What does it take to launch a successful coffee brand in a competitive market? Jacqueline Arias the founder of the well known República Organic did it. Her secret? Passion, purpose and a really good idea.
It started with a family trip to Colombia almost 15 years ago- Arias’s country of birth.
Early on in the holiday, she and her husband, like most tourists to the popular South American nation, ordered coffee but were confronted by how “terribly bad” it was. Arias’s shock soon turned to a bitter realisation.
“I realised that coffee that comes from developing countries as well as other things like tea, spices, rice; the farmers, don’t have a clue how good their products are, and they have no clue as to how we consume it”, she says.
“They don’t know just how much we pay for their products, because they certainly don’t get that at all.”
Appalled by the way local Colombian farmers were treated, Arias set out to create an ethical company that would ensure they were guaranteed “a fair deal whilst not compromising on taste.”
And so began the humble business idea, that would soon become one of Australia’s leading, ethical FMCG brands.
“When I launched my brand, it was very early days of Fairtrade, nobody had heard about it. It wasn’t on the supermarket shelves in Australia- that is when it made sense to me. I wanted to make sure that Aussies had a choice at the checkout.”
Since 2014, República Organic products, including the business’s innovative, biodegradable coffee pods, have been on leading supermarket shelves. The pod technology is currently the only in market. “……the only one on supermarket shelves in Australia, the pods biodegrade in about 730 days same as an orange peel’.
While Coles and Woolworths were quick to jump on board, Arias believes it’s difficult for other brands to make the same leap.
“There’s a lot of things that make it prohibitive for companies to be more environmentally ethical,” she says. “Like, the additional cost to pay for the biodegradable capsule- because it does cost more than an aluminium or plastic capsule.”
But Arias believes the tide is changing quickly, and Australians expect more socially and environmentally responsible options from the brands they select.
“More and more people are aware of the environmental damage that single use capsules have. There’s a tidal wave against that and there’s going to be increasing demand for that on supermarket shelves.”
Right now, Arias is in the midst of a busy resettlement to Austin Texas, where the business is currently branching. She sees America as a huge opportunity, with the healthy, ethical products market growing rapidly.
But prior to starting up, Arias had no background in business, and stresses this isn’t necessary for every individual starting a venture. In the early days of starting out, she equipped herself with the necessary resources- books, professional advice and technology.
She also spent time reaching out to people she believed might be willing and able to help. She grew her network and professional support base and credits her background in journalism for this approach.
“When you’re a journalist, you’re curious about life and you want to find the answers to the questions you have,” she explains. “I think that was the greatest asset to building a business, because I knew what the questions were, and I knew how to find answers.”
Her naivety in this regard, was her greatest asset.
“I didn’t have a business background, so I didn’t see any constraints. I didn’t see any barriers. I thought everything was possible. I think there’s a real beauty in that, because when you believe in something, you truly go out for it, as opposed to now, 11 years into the business, I know what the barriers are.”
Arias also threw herself into study, saying a thirst for knowledge and up-skilling herself were always high on the priority list. In the last few years she’s not only completed a Masters of Entrepreneurship at MIT but a business course at the prestigious London Business School.
“I am constantly learning. I read global media about business, I pick up the paper, I call people, I spend money and time on education,” she explains. For women seeking to make a similar leap into business as herself, she emphasises the importance of mentors and being confident about opening doors that are there for you.
“Having mentors is really important, and not being afraid to open those doors. That’s often what women don’t do, they’re shy or they don’t think they’re good enough- I don’t have that. I do bang on doors. In fact, I bash on doors. Those are the things that’ve led me to be successful.”
As for other advice she’d lend to aspiring business leaders, Arias’s position is clear:
“If you’re going into business to make money, then you are starting from the wrong mission,” she says. “Go into business only if you have an awesome idea.”
“It needs to be something you’re going to fight for, and if you do that really well, then success will follow.”
Arias’s own mantra and the prevailing ideology behind the República brand is to “do the right thing when no one is looking.”
“We believe in independent certification. We are fairtrade and organic certified and we’re a B Corp Certified company, the highest certification on the planet for ethics in business. I’m a strong believer you need to do that. You need to walk the talk.”
“Break barriers, be a leader, don’t be a follower. Look how you can change the market. Look at how you can do something better than what’s there, your goal is to win the gold medal for your niche in the market”