Fruto del Espiritu

Fruto del Espiritu

Offset the UK’s Cocaine Footprint

I just loved the Fruto del Espíritu idea the first time I heard it.  They import, market and sell exotic fruit purées from Colombia.  By doing so they are developing an overseas market for indigeneous exotic fruits, such as lulo and maracuyá, which farmers can grow instead of coca bushes, the basis for the production of cocaine. It’s such a simple and practical antidote to a massive and complex social problem.

Colombia produces about 60% of the world’s cocaine.  The proceeds from the illegal trafficking of these drugs has funded insurgent groups and illegal paramilitary groups during forty years of conflict with the government. As a result at least 50,000 people have died and between 1.8-3.5 million have been internally displaced.

I came to meet their founder, who’d rather remain nameless, at Sabor, a South American Restaurant on the Essex Road in London. She was there with the manager of one the Colombian factories which supplies her. The shiny, modern eaterie’s Colombian owner Esnayder is also very sympathetic to Fruto del Espíritu’s work. A bit of a social entrepreneur himself, his restaurant supports a range of Colombian causes, and hosted, Fruto del Espíritu’s launch to the London Bar industry in 2004.

Fruto del Espíritu’s founder is modest and self-effacing.  She has a strong faith and believes that her mission is an answer to prayer. While she was working as an architect in the shanty towns of Cali, she experienced the violence of Colombian society at close hand; someone she knew was killed in a machete attack by an irate neighbour.  “There wasn’t much I could do in that situation, but it made me feel that I had to find something in the long-term,” she told me. Inspiration came to her in due course: “I returned to Colombia for a holiday looking for an answer. The fruit idea, linking social development with international business, developed out of an unusual conversation and I suddenly knew this was what I had been looking for. Over the next 3 days I then had a series of dramatic experiences which convinced me that this was something very serious.”

So, together with around 50 other people, she set up Fruto del Espíritu as a non-dividend company and started importing mango, guava, pineapple, lulo, mora and maracuya (passion fruit) purées. They now supply the exotic fruit purées  to discerning cocktail bars and events companies who use it in alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. Fruto del Espíritu can also recommend mixologists (professional bartenders, who specialise in creating new cocktail recipes) for parties, weddings or drinks receptions. The exotic fruit purées are available directly for customers to buy on-line.

A huge amount of care goes into ensuring positive impacts are felt all the way along the supply chain. Fruto del Espíritu makes profits, but they are all reinvested into strengthening partnerships with existing and new suppliers and customers. Currently profits are being spent on developing a dried fruit product which will be produced in a factory which employs displaced women. Fruto del Espíritu also pays a premium towards the education of factory workers’ children.

In the UK, Fruto del Espíritu works with young people and schools to raise awareness about how the market for drugs finances terrorism. Young people can set up their own Fruit Bar – at school or in their youth club – with an investment of £10 each.  The young people are trained in top cocktail mixing techniques.  Profits from their Fruit Bar will finance schools fees for a young Colombian and, if they wish, finance nutritional meals for another. “We take every opportunity to educate people about the reason why we are selling this product and to explain the story behind our company to people” the company’s founder tells me.

I know it’s all the rage to buy local and seasonal produce and not to add to the world’s climate-change problem by importing food products across vast distances.  However, I somehow feel that if we can offset part of the damage done by the drug-trade by buying some of our five-a-day from Colombian farmers then that ought to be a good thing. I’ve never heard of anyone talking about “drug miles” so why should we have to introduce the Colombians to the concept of “food miles” at this point?

As Fruto del Espíritu’s founder shows me pictures of farmers growing her crops and young people benefiting from an education, to which her customers have contributed, she seems, understandably, proud.  She is clearly delighted to have such an important cause to work towards “I’ve found something that I believe I was designed to do. It is completely fulfilling in terms of personal development, professional development, friends, drinks, recipes and finance. I could really never think of anything that I’d rather do and to find something that’s such a neat fit after many years of not finding it, is deeply satisfying and wonderful.”  I can’t argue with that.