lunes, febrero 6, 2023

Craving for Organic: an account of an organic liquor maker’s journey to sustainability

The husband-and-wife team of Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Matthew of The Greenbar Collective, when they set up their California-based liquor company in 2004, was unaware at first of how good organic liquor can be, until they tried making some and tasted them.

In an exclusive interview with EcoSeed, Mr. Khosrovian discussed the rigors, and rewards, of organic liquor making. The Greenbar Collective owner candidly admitted that his original liquor company did not really set out to do things the green way. Their shift towards making organic spirits may even be considered accidental to some degree.

It all started when they noticed that the farms from where they got their produce were one by one turning organic. It was only a matter of time before they also began noticing how their spirits, made with ingredients from these organic farms, were tasting better.

“When we began to make spirits, we made conventional spirits, non-organic, but we always used fresh produce from our neighboring farms in southern California. So our initial interest in the Greenbar perspective of things was quality, because organic produce, at least to us, tasted better and smelled better, because the produce is just healthier,” recounts Mr. Khosrovian.

The craving to produce nothing but natural, smooth flavors soon grew, and led them to realizing that the only way to do it is to be sustainable. A decision was made, to go all-organic in their entire liquor line and to implement green strategies in their production.

The company stuck to doing things by hand – chopping, crushing, zesting, and slicing ingredients manually, rendering their operations not in any way carbon-intensive. At the same time, the company re-assessed its use of heavy bottles, plastic-laminated virgin paper for labels, and polyvinyl chloride capsules on tamper-resistant packaging.

“After we have kind of come to realize the full implications of organic, that it was one part of sustainability, we changed everything else that we did for our products,” said Mr. Khosrovian.

They began using lightweight bottles that were even stronger than their old bottles. They changed their labels to corn fiber material printed with soy, and shifted to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. They also got rid of P.V.C. capsules and started using simple paper strips as tamper-resistant seals.

Their high from implementing the changes led to another initiative, planting a tree for every bottle of liquor they sold. Based on the last official count in September 2010, The Greenbar Collective has planted 100,127 trees. The excitement soon led to more reflection, and more daring actions.

“We have made lots of decisions in a very quick period of time that we didn’t fully kind of measure. We knew that using recycled paper was good, using soy ink was good, using lightweight bottles was good, getting rid of P.V.C. and using paper was good – we just didn’t know what it meant, nor did we really understand what planting trees meant,” Mr. Khosrovian confessed.

The company figured that the next step should be to know the real value of all the greening they have been doing. The Greenbar Collective contracted life cycle analysis firm Four Elements to check its carbon footprint, and Environmental Services Inc. to check the results of the tree-planting. Four Elements pointed out that the liquor maker’s inherent carbon footprint for every bottle is one and a half to about four kilos. Environmental Services found out that each tree planted during the quarterly tree-planting program sequesters 790 kilos of greenhouse gases.

“In effect, it makes our products so radically carbon negative because we put out four kilos at most, sometimes one and a half, and we take away 790 kilos. It makes our products so carbon negative that if a consumer drinks an average drink with a couple of ounces of our product, they become carbon negative for a day,” said Mr. Khosrovian, in reference to the carbon footprint of an average American.

These are facts that Mr. Khosrovian and his team could not simply just feed to customers, though. He is aware that their customers had to learn the value of what they were doing through the most basic way, and amazingly through the same way that his company turned green, which is through liking the taste.

“We were kind of training our customers to think about spirits and sustainability in a different way. The (issue on) quality was easy because they could just taste it, but it took a lot of work for them to understand how all of this connected to the environment,” Mr. Khosrovian explained.

An easy measure of how their drinkers have been taking it all in is looking at who has been putting their organic spirits on their shelves. The company considers Wyndham Hotels to be their biggest client. Wyndham is implementing a nationwide organic program in all of its hotels, restaurants and bars. Mr. Khosrovian refers to the program as “the first and biggest effort from any hotel group to go organic” in the United States. The program’s signature cocktail called Tru Blue uses The Greenbar Collective’s Tru Vodka and Citry Liqueur.

He also cited other organic banquet programs by other hotel chains, such as those of MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, which offer organic cocktails in the menu, using The Greenbar Collective’s liquor.

Being identified with large hotel chains somehow gives the impression that The Greenbar Collective has struck gold – can the company therefore say that its making of green liquor has been a feasible and profitable enterprise?

“Feasibility is getting easier to accomplish. There are more sources of organic ingredients in all markets, so it’s a little easier to explore this avenue than it was when we first started three years ago,” Mr. Khosrovian explained, adding that The Greenbar Collective used to contract the creation of many of their ingredients at the start, which was very costly. The greater availability of organic materials and the reduced costs now allow other players to get in the market more easily.

Still, Mr. Khosrovian says that The Greenbar Collective has a long way to go towards real financial success. He cites how it still is a daily struggle to pay the bills and grow as a company, being quite small in an industry of giants.

“It’s a struggle to get recognition, to get successes, although we’re having our fair share of them, I won’t minimize our successes. But I think we’re at the very, very beginning stages of a movement that will take decades to unravel,” he said.

“If we are very lucky and we do a really good job, I mean not us only but the entire industry, then one day all really good quality spirits will have to be organic, because that’s the only way to capture the best flavors and the best aromas,” added Mr. Khosrovian.

He sees the desire of a growing number of people and food and beverage makers to go organic as a good sign, and he hopes that the upswing “would supply lots of farms with lots of business that will help them turn their farms organic, (providing) lots of opportunities for everyone to enjoy a better tasting drink while making the world a little cleaner.”

So what’s coming up next for The Greenbar Collective drinkers? Mr. Khosrovian, in true venture enthusiasm, exclaimed, “Whiskey!”.





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