Founded in 1976, Iowa based Frontier Co-op is a leader in branded organic and natural herbs, spices, and essential oils. As a co-operative owned by wholesale customers that buy and sell its products, Frontier sources hundreds of different botanicals and oils from over 175 suppliers in 50 countries. Many of these products are tropical commodities produced disproportionately by small-scale growers. Frontier sells under three brands: Frontier, Simply Organic, and Aura Cacia.
Through its Well Earth support program established in 2007, Frontier helps its suppliers – many of which are SMEs, small-farmer co-operatives, or social enterprises – to improve quality, efficiency, and income opportunities for farming families and workers. In addition to the challenges of navigating the market and managing food-safe operation, Frontier’s suppliers often face hurdles associated with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, farmer relationship management and side-selling, pesticide residues and drift, and ensuring compliance with international ethical labor standards. Well Earth helps Frontier’s suppliers navigate these issues and, through a process of continuous improvement, identify and close performance gaps. To support suppliers in making their businesses sustainable, Frontier assists them in developing and implementing improvement projects. Since the program’s inception, Frontier has co-invested approximately $2MM in supplier projects, in addition lending technical expertise acquired over 40 years of operation.
About Frontier’s Safe Processing in Cooperative Enterprises (SPICE) Cooperative Development Program
One of Frontier’s long-standing trading partners in Sri Lanka, Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA), works to support its members’ organic cultivation practices, enhance their socio-economic wellbeing, provide education facilities, and support the economically disadvantaged at-large in member villages. However, SOFA does not process the spices it aggregates from its members, instead selling its produce to intermediaries who do the value-added processing and sell to international buyers like Frontier. Since the coming into force of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Frontier has been compelled to divert over $1MM in annual business from some of these intermediaries who cannot meet FSMA’s strict food safety regulations. In turn, Frontier has scaled back its purchases of SOFA’s spices despite the inherent high-quality of the unprocessed commodities.
In light of this development, Frontier and SOFA have entered into a strategic partnership to establish a spice facility capable of processing SOFA members’ crops and exporting FSMA-compliant, ready to eat spices to Frontier and other independent buyers. By doing so, the Safe Processing in Cooperative Enterprise (SPICE) CDP project will differentiate SOFA’s spices in the global market place, allowing it to capture market share as well as added value previously forfeited to intermediaries. In the global spice trade, few if any partnerships exist in which a farmer co-operative is brought into the process of co-owning, managing, and reaping benefits from food-safe value addition associated with advanced processing.
The SPICE project will support the training of farmers, processing facility staff, and SOFA management, as well as provide the secondary processing equipment, which will facilitate export of value-added, food safe, ready to eat spices. To add additional impact, recruitment and training of staff for the processing facility will target youth, women, and disabled persons from SOFA membership families, creating inclusive opportunities for disadvantaged rural demographic groups as well as off-farm income opportunities for SOFA’s farming families. All of these outcomes will allow SOFA’s members – rural households – to capture additional value, stabilize incomes, and increase household livelihoods.