It was concern for Hawaii’s environment, economy and farming system that inspired Brett Jacobson to launch Hawaiian Ola, a maker of healthy beverages, in 2012.
Jacobson, a farmer who previously ran a biofuel company, wanted to start a business that could help Hawaii’s struggling farmers—the average farmer in makes about $15,000 a year, according to the company. So he developed a line of value-added juices and teas that use Hawaii’s abundant resources and encourage organic farming by providing local farmers with a reliable buyer for their crops.
“Land is our most precious and limited resource here, and you have to be active to protect farmland,” says Dabney Gough, marketing lead at Hawaiian Ola, which is among a growing community of B Corps in Hawaii. “The idea was to develop products that use organic, locally grown ingredients to create sustainable support for protecting organic farmland.”
By giving farmers an equitable market, and then turning the crops into healthful, value-added products for consumers, Hawaiian Ola encourages more producers to grow organic food for both local and off-island markets.
Jacobsen and his team have grown the Captain Cook, Hawaii-based company into a $7 million business. And they have turned to crowdfunding to help fuel that growth.
Hawaiian Ola’s main line of drinks is based on Noni, an indigenous fruit that has been used as medicine for centuries because of its noted health-giving properties. The noni drinks are blended with Hawaiian-grown crops such as ginger, pineapples and honey.
There’s also a line of ready-to-drink coffee leaf teas. “The use of the coffee leaf takes our mission on step further, because it is typically a coffee farmer’s waste product — they are harvested during the regular pruning of mature coffee trees,” says Gough. That creates added value for farmers and makes their operations more financially sustainable.
Today, Hawaiian Ola products have at least 50% locally grown ingredients. But by 2020, the company’s goal is to source 100% of its ingredients from organic Hawaiian farms. In addition, it hopes to create demand for 1,000 acres of organic Hawaiian farmland and bring $2 million in new annual agricultural income to more than 60 small Hawaiian farms.
To help with that mission, Ola’s executive team last year launched a sister company, Ola Brew, which uses surplus local fruit to ferment hard ciders and, now, beer. (More than half of the tropical fruit grown in Hawaii falls to the ground and never makes it to market). They did that with the help of a crowdfunding campaign on WeFunder that raised close to $500,000 from individual investors.
Ola Brew creates new markets for farmers as well as economies of scale for local production. The crowdfunding campaign raised money for a new production facility that will be shared between Hawaiian Ola and Ola Brew. That allows the former company to move more of its productions to the island; previously it used a co-packer in Arizona to make the final product. The new production facility holds the brewery, juice company, and shared kitchen space for other producers, says Gough.
Ola Brew is now looking to add on-site food service, once again reaching out to the more than 400 stakeholders, employees and friends in Hawaii through a new crowdfunding campaign currently on WeFunder. That way, the company doesn’t have to rely on capital from “big banks, corporate sponsors or out-of-state VCs,” says Gough.
The ultimate goal, she adds, is to “triple our brewing capacity with more fermenters and to purchase four times more organic fruit and grain from local farmers.”
Who wouldn’t say cheers to that?