Doing Well. By Doing Good.
That’s how we define success at The Whole Truth.
Doing well, but leaving the world in a worse place than we found it in, doesn’t count. Too many businesses did that and look where that’s left us.
Doing good, without making it self-sustaining, doesn’t count either. There’s a reason philanthropy doesn’t scale. What’s sad though, is that we’ve all been made to see this as a choice. We’ve been taught that businesses are evil, profit-making machines that don’t (and shouldn’t) care for the means. We firmly believe the opposite. We believe that commerce vs conscience is a false choice. That these two aren’t at loggerheads. That doing the right thing can be scalable, profitable & sustainable. It has to be. What hope does humanity have if it isn’t?
The real problem though, is how does one define ‘good’? Doing well is well-defined. Revenue and profits and margins and scale. This one we business folks get. Defining ‘good’ though is a bit more complex. If I give away 2% of my profits as CSR, is that good enough? Ok, that’s the bare minimum by law, but how about 3%? Or 5%? And what if I support a cancer foundation? What if I give away 5p on every rupee of sale on this product, to an NGO? Am I doing good? Yes, you’re doing good. In fact, you’re doing better than most. But is it sustainable? Push comes to shove, when the chips are down and when business survival is at stake, will these initiatives survive? Good becomes sustainable when doing good isn’t an option. When it’s integral to business strategy. When you believe it’ll get you more consumers and hence more profit.
Good becomes sustainable when it starts making you money. Money that you can then re-invest into doing more good. A virtuous cycle!
Dairy & Plastic
Ok, wow, that’s a lot of talk for a fellow selling protein bars! I agree. But stay with me for a bit.
The whole reason why The Whole Truth came into existence, was to do the right thing. To set packaged foods right. We’d had it with brands lying through their teeth. So we set out to build India’s first, 100% clean-label food brand. And when we swore to never put anything in our food that we can’t declare proudly upfront, we inextricably linked our fortunes with doing the right thing. We left ourselves no other option. And it felt so good when consumers started rewarding us with their business! We were doing well. And the cleaner the food we made, and the more honestly, we communicated with our community, the better our business did! But with all the love also came heightened expectations. The community wanted us to do more. Their two biggest concerns being dairy & plastic.
To be more specific:
1. Why don’t you make Vegan products?
2. Why don’t you find a way to cut out plastic from your packaging?
That’s what they kept asking. And absolutely rightly so. After all, who else would they expect this from? Not the old, fuddy-duddy brands of yore! The ones who still believe marketing is about creatively fooling the consumer into buying your product. And in fact, we’d been working on both these issues pretty much from day one. We just didn’t know how tough it’d be to get them right.
Vegan is tough
Ask any Vegan, and the biggest issue they’d articulate about packaged food options, outside of availability, is taste. It’s incredibly hard to make 100% clean, 100% plant-based food tasty! Our tongues are so used to animal proteins and the sweet, creamy texture of dairy, that making food without these two, that still hits the spot, is tough. Especially if you’ve also sworn to not use any refined sugars or ‘nature-derived’ flavors or sweeteners or additives. And food that isn’t tasty, isn’t sustainable. It won’t make you any money. After a point, the organizational will to do the right thing will be overtaken by the financial imperative of doing well. A vicious cycle, not a virtuous loop.
Plastic is tougher
When we crafted our delivery experience, from day one, we eliminated all plastic from our secondary packaging.
Our recycled cardboard box
The brown box we send you our bars in is both made from recycled materials and 100% recyclable. On the inside, instead of using any bubble wrap for insulation, we used shredded paper. Perhaps a first for any Indian food brand. The only 2 places we used plastic were in primary packaging (the wrappers of the bars) and in the courier bag that covers the brown box and houses the delivery slip.
Now, there’s a reason why plastic became as ubiquitous a material as it did. Its functionality and versatility is unparalleled. We tried using paper packaging for the protein bars, but what happens in case there is any water contact? Or in case a sharp object cuts through them in transit? Same for the outer courier bag. Not to mention, given how natural our bars are, they release nut-oil over time. That oil seeps through the paper packs and stains them. The solution is to put a plastic laminate on the inside, but that’d defeat the whole purpose. From a heat barrier to pollution and light barrier, there are just so many facets of food packaging where plastic wins, that using any other material just doesn’t make any consumer or business sense. Not yet at least.
Introducing: Vegan Bars
But all that I just said, doesn’t mean we sit on our hinds and do nothing. As the famous saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s no whey!
As I write this piece, the team is getting ready to launch our Vegan Energy Bars!
It took us 10 months of trial and error! As I said, we grossly under-estimated how much time it’d take, to make a vegan product that tastes as good, if not better, than our current bars.
But we finally have it! A product that’s as good for the planet, as it is for your body. And because it’s so fudging tasty, we believe it’ll sell by the truckloads, and incentivize us to keep doing the right thing!
Ok enough of our own trumpet. I’ll let you try them and tell me if you agree!
EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility)
We never did find a better material than plastic for our primary packs. But we figured that the problem isn’t the plastic. It’s how it’ll be disposed of.
The plastic we throw in our dustbins, usually, ends up in a landfill or in the ocean. It can be recycled, but most of it doesn’t reach a recycling station. Or, due to a lack of segregation, it doesn’t reach a retrievable state.
But what if you sent the plastic back to us, and we disposed of it responsibly? What if we, the manufacturer, took on the task of recycling the plastic we put out into the world? It makes me extremely proud to announce that, with the launch of the vegan bars, we’re taking our first baby-steps towards owning this responsibility too.
How EPR works
When you order our Vegan bars, you’ll receive a self-addressed envelope. All you need to do is put the plastic wrappers and the courier bag in it, and mail them back to us. That’s it!
At our end, we’ve created a storage facility for all this plastic, and have tied up with both upcycles and recyclers. We’ll ensure that the plastic either becomes something re-useable (like a bag) or at the very least, it goes back into the loop for future re-use (like making plastic pellets).
Sending the envelope won’t cost you anything since the stamps are paid for. And while most of us wouldn’t have used a postal box in ages, finding one ain’t that tough. Simple google maps search, and you’ll be surprised at how many there might be around you!
Oh, and to make it worth your while, if you post a photograph of yourself committing this noble deed, we’d give you 25% off your next order! A virtuous loop for you too!
Why brands exist
Here’s a question we’re asked quite often. Why do such expensive stuff that so few people actually care for? Why do something so ‘niche’?
It’s a good question. Using only clean ingredients, sourcing recyclable materials, building reverse logistics, and recycling into your own costs…all this is expensive. And perhaps not the smartest thing to do, for a young startup that ain’t sitting on tons of cash. So why do it? Especially when no massive hoard of consumers is going to come flocking to you because you did. Well, the answer lies in why brands exist. We believe that, just like movies, brands play an important role in shaping the cultural zeitgeist. And just like movie-makers, brand owners are faced with a constant dilemma.
Meet consumers where they are, or take them where we all need to be?
The former, obviously, is where the easy profits are. Consumers want a fairness cream, a cheese-burst pizza, a juice that’s as sugary as the cola they replaced it with, and a 50-year-old hero romancing a dainty 25-yr old girl as he kicks the villain into a gravity-defying upward parabola. Give ’em what they want, and make a large sums of money. Or, make a Ship of Theseus or a Haasil or a Man from Earth. But then don’t pretend that it’s anything more than a passion project. Just hope it gets you some critical acclaim, makes you a decent living…and then go direct some nice theatre and be happy. But then every once a while, along comes a Nolan. And makes you wonder if this too, was a false choice. Whether there is a world where mind-expanding, horizon-enlarging, creatively-honest stuff…can also make you money! Plus the license, rather the expectation, to keep pushing the boundaries. As if your life (and profits) depends on it. That’s the world we’re out to find. We’ve made our choice. We won’t let commerce come in the way of our conscience. Nor vice versa. Instead, like Nolan in the 90’s, we’ll operate in the (seeming) margins, and wait for the tide to turn. And when it does, it’ll lift the boats of all those who invested in doing the right thing. Or we’ll go back to doing theatre. Let’s see 🙂