Would you drink a coffee made without coffee beans? What about an orange juice without real oranges in it? Probably not. Yet nearly 2 billion cola-branded drinks are consumed globally every day without the name ingredient: the cola nut.
The people of West Africa, where the cola nut originates, have never earned a penny from cola. This injustice didn’t sit right with the Karma Cola founders, so they set out to create a drink everybody could enjoy: from the consumers all the way back to the farmers producing the ingredients. Just a short while later, Karma Cola was born.
Our founders Simon Coley, and Chris and Matt Morrison came across the cola nut while setting up another company, All Good Organics, to import Fairtrade bananas into New Zealand. Selling Fairtrade bananas seemed like an uphill battle at first, were people willing to pay more for a Fairtrade product? It turns out people were more than willing and the process got them thinking about how they could help more communities by sourcing produce ethically.
The Karma Cola story really began when the three friends came up with the idea for a cola called Karma while on Piha Beach in New Zealand. The word Karma fits what came to be the company’s guiding principle: to source and produce beverages that are good for the land, good for the growers and good for the people who consume them.
The next step was an obvious, if challenging, one: they needed to get their hands on the cola nut. With the help of Fairtrade entrepreneur Albert Tucker, in 2011 they struck a deal with the people of the Tiwai region in Sierra Leone to buy a bag of cola nuts.
When they first had this crazy idea to produce a challenger product to one of the biggest brands in history, they had no idea it would lead them down a rabbit hole of possibilities. They set out to generate interest in their soft drink not by being the biggest brand in an already flooded market, but the fairest. At Karma Cola, which includes two other soft drinks Lemony Lemonade and Gingerella ginger ale, we decided to do the opposite of other major companies and focus on transparent business practices and an ethical supply chain.
Our secret ingredient isn’t very secret at all - the cola nut is not only the hero of the drink, it’s also a hugely important symbol to the people of West Africa. It’s used in marriage ceremonies, to ease hunger and plays a significant spiritual role. Cola literally grows on trees, yet few people in the western world know it exists.
It doesn’t end at the cola nut either, to create our natural drinks we source the highest quality organic and Fairtrade ingredients to achieve amazing flavours. Our ingredients come from countries including West Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Sicily and South America.
But the name Karma Cola is no cheap epithet. Tasting good and looking good is one thing, but we believe a drink tastes best when it does good too. Karma is the circle we’ve drawn around the producers of our organic and Fairtrade ingredients and the people who buy our drinks. We know doing good is good for business so we also established the Karma Cola Foundation, to support trade, not aid, in the communities we work with.
Proceeds from the sale of every bottle go directly back to the people in Tiwai - where the community is still recovering and rebuilding from the brutal civil war, and more recently the Ebola crisis. Our goal is to give cola farmers and their families independence through trade and supporting projects to develop infrastructure and education.
The Foundation respects all resources, environmental and human, and always acts in a fair way. Its guiding principle is to foster economic independence rather than dependence, and get the villages in Tiwai standing on their own two (thousand) feet. So far we’ve helped over 200 young girls attend school, connected the old and new villages of Boma by building a bridge, constructed a rice mill store and drying floor, funded four teachers, helped small businesses… and the list is growing.