Interview with Natierra Founder Thierry Ollivier
How Natierra founder Thierry Ollivier went beyond Fair Trade to create a unique marriage of business and social responsibility.
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“Businesses can do much bigger things than profit and dollars, can have a higher purpose than just making money,” says Natierra founder Thierry Ollivier.
You’re probably familiar with Himalayan pink salt. And you’ve undoubtedly sampled goji berries, one of the most popular “superfoods” at natural foods stores. But you probably didn’t know that it was Thierry Ollivier who first introduced those products to the American market.
A native Parisian who adopted the U.S. as his home in the 1990s, Ollivier has spent years traveling the globe to seek out new and intriguing foods—always with an eye to sustainability and social responsibility. Recent rainforest excursions led to the discovery of yacon, a tuberous root used for sweetening that the National Institutes of Health say “may be effectively used as a dietary supplement to prevent and treat chronic diseases,” and sacha inchi, a nut-like seed that’s packed with protein, all eight amino acids, and a healthy dose of plant-based omega-3s.
At every stop along the way, Ollivier has remained determined to give back to the communities that produce these unique foods. Social impact continues to be a primary goal for his company, Natierra. “We participate in 1% for the Planet initiatives, in after-school projects in Argentina; we sponsor families in Peru so they can receive free healthcare, and we buy Fair Trade where possible,” he says. “We say it in our tagline, ‘Superfoods with Soul.’”
But it was his quest to enable a sustainable dried-fruit industry in Haiti, specifically to prevent local mangoes from going to waste, that led Ollivier down the path to his passion. His team adopted a state-of-the-art freeze-drying process that maintains the nutrient density and attractive shape of the fruit, and then employed local workers to harvest and prepare it. But that was just the beginning.
During one of his trips to Haiti, Ollivier was confronted with a shocking and brutal reality: women and children were making and eating “cookies” out of mud to trick their stomachs into feeling full. Suddenly, sourcing ethical products and creating jobs was simply not enough. “I freaked out,” he says, “I told my team ‘We can and must do better than dirt.’”
And thus was born Ollivier’s “Feed A Soul” and “Buy One Bag, Feed One Child” initiatives. Partnering with the non-profit Convoy of Hope, Natierra provides a nourishing meal for a Haitian child for every bag of product sold. The meals are offered in schools, thereby encouraging local education and job preparation while fighting hunger and poverty. The goal is to provide one million meals by the end of 2018.
And it’s not only the Haitian children and their parents who benefit, as Ollivier is quick to point out. “It’s changed my life and the lives of my entire team. It’s not about selling our products anymore; it’s how many kids we’re feeding. I keep those mud cookies in my office to remind me that businesses can do much bigger things than profit and dollars, can have a higher purpose than just making money. This is how business can change the world for the better.”
That sure works for me. Eat healthy foods and feed a hungry child—and change the world one small act at a time.
See our Chocolate Raspberry and Goji Berry Fool, made with Natierra’s Organic Cacao Powder with Maca, and their Dark Chocolate Goji Berrie.