This month we’re back with the next installment of our Industry Expert Interviews, a content series that keeps the community spirit alive and well and selfishly, gives us the opportunity to talk to some truly incredible people. These will be longer installments, so we encourage you to grab a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy “meeting” someone new.
We’re honored to share with you our recent conversation with Patti Doyle, the CEO of Rumi Spice, a fellow B Corporation that brings ethically sourced and socially responsible spices from Afghanistan to customers while supporting sustainable rural economic development and providing countless jobs to Afghan farmers and women who harvest and process the spices.
Check out our conversation below:
KSV: If you could start, tell us a little bit about yourself and your
Patti: I started my career on the insights side of the food industry and then moved to the food and brand side of things. I started in what I would call “big food,” but have gradually moved to brands and businesses that are smaller in size where I felt I could make a
bigger difference – either on the business side or the consumer side.
This is really the first business I've worked at that was both a B Corp and had a social impact mission, where day in and day out we know we're impacting the lives of the people we work with. It is amazing to me that we know where the product we're getting is coming from. We have got a network of farmers that we know are sourcing it in an ethical and responsible way, and we can take that all the way from the fields of Afghanistan to your local Whole Foods.
KSV: Tell us a little bit about what you do on a day to day basis at Rumi and the different components of your job.
Patti: Running this company, like most other folks that are heads of small companies, is a jack-of-all-trades role. Everyday it's a little bit different. We are a growing brand. A lot of time is spent on building brand awareness and making sure we're getting the word out, whether it's directly through creating recipes or sharing news about our product.
The other side of it is a lot of the sort of operational management, working with our team to make sure we've got enough time to get spices all the way from Afghanistan to where we process it in Europe and then all the way here in plenty of time to launch it on the right timeline.
There’s also a constantly evolving piece to ensure we're driving sales while we invest in the business and while we're managing the bottom line. We're a small group. We work in a co-working space together, so the good news is we don't have to shout very far to get in touch with one another.
KSV: How long has Rumi been a B Corp and how does that impact the business on a day-to-day basis?
Patti: We've been a B Corp since April 2016. In terms of how it impacts the business, to me there's a sense of pride to the fact that we meet the standards it takes to be a B Corp. It's a bit humbling and exciting because it's such an amazing group of companies that are held to the standard. And so, that's certainly just a huge part of it.
I think there's a piece that also serves as something of a pressure test for what we're doing. It's that outside validation to say, "Yes, you're doing the right things. You're doing them the right way." And it's a great incentive to keep on doing them, to make sure we always hold ourselves to that standard.
And then, the third part is getting to know the other B's. I love the fact that we can just reach out to this community and find like-minded partners to work with. It’s even worked within our own community. While Chicago's a big city, when we do outreach here there's a great local B Corp presence.
KSV: What are some of the biggest challenges you see on a day-to-day or long-term basis? These could be marketing challenges, operational challenges, mission-driven pain points, etc.
Patti: For me, one of our biggest challenges is also one of the biggest reasons we are in business. We have a complex supply chain -- sourcing hand-picked and wild grown spices from a country that hasn’t had a lot of access to the international market -- but it is also the reason we are able to make an impact in what we do and I think that’s what motivates our entire team.
KSV: What do you think it will take to inspire the next generation of responsible consumers, and what do you think it will take to keep inspiring people to be responsible or sustainable consumers?
Patti: I think a couple of things. One is getting the word out, and letting people know they can make a choice that's more responsible. Really make sure they know the choice they can make themselves.
Second, I think it's taking down barriers for more businesses to be able to do good and thinking about ways that we can all help other businesses on the same path. It could be anything from mentoring someone at that organization to partnering with them to maybe relieve some financial strain.
KSV: We’ve been very impressed with the next generation of consumers, those who are climate striking and who are advocating for equal pay. Sure, they’re “spending a lot of time on their phones,” but they’re doing amazing things on their phones and they're also the ones enacting significant change. It will be interesting to see how brands try and keep up with that.
Patti: Yes, and how do you really let some of them be the voice of your brand? How do you give voice to what somebody of a younger generation might have to say or how they might feel about a brand?
What if you turned over any sort of brand that's been around for a long time and said, "Okay, if we want to reach the next generation how would we do it?" That's a really scary proposition if you're a huge brand, but it could also be the most transformative thing a brand could do to make sure it's around for many more generations.
KSV: Who do you find is the most engaged of your demographic or of your target audiences? Do you find that it tends to be a younger audience? Do you tend to skew more Millennial or older?
Patti: We have sort of two different pockets. Because we have a bit of a premium higher priced product, we certainly skew to more established cooks, people that want to cook and have been doing this for a while. We've got a big, very loyal pocket there.
And then, we also have this other amazing group of people that are a new generation of home cooks that are all about experimenting, trying new flavors, thinking about flavors from all around the world. And so, we've also got this demographic that's very loyal to our product. We have different audiences that both gravitate to us for totally different reasons.
KSV: For any young woman, it’s really important to see other women at the table, whether you're in energy, in retail or working in social justice. Rumi Spice is centered around providing a voice and a space for women to participate at the table. What do you think we can do to inspire more women to participate? How can we inspire them and encourage them to show up for these conversations or fight for whatever policy or initiative that they really find important?
Patti: Making sure we're giving them a chance for their voice to be heard. And so, I think as a female leader I try to do that a couple of different ways. It can be taking risks on folks and really making sure we're giving everyone the right opportunity. Sometimes it's also asking for that voice to be heard. So making sure that it's the literal ask, "What do you think? How do you feel about this?" To me that’s really important and meaningful. Finally, it is about championing yourself and showing others how to do that the right way. There are a lot of different things we can do in trying to find the right solution for different situations.
KSV: Do you find that you are influenced by that or inspired by that based off the women in Afghanistan that are working to help make Rumi what is by being part of the product?
Patti: Absolutely. For any challenges we may face as women in business here (in the US), some of them have been through really challenging situations and are in a country that certainly doesn't share all of our views on women in different roles. I have such respect for what they do and how they do it, and their willingness to support our business, that I think it's just incredible every day.
KSV: Are there any insights or trends in your industry that stand out to you most right now?
Patti: I’m most interested in how online shopping will continue to shape the food industry. While all our products at Rumi Spice can be shipped pretty easily, we can now get refrigerated and frozen items delivered for a relatively low cost. I it is already changing the entire paradigm for how consumers think about getting their food to their homes.
KSV: What does it mean for you guys to be a B Corp right now? And then again going forward as you grow, how much of the fact that you are a B Corp will influence the decisions that you make?
Patti: I think right now being a B Corp is important just because of what it stands for and what we've accomplished as a business, even though we've only been around for a few years. And then, as I look ahead, if we're able to maintain our status and grow our business while we're held to the standards it takes to be a B Corp, I think that is tremendous. To me that would be such a rewarding place to have gotten our business to -- we've grown, and we've grown the right way. Those two things going hand in hand are just so critical.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, Patti! You can learn more about Rumi Spice and the incredible work they’re doing here.
We look forward to continuing our Industry Expert Interview series next month with Matt Daigle, CEO and Founder of Rise Home Design! Interested in sharing your brand or team’s mission-driven story? We’d love to hear from you!