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The Fair-Trade, Direct-To-Consumer Spice Companies You Should Know

The Fair-Trade, Direct-To-Consumer Spice Companies You Should Know

By Emily Johnson, Emily Johnso, Lauren Josep

You buy fair-trade coffee. You buy fair-trade chocolate. Hopefully, you're considerate of which waters your fish is being pulled out of, and where your pantry staples like rice, almond butter, and coconut oil are coming from. Have you considered the origins of your spices, though?

If you think the brutality and inequality of the spice trade is many years behind us, unfortunately that's not the case. "The commodity spice supply chain is completely opaque, and intentionally so," says Ethan Frisch, the founder of Burlap & Barrel, a single-origin, direct-to-consumer spice company. "There are people who benefit from a consumer's lack of understanding. Likewise, [there are people] who benefit from the farmers' lack of understanding about where the spices are going."

By the time you buy supermarket spices, Frisch explains, they've likely changed hands 15 to 20 times. The spices you're buying aren't from one farm or even one region, either; they're likely the work of hundreds or even thousands of farmers around the world.

The way it all comes together is enough to make your head spin. "A small farmer will grow a small quantity of a spice, which they will sell to a guy with a truck who then sells it to somebody in a local town who's collecting from ten guys with trucks," says Frisch. "Then that guy sells it down the mountain to a guy with a bigger warehouse who is consolidating from ten or fifteen other consolidators. The spices are mixed together locally and then mixed together regionally and then eventually they get mixed together in a capital city or a port where the products from potentially hundreds of farmers is packaged for export." Then, there's a whole additional complicated process on the import side, once the spices make their way here. "You have a huge importer who then sells to a huge distributor or several distributors; they repackage or break them down to sell to smaller distributors, down the chain."

Fair-trade, direct-to-consumer spices aren't just the ethical choice: They taste better and are delivered right to your door. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

Within the past few years, however, a crop of new businesses selling fair-trade, single-source spices direct to consumers have appeared. And, just as the market for fair trade coffee and chocolate opened up, spices seem to be next on the horizon.

Turmeric-focused Diaspora Co. began with sourcing that single spice in the most ethical and sustainable way possible before considering expansion. Founder Sana Javeri Kadri, a self-described "consumption and supply chain nerd," grew up in India, where she watched the influence of American consumption habits affect Indian traditions like making yogurt at home, which she saw families begin to eschew in favor of buying Nestle brand yogurt at the store. In India, Kadri says, America meant capitalism seeping in in the form of Fruit Roll-Ups and Nickelodeon. Then she moved to the U.S. to attend Pomona College in Southern California. "Everybody was talking about organic and farmers markets and locally made. I was just like, Wait, what? This is supposed to be the land of Taco Bell and Fruit Roll-Ups."