In 1996, David Karr raised a gourd to his lips and tasted his future. The ancient " drink of the gods" made him feel good, and, he realized, along with Guayaki co-founder Alex Pryor, it could fuel a strategy that could help do good as well. "After learning about maté's cultural heritage and its intimate connection to the rain forest and its people, I became deeply intrigued with this powerful plant medicine," Karr says. " Ultimately, maté's power to transform and restore inspired our vision to create sustainable and restorative economies in the rain forest."
Driven by a business model called market-driven restoration, Karr and his partners sought to create sustainable economic alternatives to the destructive practices in the Amazon by leveraging consumer demand for shade-grown organic yerba maté in the United States. For years, they cruised around serving maté from an RV plastered with rain-forest images. Word spread. Today, the company leads the growing maté market with 70 percent of market share, and, after years of persistence, patience and collaboration, the company's partnership with the Paraguayan Ache Guayaki people will yield its first shade-grown maté. Karr says it's what he's most proud of. " After decades of mistreatment and genocide, these indigenous people are open to working with us to cultivate maté in their rain forest. We've given them seeds, guidance and financial, technical and emotional support enabling them to intercrop maté in their forest," he says. " It's so exciting and very emotional to be part of their cultural rebound."
What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? Educating people about food, food value and its connection to health. If indeed, " food is thy medicine," then people need to understand they " pay now or pay later" and a natural, organic, whole-food, plant-based diet is the most inexpensive option people have on their path to good health, longevity and happiness.
What would you like to see change in the naturals industry in the next five years? It would be great to see more of the amazing stories shared about companies and what they are doing to make change in the world. There are so many exciting things happening that would ignite more passion in people if they just knew about them.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? I love connecting with people and encouraging them to dream big and recognize that they have the personal power to make a difference. Of course, sharing maté is a perfect platform to invite connection.
What's next for you? More and more time with all my good buddies at Guayaki. I am fortunate to work with many of my best friends, my brother and people whom I deeply respect and admire.
If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? Funky Donkey Maté Crusader.
As a little kid, you wanted to grow up to be … a bigger kid.
What are you afraid of? Egomaniacs.
If you had one piece of advice for natural products retailers, what would it be? Educate, serve and create a rich and colorful experience for their customers.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 26