2020 has been a year like no other. It has been a year of change, for the Liberation team, for me personally and for the world in general.
We started the year with business as usual but in new surroundings. Following the departure of our friends and colleagues at TWIN, with whom we shared an office and much more. We relocated our business to Old Street, setting up our new base with Ethical Property Services.
January and February were busy, travel-filled months, which on reflection seems like a luxury! I went to Nicaragua to visit Del Campo cooperative, in the capacity of Technical Manager. The aim was to identify new processors in the country who were organic certified, to discuss the organic peanut project in general and identify co-op members who wanted to participate, as well as to get an update on the Del Campo business. It was great to see that the co-operative was doing very well and had experienced a great harvest of both peanuts and sesame. I was also lucky enough to catch the first harvest of organic peanuts being turned on one of the farms we work closely with – an exciting moment for us all.
There was also the annual visit to the largest organic food fayre in Europe, BIOFACH. The event in Germany provided an excellent opportunity to look out for potential new suppliers and business opportunities as well as meet with all our current European customers. I was joined by various team members, Juan Bravo, President of International Nut Cooperative (INC), as well as former colleague Andrew Emmott, who is now running his own sustainable macadamia nut company, Nutcellars.
Then COVID struck…… and we entered nationwide lockdown. The Liberation office space was closed by mid-March and the team have been working at home ever since. A Business Continuity Plan was put in place that enabled us to maintain services to our customers and business has continued to function almost as normal. We were able to commit to the bulk purchase of cashew nuts from Fairtrade Alliance Kerala and even make a decent profit, (helped by the fact that the wave of consumer stockpiling resulted in increased demand for our Fairtrade peanuts, but nevertheless something we are proud of!).
Of course, the cooperatives in the producer countries were on our minds throughout this year. Some groups were hit particularly hard during the peak of the pandemic. Bolivia suffered heavily, with reports of around 90% of people in some areas getting sick and estimates of over 500 people in gatherer communities losing their lives due to the virus. We remained in close contact with members of the coops and were pleased to receive the news that the AIRA cooperative were using the Fairtrade Premium to buy essential supplies for the members and their families most in need.
June saw a change in leadership as our Interim Managing Director left the business and our Board asked me to step up from the Technical role that I had held since 2013 to fill the void. From June until the end of this year has been an exceptionally busy period for us so it was in at the deep end. Aside from keeping our customers in supply of our goods, we have embarked upon a major project that will shape the future of Liberation. We are currently reviewing our brand, it´s market position and our purpose and value proposition with all three parts being run in tandem. It is a big undertaking, but one that we feel is necessary and, in the end, will provide us with the tools and information we need to build a stronger, more successful brand for the future; but more about that next year!
We also moved some of our business to a new packing factory in July, made particularly challenging given the fact that we had to plan, organise, and execute the activities completely remotely rather than at the production site as we would normally have done. Despite reduced staffing levels and capacity issues during the transition period, disruptions to supplies and limited resources we were able to oversee a successful move.
And of course, despite the pandemic taking up a lot of head space, the dreaded Brexit is still looming. With uncertainties around any deal still unresolved in December, the business has readied itself for impact, moving products to new homes so that we can reduce the number of border crossings and lessen the impact of potential tariffs moving into 2021. As for many businesses, everything feels very uncertain.
But despite all these challenges and many others along the way, we have maintained 100% service to our customers and after a busy, successful, and largely challenging year, the team is looking forward to some much-needed downtime over the festive period and a well-earned rest.
For me personally, the year has been a mixture of emotions. It’s been challenging, insightful, exciting and hugely rewarding. The transition not only from working from home full-time but to then leading the business from the house was probably the most challenging part. I suddenly went from being a member of the team in a technical capacity to managing the team and being involved in all areas of the business. It’s been a steep learning curve as I’ve acquainted myself with unfamiliar areas. But working outside the comfort zone keeps us keen and sharpens our skills. Adaptability and confidence are key and those are things that I’ve always been able to do quite well, which has made that transition that little bit easier.
Thinking ahead I am very much looking forward to leading our business in 2021, developing a stronger brand and working in collaboration with the farmer cooperatives who make up the INC to build long lasting, sustainable and horizontal value chains.