18 November, 2019

Finding ways to evolve supply chains

by Pippa Rogers, Fairtrade Canada

Michael Yarymowich is the Sustainability Manager with Aramark Canada. Aramark is a proud Gold-level sponsor for the 2019 Fair Trade Campus Week. Learn more about Aramark’s work here.

Can you talk a bit about how Aramark works with Canadian campuses?

We are the managed services provider on colleges and universities in almost every province, mostly managing food services at those locations. Most of our work has to do with the dining experience on campus, and that might be in a retail kind of environment where you'll see some of the national brands or where we manage the people. In other cases they may be brands that are proprietary to Aramark and that may be unique to that campus. Of course, we also do the all-you-can eat style of dining that you find often in residential types of dining halls. So between those two styles, that makes up the lion's share of the way that we work with campuses as far as the food goes.

We also try to go into it being good partners when it comes to lending our areas of expertise. That may be for the overall educational experience of people being away from home for the first time, or sometimes we'll partner on an official kind of basis, working with a particular faculty or professor on a specific project. Other times, it's just offering the opportunity for students to come and work with us, whether it's volunteering on a project or becoming an employee.

Aramark has been an advocate for Fairtrade product availability on campuses across Canada. Can you talk a bit about what inspired your support Fairtrade?

We recognized a need within our business, both because of our own desire to put something to market that was going to be good in the community and also because it was what our customers and our clients were increasingly looking for.

So we started work on a proprietary coffee brand, which we named Coffee Eco Company, and we began looking at different ways of trying to deliver the message of what that coffee was all about. At the time I would say that we weren't necessarily more connected to Fairtrade than we might have been to some of the other eco labels but what we really liked about Fairtrade was the availability of product and the quality of product. It was also Fairtrade’s ability to have full transparency all the way up and down the supply chain, so it wasn't just a logo that people would recognize but not really understand. Anybody who had any questions around what Fairtrade represents could easily find out more information about that and expose themselves to the actual operations of coffee farming, the men and women who are involved in it, understand who those people were.

Have you seen an increasing demand over the years for Fairtrade products?

Yeah, definitely. What we see is not just an increase in the demand for more Fairtrade products, but I'd say more of a diversity in the suppliers within a category. So it's one thing to be able to say that we've got Fairtrade coffee, but what we've seen is we're now working with and supplying a whole host of Fairtrade coffee companies. And it's the same with the other categories too. You see that definitely with chocolate. We've seen that with tea and we've tried to respond to that demand for more diversity in the same way for that category. And we're even starting to see more and more of an increase in demand for additional categories, different types of products.

It's always been the coffee, tea, chocolate trifecta within our business, and we know that there's been other Fairtrade products available for a long time. There have been a variety of reasons that it's been harder to really crack into our supply chain with a lot of those products. That's what we're trying to figure out how to do is to respond to that demand. The obvious one is bananas and we've managed to do that in a couple of places and we're looking at other produce in other parts of the country. Most of the challenges that we have are logistical, and once we figure out how to work around that we're going to start to see a whole influx of new products and suppliers into our business.

How have you supported the demand for Fairtrade products across Canadian campuses?

The main way has been through exploring the opportunities with companies to do things on a larger scale.

For example, in Southern Ontario, we work with Planet Bean and we've been watching the demand for that product grow. I’m excited to say that in 2020, we’re introducing their product to a number of large Canadian universities. They have the ability to respond to our business model and support us not just with getting the product in-house and a good quality but also to be able to support the messaging. When we have the opportunity to work with someone that we can really grow with and is able to support us just because we are such a behemoth of a company and are spread out in so many different communities across Canada, we actually find it very helpful.

You've been a long-time supporter of Fair Trade Campus Week. Can you talk a little bit about how you champion it and why the campaign is important to you?

I would say the main way that we've championed it is by setting up events that are focused on engagement. It's one thing to offer something on the menu and say "by the way, did you know that the sugar in this particular brownie is Fairtrade?"; but we've really focused on trying to make sure that some of the events we have are engaging especially with students, especially with the generation that's going to be going forward and making those purchasing decisions now or after they've graduated. We’re building the awareness of what Fairtrade represents and knowledge of what the mark means.

We've done everything from Jeopardy games to Fairtrade movie nights. We want to get people to come over and go, "Hey, what's this all about?" Then one friend takes a picture and sticks it on Instagram and the next thing you know somebody else has been brought into the know about what Fairtrade is all about.

So what does the future look like in terms of supporting Fairtrade on campuses and product availability?

I don't think that I see any kind of real significant divergence from the path that we've already started down. There's so much more room to develop and to get even more engagement. As far as the products goes, I think we've started down a pretty good path. Every year we talk to new companies who are offering Fairtrade products and I think a lot of the work that needs to be done in order to make them available to the campus communities across the country, is really figuring out the logistics.

The food system globally, but certainly in Canada as well, is a complex system. When you're talking about a large-scale institution like a university for example, there are a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that can make it difficult to make sure that those products have a place in the display. Trying to make sure that you can get a product from A to B, make sure you can get it there in a reasonable amount of time, and end up taking away enough of those unnecessary middlemen or steps in between that tend to add costs to the final consumer that might scare them away from buying a product that they would otherwise buy.

I think what we are looking to do is to find unique ways, evolve the way that our supply chain works, the way that our food system works up to a point that opens the door to some really great products certified by Fairtrade that maybe in the not too distant past would just not have been able to crack the supply chain. But I think the bottom line is: Full steam ahead with what we've already started.