Ethics, organics, sustainability – profit


Ethical business pioneer and Karma Cola chief executive Chris Morrison is a true business disruptor.

When we talk about disruption in business – and let’s face it, we do that a lot – we mostly talk about the impact of technology.

But a new and still emerging consumer movement, loosely described as ethical consumerism or conscious consumerism, is also opening opportunities for a new breed of entrepreneurs.

In New Zealand, Karma Cola and All Good Bananas co-founder Chris Morrison is one that for over thirty years has constantly proved there are profitable alternatives to “business at any cost”.

Morrison built the Phoenix Organics drinks company from foundation in 1985 through to its sale to Charlie’s for $10 million in 2005. His aim was to keep Phoenix in local ownership, but Charlie’s was sold to Japanese giant Asahi the in 2011.

Phoenix was a pioneer in embracing organics, Fair Trade and the environment – and in creating new markets for ethical products. Morrison has taken that to the next level in his subsequent businesses which are also making an impact internationally.

Karma Cola is being sold in the UK through a new alliance with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chains and a feasibility study is under way on opportunities the US market.

Morrison says global growth in organics is running at around 11 per cent and has been in double figures for at least 15 years.

That represents a huge and fast growing opportunity – one that attracted the attention of cash-rich digital disruptor Amazon when it bought healthy foods disruptor Whole Foods Market for US$13.7 billion this year.

Ethical businesses are conscious businesses, Morrison says. They are transparent and they are authentic.

Through embracing and supporting Fair Trade, Morrison and co-founders Simon Coley and brother Matthew Morrison are helping to ensure growers’ lives are improved, especially in Sierra Leone where Karma sources its organic cola nuts.

All Good has established the Karma Cola Foundation there to assist the people of Boma Village and surrounding areas after civil war. The foundation has helped fund infrastructure, education deliver a HIV/Aids programme and provide machinery to improve farm outputs.

Even ethical business is requires compromise, Morrison says.

“You never pay growers as much money as you'd like and you never provide the customer with a product as cheap as you'd like.”

It’s a quest that never ceases. Recently Morrison has been looking internally, at the financial wellbeing of his staff, and addressing that through paying a living wage.

The living wage concept emerged strongly during New Zealand’s housing a homelessness crisis over the last few years, struck a chord and is now applied across the company.

“I just think it would be morally wrong for us not to do that at least as a minimum. We should be striving to do a lot better than that.”

As with organics and sustainability, the business case for the living wage is real too – and measurable in the quality of people All Good attracts, productivity and workplace wellbeing.

“People feel enthusiastic about coming to work,” he says.

Morrison says paying enough for people to live on should be a given, but acknowledges it could be hard for some businesses where margins are tight. But there is another way to think about that problem: ethical businesses often have higher margins than commodity businesses.

That’s because ethics deliver something many businesses forget to develop – a story. A deep story that customers, staff and suppliers can engage with.

Today, values are valuable – they are a business asset and a differentiator in the market.