Kogo, a sustainable, social enterprise, provides millennials with a remarkable superfood product through upcycling coffee cherries and thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing an additional revenue stream for small scale coffee farmers in developing countries.
We work directly with small scale coffee farmers to take the fruit that houses the coffee bean and dry it. Usually coffee farmers take the seed from the fruit and leave the fruit to rot in the fields. This creates tons of methane emissions and also releases mycotoxins into the soil. By drying the fruit we are able to preserve it and prevent this pollution from occurring. Once we have the dried fruit we further process it into delicious teas and also a functional superfood powder!
We will also be donating 10% of our profits back to the communities that we source from. These resources will be utilized for sustainable development to fill any gaps the community faces in terms of education and infrastructure.
Kogo’s vision is to be a global leader in the coffee cherry industry. Through sustainable direct trade sourcing methods, Kogo stands on the front line of superfoods as a product that is super-good for everyone involved.
Founder’s/Owner’s story and what motivated them to start the business
Growing up on an organic fruit farm in northern Wisconsin, my mother exposed me to a wealth of natural remedies and organic food products. For example, we would use the gel of an aloe vera plant to heal burns, and we would grow or buy most of our food from the local co-op, whose organic cereals inevitably tasted like cardboard–man, I used to dream of having Cocoa Puffs!
Cardboard cereal aside, I developed an appreciation for sustainability, agriculture, and health and wellness. This later grew into a regular practice of cultivating strength and resilience of body and mind through long days working in the fruit fields, fitness and meditation, and through the use of superfoods like maca, moringa, and other extracts.
So where does Kogo come in? After college and receiving a business degree, I joined the US Peace Corps in Panama as a Business Development and Sustainable Agriculture Advisor.
We began service with a 10-week training period, hot, 10-hour days filled with agricultural training, mosquitos and the occasional mango.
By the end of the day, my mind would be frazzled by the effort of communicating across languages and cultures, the hot sun and humidity, and the constant battle with scorpions and mold that seemed to grow on everything!
One evening, I was lying under my mosquito net, fan on full blast, using my phone to do research on nootropics. I was trying to find a nootropic that actually did what it claimed to do, something that could help me get through these 10 weeks. Eventually, I came upon a Youtube video of a CEO being interviewed about the variety of stimulants he takes to improve his performance in the workplace. He said the words “coffee” and “cherry,” and immediately my ears perked up, for I had just been working with a group of farmers on their coffee production.
Intrigued, I searched for more information, and the research papers I came across described an amazing variety of benefits that coffee cherries offer to both the body and mind.
This was all so surprising, because none of my Peace Corps trainers nor any of the farmers I met talked about the benefits of coffee cherries. After some inquiring, I discovered that most coffee farmers view coffee cherries as waste or compost. Often, the cherries are left to rot and ferment in vast quantities, leading to water pollution and releasing methane gases that harm the environment.
I thought about how the majority of small-scale coffee farmers around the world are actually paid pennies on the dollar for the product of their labor, while a few select large coffee companies hold an oligopoly over most of the market, raking in profits.
An idea started to take hold within me. I realized that if I could put together a product to sell to consumers, it could help supplement farmers’ incomes, reduce the environmental pollution from fermented cherry waste, and also offer consumers in the U.S. an extremely valuable product at an affordable price. And so it was that Kogo came to be! We upcycle dried ground coffee cherries into a delicious, mildly sweet powder that can be brewed into tea, added to smoothies, and used in baked goods in place of flour. Its uses are endless, and better yet, it tastes good and nothing like cardboard!
As a company, Kogofoods LLC is looking to become a certified B-Corporation and will be donating 10% of revenue to development projects in communities where coffee cherries have been sourced.
Without the help of countless individuals, Kogo wouldn’t be in the position to begin positively affecting the lives of consumers, farmers, and the environment by upcycling coffee cherries.
The challenges the business/market is facing
The barriers to the superfood market often includes having a good and reliable supply. Especially with regards to a new superfood, developing a strategic supplier relationship is paramount. The farmers we work with have never sold the coffee cherry, so there are a lot of unknowns that we must face head on. In addition, the competition is stiff. There are numerous superfood brands popping up every week. Each brand tries to offer a superior product than the others, consistently innovating and building upon past offerings. In addition, there is the issue of consumer education specifically with regards to coffee cherries. There are a lot of consumers out there who do not yet know what superfoods are let alone a coffee cherry. So we must be very careful with our marketing approach and how we approach new customers.
Advice to others about business
The first tip I would give to anyone looking to start a business would be to make sure they do a full evaluation of themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses, health, relationships, and have a five-year plan. It is so important people know what they are getting themselves into. Starting and growing a business often requires a 50-70 hour per week commitment without getting paid, and not everyone is cut out for that type of battle.
The second tip I would give is to make sure the business is aligned with your values and provides fulfillment. It has to be a product or service that you are naturally passionate about; otherwise, you will have nothing to fuel you on the hard days, and trust me, there will be many.
The third tip I would give is to invest time in health and wellness routines. E.g., doing yoga, running, dieting, mediation, etc. The stress the business development creates is no joke. It will take a toll on your body and mind. You need to be physically and mentally prepared, just like running a marathon, only the marathon is a five-year race, and you are your competition.