Unpicking Purpose and partnerships with allplants’ Ellie Harrison

It’s a commonly held belief that birds of a feather flock together and, as a result, we often judge individuals by their friends.

The same is true of businesses. As corporate Purpose climbs the public agenda and we care more about the values and behaviours of the organisations we engage with, we’re beginning to judge them by the company they keep. We want to see a business’ commitment to the environment, regulatory compliance, economic stability and society, diversity and inclusion, and more, reflected by its partners.

This alignment between words, actions and associates is becoming ever more important in securing our trust and loyalty, forging a strengthening link between partnerships and commercial success.

For the latest in our series of Purpose podcasts, we were lucky enough to speak to Ellie Harrison, Head of Sustainability at allplants on this topic. A vegan food delivery service, allplants is one of Britain’s most exciting start-ups, on a mission to get us all eating less meat – ‘making eating more plants easy, exciting and delicious, to help both people and the planet thrive’.

Ellie shared how allplants’ strong sense of Purpose has guided its approach to partnerships right from the outset, laying the foundations for a more sustainable business in every sense.

Please follow the link to take a listen, or we’ve summarised key insights from the session below:

Partnering with investors

When we think of partnerships, especially in the context of food production, it’s easy to skip straight to suppliers. However, one of the most important partnerships that any business has is that with its investors.

allplants started with a very clear reason to exist; to reduce meat consumption and promote a healthier vegetable-based diet. When it came to seeking funding, the team knew they needed investors who understood this mission, and that achieving it was their number one priority.

After numerous conversations, they bought Felix Capital on board, a venture capital firm known for seeking-out mission-driven businesses. Octopus Ventures, early investors in Graze and food waste app, Olio, also came on board at Series A.

The time put into stress-testing these relationships prior to establishing a partnership was the key to their success. This meant that both parties knew where they stood, setting them up for a lasting compatibility. Both investors still hold seats on allplants’ board.

Partnering with suppliers

Led by Ellie, allplants takes the same rigorous approach to assessing its supply chain. The business works with 25 food and materials suppliers, each of whom have been carefully vetted. This was necessary to ensure their operations aligned with allplants’ Purpose, but also became essential as the business looked to become a BCorp, a status it achieved in 2018.

However, allplants’ ambitions don’t stop here. Ellie shared her desire to take a systematic approach to sustainability. This involves mapping the entire food system, identifying the drivers of persistent global issues and where there is opportunity for All Plants to address these through its operations.

Ellie doesn’t see the food industry through rose-tinted spectacles. She recognises systemic failures, including its unfairness and degenerative nature which, if left unaddressed, will lead to issues including flooding and a lack of food security.

allplants is committed to harnessing the power of partnerships to address these and further its Purpose. It recognises the huge amount of knowledge that exists in the farming community and wants to work with it. Ellie’s approach is all about demonstrating the business case for progressive steps to suppliers and bringing them on the journey.

Partnering with competitors

Within a business context, we’re used to the concept of competitors. However, we often ignore or underestimate the potential of peer groups to bring about industry change.

One of the most surprising out-takes from the session was the sense of comradery shared between BCorp organisations. Ellie describes the complexity of achieving BCorp status and the invaluable guidance offered by those at Cook, the frozen ready meal business. Cook was already a BCorp and helped Ellie through the process, even inviting her to visit its kitchen.

The businesses still remain friendly and Ellie identifies the network and sense of community as one of the biggest benefits of becoming a BCorp. It’s her view that partnering with like-minded businesses is essential to building the momentum needed to drive lasting behaviour change – which is what allplants is all about.

Communicating around partnerships

Partnerships, like plants, are living things; they’ll only bear fruit if nurtured. Ellie engages regularly with partners to share new areas of focus and reaffirm allplants’ Commitment to its Purpose. This steady stream of parentship communications is something more businesses should look to emulate. Sharing news, achievements, stories and updates to vision helps to ensure partners see their hard work in context and understand how much it is valued.

While allplants may seem likely a uniquely Purpose-driven business, others can move in the same direction by examining their approach to partnerships. This won’t always be the easy route (allplants had to part ways with a supplier that didn’t live up to its Purpose), but it’s certainly the more sustainable one.

As businesses realise the commercial value of establishing and living by their Purpose, we fully anticipate that more will start to interrogate their operations. Those that do this quickly and are able to communicate authentically with partners and stakeholders about what they’ve achieved through the process, will benefit from first mover advantage.

If you would like to discuss defining and communicating your organisation’s purpose, please get in touch with our specialist purpose team.

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Emily Reid