A little while ago Camino, an Ottawa company that focuses on fair trade products was on a CBC television show called ‘The Big Decision’. You can actually watch the episode online here. The show features two companies that are in need of some advice and a cash injection. If one or both of the companies are found to be able to rise to the challenge of changing as set forth by the two host / entrepreneurs, the company is given an investment.

I recently had a few questions answered by Camino CEO Jennifer Williams!

(Me) Camino specializes in fair trade items, something that is becoming more and more popular today. What makes Camino different?

(Jennifer) Camino is a bit of a pioneer of fair trade cocoa, sugar and chocolate products in Canada: We have been fair trade AND organic since 1999 – a bit ahead of the curve!  As part of this commitment, we certify all of our products through Fair Trade  International, an independent, third-party system that guarantees the traceability of a product from a small producer in the south, to the actual chocolate bar or hot chocolate sold in Canada.

At the core of our mission is building vibrant sustainable communities; for us, this means not only buying agricultural commodities at fair trading prices, but also ensuring the transformation from raw material to finished goods is done wherever possible in rural communities in the global south. For example, our brown sugar is grown, processed, packaged and exported retail ready by  a co-operative in northern Peru.  In doing this, the rural communities have not only the income from the cane itself, but also from all the additional value add processing that occurs. This type of work has enabled the children of these communities who have gone away to university/college the opportunity to come back to rural areas and find work with the co-operative in these processing centres. Other products that have this same value-add include our baking chocolates, our coconut and our golden cane sugar.

I notice that Camino is particularly proud of the relationship it holds with its producers – do you have any stories or examples of how working with Camino has benefited these producers?

One that immediately jumps to mind is our partnership with Peru’s CEPICAFE. We first met with the General Manager of the CEPICAFE Co-operative in 2008 in Canada, who, at the time, was seeking a market for the co-op’s newpanela (unrefined whole cane sugar). Up to that point, coffee had been CEPICAFE’s primary output.Panela, however, was a product that would allow the co-op to generate added value through processing. We felt that this was a very timely opportunity for Camino and CEPICAFE to collaborate around the development of new products, especially since we see ourselves as match-makers in a sense, linking products from co-operatives in the south with demand from Canadian consumers.

Having studied the needs of the Canadian market, we found that a whole cane brown sugar would meet market expectations. With that in mind, we worked with CEPICAFE to quickly develop all of the necessary formats and packaging, as well as agree on an annual import schedule. Since we launched the product, we noticed that it has been very well received by the Canadian market and we are currently importing approximately 4 containers per year.

Also, until CEPICAFE developed an export market for panela, cane was a very marginalized commodity and had virtually no commercial value. Cane was also frequently used to make a local alcohol calledaguagardiente, which had serious social and economic impacts on local communities in that many cane communities suffered from high levels of alcoholism.

The financial and social impacts associated with processing cane into a high-quality, whole brown sugar have been truly astounding. CEPICAFE has experienced:

·        483% increase in income for members of their cane crops;

·        6-fold increase in the number of new producers (from 100 to 600 people);

·        6-fold increase in the amount of organic cane grown (from 120 hectares to 700 hectares);

·        Dramatic reduction in alcoholism in the area;

·        Investment in new processing technology and development of new processing centres in rural regions of the Sierra of Piura;

·        Vast improvement in the quality ofpanela in the region;

·        Reduction in the overall costs of production.

For so many years, panela had such little perceived value in the region, despite having a much higher nutritional value than that of white sugar. The members are now experiencing a validation of worth, which stems from the knowledge that their product which is made in rural Peruvian communities holds such a high value in other parts of the world. There is a fresh and strong sentiment of pride amongst co-op members: In fact, an annualpanela festival is held every September in Montero (unofficially named the capital ofpanela) to celebrate this traditional product.

You offer a line of juice that is made using puree rather than just extracted juice – it results in a healthier drink because of the fibre that remains. Was this a health choice, a production choice, or just for taste?!

Quality has always been core to our Camino brand and our products.  When we tried recipes of the juices that were more watered down, they just didn’t do justice to the ingredients. This was the primary reason that we developed and launched these recipes, though any puree health benefits are a bonus.

How has being on CBC’s ‘The Big Decision’ changed things at Camino??

Having Arlene’s insight into our business had a large impact on our perspective about where we could take the brand. The national exposure has been great for attracting new customers, as well as reminding others about who we are. There hasn’t necessarily been major changes in our structure as a result, but overall, appearing on The Big Decision was a great experience and great exposure.

Thank you so much Jennifer for your time and for the goodies that Camino passed along. It’s not just great treats, but also baking supplies! Sugar, chocolate chips and baking chocolate. I made some mini muffins I made with the chocolate chips. It’s true that good quality chocolate really does improve your baking. There were such complex flavour in the dark chocolate! For a full list of products and where to find them make sure you visit Camino’s website!