Giving Back: Fair Quinoa Vodka
BOLIVIA – Fair Spirits use fair trade principles in their spirits — Quinoa Vodka, made with quinoa sourced from a co-op of 1,200 independent farmers in the Bolivian Andes; Cafe Liqueur, made with coffee beans from Veracruz, Mexico, and sugar from Malawi; and Goji Liqueur, made from goji berries from the Tibetan Himalayas. We asked co-founder Jean-Francois Daniel about empowering farmers, the inspiring solitude of the Andes, and booze.
Tell us about yourself. I'm Jean-Francois Daniel, co-founder of Fair Spirits.
Tell us about your vodka. Fair Quinoa Vodka is distilled from organic, fair trade, and gluten-free quinoa, an ancient grain first seeded by the Incas 5,000 years ago. It's called the "mother of all grains." Our quinoa is sourced from our partner cooperative of small local producers in Bolivia.
What inspired you to create this? My partner, Alexandre Koiransky, and I became friends in a previous experience with craft spirits. We were determined to start our own spirits company with a commitment to improving the world. Farming is the basic activity for a lot of the planet. So if we thought, "If we want to fight poverty, then we have to empower people through farming." Fair trade. Vodka is grain and water. We connected the dots, and our contribution to the world is built inside our products.
What did you do before this? Alex and I were selling one of the most prestigious cognacs, Ferrand. Terroir, method, patience, and savoir-faire drove our experience, but something was missing and we found it by founding Fair.
Who benefits from your work? Our team: A young crew fair trade evangelists who promote our products in Paris, London, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles.Our farmers: It is estimated that Fair has had an impact on 30,000 lives, including families, women, and children. Our customers: Quality, innovation and direct opportunity to participate to tackle extreme poverty.
Did you have any prior personal connections to the place or the people? We had travelled to Bolivia before, but the group that we specifically work with today was advised to us through Fair Trade USA.
What's challenging about working with the farmers in Bolivia? Wondering where happiness truly is.
Tell us about a lost-in-translation moment. Bolivians use the suffix "ito" all the time. It's a diminutive they add to make every word sound like it is tiny and small. Un cafecito (a little coffee), un pueblito (a little town), un poquito (a little bit). So when someone says they will pick you up in un minutito, it translates as "just a little minute," but it really may take an hour for they come and pick you up
How often do you go to Bolivia? Every six months.
When you're there, what are your three favorite things?
Breakfast: Go to any local market early in the morning, and a big Quechua mama with her funky hat will serve you strong coffee, bread, and cheese for a few Bolivianos (the local currency). I am French, so I can't go wrong with bread and cheese.
Quinoa fields: They're 4,000 feet high in the high plateau of the Andes in absolute silence. They inspire a unique feeling of freedom and connection to the earth.
People: For their humility and respect.
Describe a Kodak moment from one of your trips. So many Kodak moments. The landscapes are just so unbelievable. Take the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat in southwest Bolivia after a few weeks of rain. The white ground is filled with water and you can't distinguish between sky and earth: It's a pure reflection of the sky in the water.
Has your work changed the way you think about charity and helping others? Yes. "Give someone a fish and you feed him for a day; teach someone to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Fair trade is the application of that proverb.
What's your advice for entrepreneurs who want their businesses have an aspect of global giving? Real impact will come from how your supply chain is built. Your cost of production is the main challenge to solve in order to leave room for a fair trade, but it is where you can have the most impact on people's lives. Some companies donate to charities but they do not want to re-think their profit structure.
Where do you want your company to be in five years? Grey Goose.
Where are you traveling next? San Francisco.