How TruLeaf is competing on purposePurposeful Products
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Industry: Agricultural Tech
Size: Medium (65 employees)
To improve public health and the environment by growing nutritious food using multi-level indoor farming technology.
Greens for everyone
TruLeaf uses their proprietary indoor vertical farming technology to grow and sell pesticide-free, nutrient-rich leafy greens all year round. The company sells to major food retailers, food service and distributors in Atlantic Canada, and is expanding to Ontario this fall. Their produce is sold under the GoodLeaf brand, through a wholly owned subsidiary.
But Gregg Curwin, CEO and founder of TruLeaf, sees potential for the company beyond simply growing greens. In addition to owning and operating farms across North America, TruLeaf sees how their indoor farming technology could be used to improve food security around the world. “Think of the Caribbean and the devastation last year. Every one of those islands could use one of our farms,” he says.
TruLeaf grows produce without the use of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. The growing system is designed to drastically reduce water usage compared to traditional farming methods, and because the farms are indoors and can be built anywhere, they offer local produce 365 days a year. As well as reducing the environmental costs of transporting food, TruLeaf is also supporting local employment throughout the year. “There’s nothing better for a provincial GDP than 12-month agricultural production,” says Curwin.
The company also sees significant potential for TruLeaf’s approach in Northern communities, giving access to locally grown nutritious food all year round and providing employment opportunities.
When your purpose is personal
Curwin believes that using vertical farming to develop a fairly priced nutritious product is the most effective way for him to make an impact on the public health crisis he witnessed during the decades he worked in the healthcare industry.
“I was deeply disturbed by what I was seeing – the incredible amount of inefficiency and the incredible acceleration of disease, our emergency rooms lined up with people in the hallways,” he says.
It was around this time that Curwin was introduced to the concept of vertical farming. He quickly became interested in the connection between nutrient-rich food, self care and health. “I couldn’t get it out of my head and I actually divested out of my other businesses. I think my wife thought I was bona fide crazy. She supported me fully and so I took a couple of years just researching it and I just deeply felt that this is the future.”
Curwin’s passion for TruLeaf’s purpose has seen him through the ups and downs of the business, and he’s seen this same motivation help his team members on hard days as well. It’s also played a role with their investors, who, says Curwin, might not have started out as impact investors but have turned into them after they’ve bought into TruLeaf’s social mission – and the company.
Competing on purpose
Their purpose has also given TruLeaf a strong competitive edge, enabling them to compete successfully against other well-known brands in the health and organic space.
TruLeaf’s customers – retailers and distributors – are responding to consumer demand for the types of products that TruLeaf offers, but that demand goes beyond a simple desire for lettuce. Curwin sees consumers making informed decisions about what they buy, attracted to the story told by TruLeaf about their purpose in their marketing.
“So I think the more we tell our story, the more the consumer understands it, it will directly affect our revenue,” says Curwin. “If we don’t tell the story well, if we don’t say that we’re doing all these great things, then shame on us and then it will probably have a negative effect on revenue.”
Getting the timing right
Curwin believes that the time is right for purpose-led businesses to prosper, and TruLeaf is benefiting from this. “The demand is incredible. And I think it’s a testament to our quality, but also to the market demographic and what’s going on socially. People want to care about their food.”
But it wasn’t always this way. He remembers in the early days of TruLeaf when discussions with a government department about his idea ended in ridicule. Thankfully, times have changed – be it conscious consumers creating a market demand, investors wanting to pursue a social purpose with their money, or employees searching for meaningful work that reflects their values.
“Don’t be afraid of purpose-led. Embrace it and back it with a sound business case and then you’re going to have a lot of fun,” says Curwin. “Never has there been a better time to start a purpose-led business.”
Don’t be afraid of purpose-led. Embrace it and back it with a sound business case and then you’re going to have a lot of fun. Never has there been a better time to start a purpose-led business.
In a 2018 survey of US consumers, nearly eight in ten (79%) said they are more loyal to purpose-driven companies and would tell others to buy products from those companies (78%), while two-thirds (66%) said they would switch brands and over half (57%) would pay more.
(2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study)