For our latest supplier profile, we met with Luke Coffey, the co-founder of The Organic Collective.
With a commitment to organic practices, local community engagement, and environmental stewardship, the Organic Collective is not just a company, but a movement towards a greener future. Even though the company wasn’t officially formed until January 2016, Luke met his future business partner during his return to college in 2016 whilst studying business. They soon came up with the idea of a chia seed drink which led them to sourcing their chia seeds from a company in Germany leading to fruitful relationship with the company owner who gave them invaluable knowledge of the organic food trade, travelling to food fairs and markets all over the world. The knowledge and experience gained in the following years trading organic ingredients on behalf of the German company led them to create their own company which can be described as one founded by passionate individuals who shared a love for the environment and a vision for sustainable living, who quickly became a beacon of ethical business practices.
“The zero waste movement is a really interesting way of changing the philosophy around the delivery of food.”
The Organic Collective were very interested in zero waste from the very start, even before the company’s inception in 2016. They started looking at that particular channel within retail to see what products retailers were using as well as identifying the issues these business’s were facing. The Organic Collective started to develop their product range around those difficulties. They spent some time on the issues where the product quality standards were not where they needed to be within that particular area.
As The Organic Collective increased their products , certain needs informed them on how to improve the standard of quality of products like organic pasta – which the Coop will be stocking very soon. Luke admits that at the time of investigating, they didn’t feel the standard of organic zero waste pasta were where it needed to be, and this led them to an amazing part of Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region.
The relationship between The Organic Collective and the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy began during the search for organic flour. The supplier are a 100% organic only producer belonging to a large co-operative who also supply flour to a pasta company which is very close to them. The wheat is grown within 50-100 miles of their production facility. This story is particularly interesting as Luke advised that the flour company went 100% organic in 2009 whereas the whole area have gone organic in the past 20 years. The farmers advised each other how to become certified and how to treat the soil which has created a connection of producers in one particular area covering about 35,000 hectares. The flour company in particular employs hundreds in the local area where the workers have bought into the philosophy of the company & what it stands for. A perfect example of a co-operative working effectively.
Luke tells the story of how much they don’t like to have 10 suppliers for every ingredient. One thing they’ve learned from the very start is that food is a relationship based thing – from their supplier perspective but also when they are dealing with their customers, all the way to when their customers are dealing with the end consumer. A relationship built process from the farmer all the way to the person consuming the food.
They like to have 2 to 3 suppliers across each category. They choose suppliers who are certified in the right areas, specialize in the products they supply in areas of the world which specialize in those particular ingredients. The best place to grow an organic product is where it’s naturally found.
The recent challenges within the global food sector have led to an increase in transportation costs across the board. Luke admits that even pallets of wood on an order have a charge now. The extreme heat in Spain and France has made it significantly difficult to grow food and El Nino in South America is having a huge impact on chia seeds as well as other ingredients from that region including the variety of nuts they produce. It’s going to be a rough ride which is contributing to higher prices – potentially price gouging on top of that. The best advice Organic Collective can give in this area is transparency; being honest with their suppliers if prices have gone up & explain the reasons why, wth the intention of protecting their customer from huge price hikes.
It is clear that Dublin Food Co-op and The Organic Collective share a common ethos. There is hope that we’re returning to small businesses that organize people into an area where customers & shop owners converse about the product they’re buying. The interaction between people and food particularly with a sustainability perspective, that is what the Organic Collective is all about. Spain, Italy & France have this relationship with food which is unparalleled. Food should not be seen just a fuel but also a way of connecting people as well as feeding your brain, the relationship between your mood and how you eat. It’s not just about how you look but how you think. The experience of going out to buy food should be something that is really cherished.