Thank you to Tony Bedard, CEO of Frontier Co-op for telling us how they have been showing the world since 1976 that Doing Good, Works!
When was Frontier Co-op formed?
Frontier Co-op was founded in 1976 in rural Iowa to help small grocers in the region pool their resources to gain access to the natural and organic products their consumers were looking for. Since that time, our co-op has grown to over 40,000 member-owners, with four facilities in Iowa, four brands, and employing over 550 people.
What is Frontier’s mission and how do you work to fulfill that mission?
At Frontier Co-op, we believe that Doing Good, Works. It’s not charity; it’s just good business. Every investment whether it’s time, resources, or funding, helps improve the lives of everyone our co-op touches, and ultimately, we are better off because of it. Globally, our work in growing communities through our Well Earth program help ensure the sustainability of our sourcing partners and their communities, resulting in a steady supply of high-quality raw materials in the future. In terms of giving, each year we contribute more than $1 million to non-profits in the US and around the world who are dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable in our communities, making these communities, environment, and our economy stronger and more resilient. Internally, we invest heavily in programs that support our employees and break down barriers to employment, resulting in a committed workforce dedicated to pushing our co-op to improve, grow, and evolve. Doing good in the world really does ‘work’ for business. It’s been working for our co-op for over 46 years.
What international development programming has Frontier Co-op been engaged in over the last 5 years?
Since 2018, we’ve been working with USAID on the Cooperative Development Program (CDP). Our CDP work started in Sri Lanka, with the Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA) where we source a variety of spices including black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. In that time, we have expanded the scope to include two other projects: one in India with Young Mountain Tea’s small-scale tea farmers, and another in Guatemala with FEDECOVERA, a cooperative federation that aggregates organic cardamom, allspice, and turmeric, among others, from its member cooperatives. The goal of our work with CDP is to utilize the cooperative model to achieve improved livelihoods for farmers and communities alike. As a co-op ourselves, Frontier has found mutually beneficial opportunities to build the capacity of our cooperative partners so they can better serve their members, while also providing a guaranteed market for their product at a premium price and helping to expand their market penetration by offering a value-added finished good.
What can you tell us about future plans for Frontier Co-op (either as an organization, or your international development work)?
We are just beginning work on our CDP project in Peru. The goal of this project will be to accelerate the development of a sustainable spices sector in the country to meet the increasing global demand for ginger, turmeric, oregano and other spices, all while increasing the resiliency and income of the farmers. We’ll be taking on work to improve the supply of spices by improving productivity and enhancing the quality of the product to comply with international regulations and standards. I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to travel again – I was able to visit our CDP project in Guatemala in September of last year, and plan to visit the other two projects in the next year or so. We’re working on a video series to help better tell the story of this cooperative development work, and the power of the cooperative business model to help improve the resiliency of businesses and communities around the world. You can find our first video here, and the full length video detailing our long-time partnership with FEDECOVERA on our website at https://www.frontiercoop.com/doing-good-works-coban-guatemala.
What is the thing that most surprises people when they learn about Frontier Co-op?
I think people are most surprised by how much our co-op has grown over the last four decades. I’ve been here for thirty years and it still surprises me to see the impact that we can have in the world, whether it’s partnerships like with USAID CDP, or our own Breaking Down Barriers to Employment initiative, which helps address barriers like childcare, transportation, criminal-justice informed backgrounds, or homelessness. We came from some very humble beginnings, and I think that mentality has stuck with us through the years. As a result, most people have no idea the impact that one co-op in a little rural town in Iowa is having around the world.