? And, you know, so I'll just go into a little bit because all the companies that you mentioned, you know, are definitely providing that kind of impact. They, they are companies that are dedicated to, um, obviously to regenerative agriculture, but regenerative agriculture has that, that spillover effect that, you know, you know, intentionally or unintentionally, it's going to help the farmer, whether it's a medium sized farmer, smallholder farmer, et cetera. Um Because because of that resiliency that the farm is going to have. So, um our growers, um and I'll make it short, you know, some of the changes we see are, you know, like in those monoculture systems when, when we plant wind barriers, um that means that they've got firewood, they don't have to go um, and deforest, um because they just cut down branches from, from, you know, these that, that they've planted. Um There's less work for, for the whole family and, and it also helps with gender, the gender equity or, you know, also helps women with 30% of our growers are, are female, by the way. Um So we do have a gender equity um component of, of our mission.
Will Burke - 00:51:04
Um And we measure impact on general equity every year. But uh so women also are toiling less at in the farm when, when it's uh even, even there's single mothers that own their own farm. But, you know, as a couple as well, they're, they're toiling less because, because their farm is providing more for them, they're not having to use cash, which is, you know, just hard to come by and hold on to, to go buy some of the things that, that the family needs um is being produced in, in the AGRI for systems right there. And so we're improving that, that impact for them. And then what we see is through a poverty uh index that we, we um um implement with our, it's a survey that we implement with our farmers over here. It's a 10 question.
Will Burke - 00:51:53
We add some more to it for ourselves, but it's an internationally accepted questionnaire. Um And it basically asked like, do you have a blender, uh is your deform made of dirt or concrete? Um What is your roof made out of? Do you own a motorized vehicle? Um It's just 10 basic questions like that. And we can track the, the improvement of their livelihood through that. Oh. And have you a child that has gone to, has graduated from secondary school, university. And so we see, I mean, we've got 15 years of data.
Will Burke - 00:52:22
We see, um, that their livelihoods are improving because their kids are going to university and, and they're not necessarily studying market, they're studying agriculture. We wanna come back. And so that's, that's one of the livelihoods improving. Absolutely. Um, now they do have a concrete floor. Now, they've, they've expanded the house. Um, they've got a motorcycle, uh, some have bought a pickup truck. Um, you know, the list goes on and on and on.
Will Burke - 00:52:58
But, but it's, it's, to me it's all about education, which is one of the reasons I've, I've always tried to focus on women because women really focus on, on education, with, with their Children and they prioritize that over a lot of other, um, you know, pos that, that, that they might have with, with their dollar in their hand and where to invest it more often than not, they're investing in education for their Children. And so we try and do whatever we can to support that. Um, even at the plant level by hiring, um, not restrictively but, but mostly single mothers. And so, so it's not just, you know, it's not just at the, the farm level where we're seeing impacts also, you know, our plan where we've got, you know, depending on the season, you've got 300 to 600 employees there. Um, and so, so the story on both sides actually. Yeah. But, um, but that's, you know, it's just to answer your question that, that you'd asked earlier. Like, what, what does it look like?
Will Burke - 00:53:48
Yeah, when, when, if you were to go visit them, what would it have looked like two years ago? And that would have been the transformation that, that you see,
Kyle Krull - 00:54:08
I love that questionnaire, that survey example you provided. I mean, I I don't know if there's an opportunity to somehow publish out on the website to show like the the track record of survey respondents for the last 15 years of the actual impact that's like quantifiable and measurable, which I feel like it's so rare for that type of data. That's just an incredible story. Um So that's, that's really cool. I appreciate you sharing that. And thanks for circling back to that question. Um I do wanna try to take it a little bit more to the brand side and I almost will, I feel like you probably delegate most of these responsibilities to somebody else in your team because you are so impact oriented and on the ground oriented.
Kyle Krull - 00:54:31
But if you can try to answer some of these questions, like what have some of the major hurdles been for you as a smaller regenerative organic brand entering the US market right now? Uh where, you know, to Anthony's point earlier, a lot of consumers don't really know what that term is yet. So what do those headwinds look like? Where are you getting success? What would you like the market to, to do differently, walk us through some of the brand stuff?
Will Burke - 00:55:06
Um Expo, that's probably the number one challenge. Man that show has changed so much. Um I say it like kind of ingests but seriously, it's like 12,000 bucks or more, probably, probably at the end of the day, it's probably 18 K for us to have like the smallest little crappiest booth at that show. Um And um you know, like just not getting tons and tons like qualified buyers swinging by, you know, maybe it's our positioning or maybe our messaging, who knows? But Expo s just has been um it used to be a great show for us and, and uh now it's just, you know, it's just so expensive that it's hard to justify the investment. So, you know, again, I, I, I'm kind of joking about that but um you know, what are some of the challenges? It's really like trying to decide what, you know, how to promote the brands, what trade shows to go to are there tabletop shows that we, we should visit, you know, for like UN F I or K. He um and then that would be better brokers. You know, there are a lot of bad brokers out there. Um There's some good ones too. Um I think, but I really, since we're speaking honestly here, I think the challenge for us has been not having a team in the US honestly.
Will Burke - 00:56:07
So we've got everything out of Nicaragua. Um partly because of, of budget, you know, we're, we're in like a medium sized company actually, we're, you know, we do millions and millions of dollars in sales. Um but we haven't been able to find a way to dedicate a budget to having a US team. And so I think, you know, maybe it's more travel and knocking on doors and, and, and I've offered myself up to the jokers, like, look when you're gonna meet with Sprouts, you're gonna meet with a safe way, like bring me along, no one's gonna carry this flag and tell the story better than me. Um I, I'd like to be there and like just getting those meetings and, and also me being allowed to be invited to it have been scarce. Um And so I, I don't know what it is.
Will Burke - 00:56:55
We're the first regenerative organic fruit brand in the world and uh we can't get face time with some of these buyers at the grocery stores, you know, so that, that's been, that's been the challenge. And so, you know, potentially I just gave you a solution. It's just we need more, more time in the US and traveling around and I don't know. But um it's, it it'd be nice if, if we had a team there, I think.
Kyle Krull - 00:57:35
Yeah. Yeah, I can only imagine. I, I know how hard it is to be a brand and I'm based in the U SI. Could only imagine how much more difficult it is to take advantage of those opportunities or even to receive those opportunities when you don't have, you know, boots on the ground here in the States, especially in a category like yours where I don't wanna say it's as competitive as like coal box, right? But dried food that's like slat wall, you know, from a, from a merchandizing perspective, like having boots on the ground can really change the game for the sorts of opportunities you can get in retail. And uh yeah, it, it's just gotta be tough. It's got to be really tough and again, small brand and, and again, not to discredit, you know, some of the attraction that you've had um relative to the, the greater ecosystem and natural CPG. It's just, it's, it's a tough category. It's a big category.
Kyle Krull - 00:58:09
And um yeah, having some boots on the ground I think would make a huge difference.
Will Burke - 00:58:25
Anthony Corsaro - 00:58:27
things that are coming to for me too are, yeah, in, in that category, I can't think of a lot of like Powerhouse brands or household brands. So it's a pretty commoditized category in my opinion. So you really need to get someone like you in front of those buyers to tell that story and get behind a retail execution and a marketing strategy for the retailer that really tells that story and brings a brand forward out of that because like, I can't, I can't think of who that is in that space, right? It's a lot of private label. It's probably a couple of brands I can't name off the top of my head. So I think that's like a real, that's like a real not intervention point for y'all. And then, you know, well, I wish you didn't have these problems, but it's like music to my ears in terms of what we're trying to do with the coalition because, you know, don't quote me on this, but we need to have like the regena version of Expo West rolling by 2026 because like it's not working for our, for our constituents anymore, right? So like if we had just a focus version with 100 and 50 regena brands, retailers be all over that, right? And whether it's whether it's the consumer facing market, messaging and storage, selling and opportunity creation, right?
Anthony Corsaro - 00:59:17
We have to do that on the B to B side as well. So how do we build shared infrastructure that does that programmatically where it's not everyone sword fighting but us like really having some, some, some maybe that's not the best, best analogy, but some shared, you know, higher powered weaponry there.
Will Burke - 00:59:48
No, definitely. And, and, and through a coalition it, it's, it's a great way to do it because we, we firstly, it's, it's great to be together and share knowledge and experience. Uh plus the more that we're together, um, the louder the, the, you know, battle call becomes or, or, or the, the value proposition that, that we can imagine, you know, share. And so, you know, it's about safety and number, you know, the all sorts of reasons to do it together. Um And I'm, I'm all for it and I think a, a show or even, um, you know, maybe, yeah, I, I think trade shows, I, I won't, I won't call out Expo West and Expo East anymore um because they've also provided good opportunities for us in the past as well. But, but if there's, if there are opportunities, um where brands like ours um can be together at those shows. Um and also be acknowledged by having certain kinds of discounts available to us because we're the ones who are really fighting the fight. Um And, and even not just that like market data is so expensive to come by spins. Spins offer discounts to regenerative certified companies, whatever the certification is. But if you've got a third party serve, you know, like everyone has to do their part.
Will Burke - 01:00:49
I don't, I don't see, um you know, New Hope doing that. I don't see spins doing that. Those are the opportunities that, that brands like ours that could really use that, that that boost or that, that higher profile somehow or, or savings anyway, could really use, you know, um, and that, that's what's gonna help impact sales and then impact our growers and, and the environmental side as well.
Kyle Krull - 01:01:34
Yeah. Yeah, I think you touched on something ac has talked about in a previous episode. I'm like, you know, brains, like so simple. Who are doing the fantastic work that the planet needs, should really receive some level of benefit from the other industry players, right? And, and, well, you touched on this earlier with, you know, it, it's almost bigger than ag it's this extractive capitalist mentality that we have as a culture as a, as a world view essentially. And the challenge that regen brands faces like they're trying to operate in this best fashion, you know, everybody before themselves within that existing system and you just, it's such an uphill battle. Um So, you know, and that's why we do what we do is we get the opportunity to showcase your story and to explain the challenges um and give you the opportunity to explain those challenges to the greater industry, right? Um So just just wanna comment on that. Um I also, I want to give ac hey, he's chomping at the bit for a question here. So, so go ahead, man. Yeah.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:02:30
Well, I, I, you said it, I just wanted to add like, I think some people will hear the last five minutes of this conversation and think, well, that's charity or that's preferential treatment. And like, it's capitalism, it's competition. Like, yes, but it's really not like we have the receipts that we're doing more work and we are internalizing uh cost that everyone else gets to extern. So there has to be some sort of incentive or reward structure or that's just not sustainable. And right now, I think the brands individually and collectively have done a good job, like figuring that out and like getting by. But like, ultimately, if this is the future that we want and everyone wants to write the nice pr clippings and put the headlines out there and, you know, put it out on social and, and, you know, pat themselves on the back for it, like it's gotta translate into balance sheets or it's just not, it's not ever gonna work.
Will Burke - 01:03:16
Right. Right. It needs to translate into our balance sheet. But also, you know, like, like, you know, I, I called out two companies, there are a lot of other companies that, that could probably invest more in, in regenerative agriculture or fighting climate change. I mean, is a better way to put it too. But, you know, here we're, we're, we're regen advocates but um everyone has to do their part, you know, whether you're a bank or you're, you know, I mean, II I, I'll use banking as, as um an example, um in a country like Nicaragua, 90% of the exports no, sorry, 70% of the exports come from small holder farmers and 90% of them do not have access to financing. And that that's Nicaragua. Say that again.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:04:01
Say that again. Repeat, repeat that stat
Will Burke - 01:04:04
70% of the exports out of Nicaragua come from small holder farmers and 90% of those growers do not have access to financing. And so that's a, it's a major gap. It's a worldwide gap. I mean, I'll just give a Nicaraguan an example. But all of the global South hasn't, has that kind of issue. And there are companies, especially the banking industry, they're, they're not comfortable with financing non-traditional products. So unless you're in coffee and rice and sugar, they're not gonna finance you. Um because they just don't know it. And so what we do, like we, we have to provide credit to our growers. I mean, sometimes it's up to like 405 $100,000 that, that's cash out of our cash flow that, you know, and that's why we're not, you know, able to invest that in marketing and, and, and it comes at a risk.
Will Burke - 01:04:41
We don't, we don't collect all of that debt, you know, a lot of it. We, we do most of it, we do otherwise we won't be doing it. But, but you know, so what kind of costs are we bearing for that? And there are opportunities luckily in our development world, there are um organizations and you know, private banks or, or family foundations that will come in and help, help with that at more favorable interest rates which aren't enough. We can't, we can't access enough just for our small set of growers. So, so even banks would have an opportunity, you know, I just, I wanna call out, you know, to those two companies I have support.
Will Burke - 01:05:20
It's, it's everybody, everybody has a responsibility and, and they can, they don't have to dig too deep to figure out what they could do to support. Mm.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:05:41
Yeah, you can build the plumbing but unless there's water to make it flow, it, it doesn't work. Right. Which is, we've heard that from, I think everyone that we've interviewed that's dealing with some sort of smallholder farmer supply chain in the global South that they're either doing direct financing work themselves, they're giving credit, they're buying up front or they're leveraging some sort of, you know, partnership or third parties. And it's still not enough to really cover the gaps and make the cash flows work for, for everyone at an optimal, you know, level. And so, yeah, huge gap that we need to solve for, for sure.
Will Burke - 01:06:11
Yeah. And it, it's, it's, it's to go with the plumbing, uh, analogy, you know, it's like, you know, we're getting tired of pulling people out of the water. We need to go upstream and figure out why they fell in in the first place. And financing is one of them.
Kyle Krull - 01:06:24
Yeah, totally. Well, and the irony of the bank example, I think is that, you know, the banks recognize commodity crops and as a, as a global food system, what we really need to try to do is to decom our food system. Right? And so to your point will, like, if the banks are only recognizing commodities that makes it really difficult to decom anything, you know. So it, it again falls on the the brands who are doing the right thing with this additional burden. Like I can't imagine a 4 to $500,000 cash flow hit just to finance growers. That is insane. Um So I appreciate you sharing all that man. It's just uh it's, it's really eye opening to, to understand and I'm sure you're only sharing a fraction of what all of the actual, you know, challenges on your end are.
Kyle Krull - 01:06:58
Uh but it's eye-opening to, to really get like a peek behind the tent or behind the curtain if you will.
Will Burke - 01:07:12
Yeah. Yeah, we're happy to share it and thanks for acknowledging it.
Kyle Krull - 01:07:16
Yeah. Yeah, we'll say way to future. So will you, you mentioned before Guatemala um and how that could be coming up a little bit, you know, you, you might start working there. So I'm curious from like a future perspective, is Guatemala like an additional product coming to market a an additional, you know, fruit that you're working with or just some more geography are there you know, opportunities to expand your company right now from like a a product perspective. Is it just some innovation in the pipeline? Talk to us about the future of the brand and what you have in store?
Will Burke - 01:07:47
Yeah, so um I I can, I can kind of put into two buckets. Um Both are unrelated. Guatemala is a great opportunity for us. Um As you know, it's, it's smart to have redundancy in a supply chain. Um And also to have um I mean, we're in the land of lakes and volcanoes in Nicaragua. I mean, the hurricanes should be in the, in that sentence too. But um you know, we've had climactic issues, um fires even, you know, that, that take out some crops, um there could be disease or pests that, that, you know, you could just come in and wipe out a crop. I mean, it less of a chance of that because, you know, most of our growers are with uh agri forest systems now. So that's really mitigated some of that risk. But, but it's just good looking at it from um economics, business politics, um and, and good business practice of having that redundancy.
Will Burke - 01:08:31
So Guatemala presents a lot of the same fabric and, and um I'd say culture that Nicaragua gives us with better access to ports, um lower freight costs, um lower cost of energy. So we think our cost structure would probably go down or our cost structure would be improved and, and so our cost would go down by operating in Guatemala. Um And there's also more development opportunities there. Um The US government has decided that they, they want to take a look, a deeper look at climate migration. Um We're in a perfect position to be able to implement projects for them, um which will then in turn, you know, connect Guatemalan growers to a sustainable market. Um And so whether we end up actually processing there um is it's still being determined with, that's our plan. Um But at the very least a which as you know, I mentioned earlier is that's the development um arm of, of our company.
Will Burke - 01:09:30
Um They can do that development, work in Guatemala and then build up some value chains and then we can, you know, by renting a plant, moving some equipment from here up there, buying new equipment, we can begin processing, but we just need to get those value chains developed. Now, what are we gonna grow? Um I'm not gonna say specifically what what we're doing, but uh we're open to doing anything for anybody because we're experts at it. Um And if you look at Guatemala and Nicaragua, all of Central America, actually 70% of what can be grown in the world as ingredients can be grown in Central America. So wow, corn, rice. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Will Burke - 01:10:09
I mean we can grow strawberries, apples, grapes like in Guatemala is great because they've got these high plateaus. But, but um yeah, if you think about it, you know, lemon grass, all these basic ingredients that, that all the, you know, the, the the food system needs, um you know, can be grown there. We can't supply 70% of, of its consumed. But by those, you know, that ingredient list, 70% of those can be grown there. So, so it's really unique, but we're gonna focus on fruit uh mostly uh juices and purees, um possibly some IQF um individually quick frozen fruits. Um And um hopefully do it with, with renewable energy as well. Solar panel technology during the day. Yeah, so that's, that's, that's Guatemala. Yeah. Now, what else do we have in the pipeline?
Will Burke - 01:11:03
Um We, we've been processing uh flowers lately, cassava and banana flour and, and the more that we can get into like these, these basic food stuffs, I think the more impact we can create here in, in Central America. Um So using those ingredients especially for the gluten free um you know, market um which is, it's growing so quickly. Um I I think there's, there's a lot of opportunity for us there and, and, and to diversify growers into that because we can totally, yeah, inter crop that with, with our current systems. Um and, and, and get it certified right away. Um There's, there's a lot that we can plant right now and get certified as Regen of organic right away. So, so we're excited about that.
Kyle Krull - 01:12:03
That's two super cool opportunities. I am really curious about green banana flour because as so I've worked in the food industry for over 10 years now. I've never heard anybody talk about green banana flour. So I need to know more about that. Like, is that like a 1 to 1 replacement of regular all purpose flour? Is that like an almond flour alternative? Like talk to me about that product.
Will Burke - 01:12:24
You, you put me on the spot because it was our, our marketing team decided that that's, that's the one we need to go into and it was our uh field team. So we can definitely do it. And then our manufacturing plant team that said, oh for sure, we, you know, we've got the right mills, we already do powders for, we do the powder actually. And so they said, yeah, we can do it. So it's still being developed. What I do know is that it as a as an ingredient is an alternative um for a lot of um like it comes like crackers and um like pancake mixes or, you know, so it can be used in that sense. Now, um the nutritional benefits, it's super high in potassium, obviously. And that, that's about all I know of it. So I'm super embarrassed to, to say that.
Will Burke - 01:12:59
But, you know, like you said earlier, I'm, I'm focused on, on the development side and our other team is totally focused on that and they, they, they took the, took the reins and, and trotted away with it. Um, it's just a
Anthony Corsaro - 01:13:20
Will Burke - 01:13:23
What happened with the banana powder. Do you even know what it is? Um,
Kyle Krull - 01:13:28
I'm so curious about this stuff
Will Burke - 01:13:31
but, but, I mean, you're, you're, you're in the same boat as a lot of people. It's, it's super new. Um, and, uh, I, I think it's gonna be more than just a trend, uh, because of that and, and because it can come from, it can come from um agri forestry systems. You know, I totally, and
Kyle Krull - 01:13:47
this was, this was so intriguing to me. Alt flower is such a booming category right now. And if you can develop a new entrant to that category that starts with regenerative like, and you set that as the precedent that is like such a massive opportunity for, I mean, everybody, right? So i it's just, it's super intriguing, super exciting to me. So I can't wait to learn more when, when the time comes.
Will Burke - 01:14:07
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm pretty intrigued by it too, but um apparently not intrigued enough to have sat down with all the literature on it yet. But
Kyle Krull - 01:14:15
Will Burke - 01:14:19
know what I'm doing tonight when I'm going to bed
Anthony Corsaro - 01:14:23
the the theme there for me is the last 50 years of product development, has driven monoculture and has driven down agro biodiversity and all the product development we talked about on this podcast drives biodiversity and enables diversified, increased farmer livelihoods and incomes and like everything you just said came back to that, right? Which I think is, is amazing. Um Will last question to take us home and this has been super fun informative conversation. Thank you. Um How do we get region brands that have 50% market share by 20
Will Burke - 01:14:53
50 50% market share? Ok, so we're talking almost 25 years, 27 years from now. Um po policy I think is key. So, you know, um you know, the US isn't the end all be all of, of um trends and, and guidance and market and, and how to um produce you on a farm that said we're not the end all be all, but you know, we're all Americans here. And so I'll just focus on us policy and start there us policy with um with our corn farmers is just, you know, without going too deep into it. It's I I see it as being really backwards. We need to support farmers that can diversify their crops into products that are not just producing high fructose corn syrup uh which is killing us. Uh It's public enemy number one sugar and high fructose corn syrup um and get them on products that, that are healthy and will create better diets, better habits for us, uh better soil health for them. Um build soil health or build soil and um you know, create more nutrient density in the soil. Um so that they're able to not just, well firstly become resilient to climate change, but also um hopefully start to sequester carbon, which is something that we haven't even gotten into.
Will Burke - 01:16:06
Um But, but they, you know, us policy needs to really start focusing on that with, with America's farmers, I think, and incentivize them to produce, you know, what we need to produce what the world needs. But um but also diversify them, the crops that are gonna make us more healthy um and crops that will sequester carbon. And so the American consumer then that's where the marketing side comes in, needs to be educated on it. And so that, that's gonna take again, you know, us government funding to, you know, create uh marketing campaigns. I mean, I, I grew up with Smokey the bear and give a hoot. Don't pollute, it gives you really important messages, you know. So where is the next one?
Will Burke - 01:16:54
I've got kids, I've never seen a commercial like that on TV, you know, since the 17 eighties. Um So, so I think, you know, our us government needs to do it and they need to be pushed and I think that's where, you know, we start pushing congress members and senators to, to do that. That's, I think that's, that's what needs to happen because a and then we need to have a collective loud voice. And so we probably need to be the ones along with consumers that, that are pushing that. Um So we have our coalition. Um So we need to organize.
Will Burke - 01:17:27
So that, that's, that's probably how we get there. We organize, communicate with the senators and, and, you know, with data. Um and, and show what, you know, Americans need. Um And then, and then get them to, you know, start marketing on their own and, and implementing policies. So, without knowing much about American politics, I've been overseas for 25 years. It sounds a lot easier.
Will Burke - 01:17:57
Anthony Corsaro - 01:18:03
think you nailed it on the head. I think you nail it on the head. Even, even, even with that,
Kyle Krull - 01:18:08
agree, you know, uh, Doctor Mark Hyman has a great book called Food Fix. And he talks a lot about the corn subsidies and like that. What's, what's mind blowing to me? Not only do they subsidize the farming of the high fructose corn syrup, they then subsidize the purchasing because a lot of the high fructose corn syrup goes to soda. Right? And in a number of other places and not the soup is the only corporate, but 33% of all soda sales come from food stamps. So the government is also directly subsidizing a massive chunk of that revenue for those companies. And it's just like, man, and then they take on the burden of, you know, via Medicare or Medicaid, whatever. And obviously I'm not advocating against insurance, but all those people paying again a third time. Exactly. And you just, it's So it just doesn't make any sense.
Kyle Krull - 01:18:36
So I think you're spot on, I think policy has got to be one of the big ones. Um And I also love the, the collective like we need to amplify our voice and work together to raise awareness. I think you're, you're absolutely, you know, hitting the nail on the head.
Will Burke - 01:19:05
I can, I can add one more. Uh I can't remember the exact number but it, at the RF SI forum last year. And ac you might remember the number, but I remember that in one presentation they were talking about there's potentially up to $1 trillion of capital that can be unlocked, that could be invested in regenerative agriculture. And it's the question. Yeah, how to, how to, well, the capital is there. It's, it's, they, they say that it's, it's ready to go and it's been, it's just not executed yet like those, those, that's, that's the capital that's like looking for deals right now. They're about to exit something and they're ready to enter into something else. Um And so, you know, that's obviously the, the second component to it. It's, it's policy but also the capital from the private markets, the private capital markets need need to invest in this.
Will Burke - 01:19:37
So, and that, and that way you've got two prongs and if one, if one's not going forward, at least the other one is, but I don't know how to convince uh $1 trillion worth of capital markets to, to invest in return back. But, but we, we've done, we've done a little bit, we, we did get money a little, a little while ago. So nice.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:20:12
We're, we're gaining on it. The two biggest issues there is the majority of the climate funding is going to clean energy and it's going into engineered solutions versus Nature Based Solutions, right? And all these things are so interlocked. We talk about investing in women. We talked about investing in poverty alleviation. Like that's the best way to actually eliminate climate change. But you don't think about it like that, right? You think about, let's put a director capture machine that cost a billion dollars in the middle of a, you know, nowhere Montana and suck carbon out there. It's like, no, that's, that's not it. Right. It's agriculture, it's mangrove restoration, it's biodiverse landscapes.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:20:32
It's, you know, it's not building a wall to keep immigrants out but giving them better livelihoods in where they're from. You know, it's like all these, it's all these things and not to get too political. But you know that that's, it's, it's all above my pay grade, but at a high level you begin to see all the linkages and just the fact that like we are significantly stunted if we don't unlock some of those dams because they're there, what's really holding things back.
Will Burke - 01:21:11
Yeah. Yeah. Amen. Totally stunted.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:21:15
Yeah. Well, brother, this was an amazing conversation. Learned a ton and really excited to share with our audience. So, just thanks for making the time and thanks for all the work that you're doing.
Will Burke - 01:21:25
Thank you. Thanks for the work you're doing. It's great to have a platform where we can sing to, to the, to the public and uh you know, educate them a little bit and also um you know, um share what we do and uh I'm really, really happy to have this opportunity to be with you guys. Thank you.
Kyle Krull - 01:21:42
Absolutely, man. Before we close, I wanna make sure that uh any listener interested gets the opportunity to jump on the website. That's soul sol simple dot com. Um Check out the products, you know, II, I have not tried the dried banana, so I will be sure to, everything is fantastic. Uh But well, yeah, thanks again for your time and, and sharing, sharing all the great work you're doing.
Will Burke - 01:22:02
Thanks will. Thank you. Likewise. Thank you
Anthony Corsaro - 01:22:07
for show notes, episode transcripts and more information on our guests and what we discuss on the show. Check out our website Regen dash brands dot com. That is Regen dash brands dot com. You can also find our Regen recaps on the website. Regen recaps. Take less than five minutes to read and cover all the key points of the full hour long conversations. You can check out our youtube channel Regen Brands podcast for all of our episodes with both video and audio, the best way to support our work is to give us a five star rating on your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to future episodes and share the show with your friends. Thanks for tuning in to The ReGen Brands Podcast brought to you by the Regen Coalition and Outlaw Ventures. We hope you learn something new in this episode and it empowers you to use your voice, your time and your dollars to help us build a better and more regenerative food system. Love you guys.