Take five college friends, a strong appreciation of yerba mate, a naturally caffeinated South American beverage, and a desire to make a difference in the world and you have the seeds for Guayaki, a natural products provider and a social enterprise.
Founded in 1996, Guayaki, with headquarters in Sebastopol, Calif., has grown quickly into a leading vendor of certified organic, fairly traded and sustainable yerba mate products and beverages across the U.S. The national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Southern Brazil and Uruguay, yerba mate is made from the leaves of the South American rainforest holly tree and can be cultivated in full-sun in manmade plantations or more sustainably, in its natural habitat in the shade of rain forests.
Guayaki operates a for-profit, market-driven restoration business model, sourcing its yerba mate from the leaves of holly trees grown in the shade of rainforests by nine small farmer communities in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
“These family farms have the most to lose if we can’t keep the rainforests viable,” said Chris Mann, CEO and Chairman of the Gourd at Guayaki. “We’re helping those communities to generate revenue and continue to live in the traditional way.”
Cultivating yerba mate within rainforests allows farmers to generate revenue from the forest as a service instead of having to cut it down to generate income. Like an annuity, farmers can harvest year after year by simply pruning the trees and then drying and selling the caffeinated leaves. In this way, they are building a sustainable income and a diverse rainforest habitat that helps regulate climate and provide home for thousands of species.
A social enterprise grantee of NetSuite.org, the corporate citizenship arm of NetSuite, Guayaki runs its business on NetSuite, including its accounting, financial reporting, sales, inventory and order management, and manufacturing. Supporting a fast-growing, profitable business on NetSuite is helping Guayaki get closer to its stated 2020 goal of using revenue to protect and steward 200,000 acres of South American Atlantic rainforest and create more than 1,000 living wage jobs. At present, Guayaki estimates it is about one-third of the way towards achieving that goal. “We are a hybrid organization,” said Mann. “We want to be strongly profitable so we can invest in our social and environmental mission.”
The company’s name is a reference to the South American Aché Guayakí rainforest people whose traditions include sipping yerba mate from a gourd with a bombilla, a special type of drinking straw, to improve their physical and mental well-being. According to Mann, yerba mate combines “the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea and the euphoria of chocolate.” But both he and his fellow company founders also stress the cultural aspect of yerba mate drinking, with the beverage being a symbol of hospitality and friendship across South America.
Growing with NetSuite
Since going live on NetSuite in January 2008, Guayaki has grown revenue five-fold, doubled headcount to 55 full-time employees and tripled SKUs to 30 core retail items. Like many natural products vendors, the company spent its first few years of business growing slowly as it built out its supply chain and created a market for its products in the U.S. by driving customer awareness of yerba mate. Once established, Guayaki’s business really ramped up and the company decided in 2006 to expand from selling loose yerba mate and tea bags to add in a variety of readymade yerba mate beverages in bottles and cans. For instance, prior to deploying NetSuite, Guayaki’s products were available in 3,000 to 4,000 doors, now they’re in 15,000 doors including the stores of Kroger, Safeway, 7-11 and Whole Foods Market.
NetSuite is Guayaki’s third business management solution, having outgrown first QuickBooks and then Sage BusinessWorks.
“NetSuite provides us with the flexibility to integrate all parts of our business, offers us an excellent reporting structure and infinite expansion opportunities so we feel like we can really grow with NetSuite,” Mann said.
“Any time we’ve had a new challenge in our business, there has been some element of NetSuite that we’ve been able to access to extend and run that process more efficiently.”
He added that bringing in NetSuite has “democratized information” across Guayaki meaning that each employee has real-time access to all the business information they need.
Looking ahead, Guayaki, which currently has two small subsidiaries – one in Canada and one in South America – is interested in international expansion of its business, which today is largely focused on North America. The company has plans to deploy NetSuite OneWorld to support multi-currency transactions (US dollar, Argentine peso and Brazilian real). Further into the future, Guayaki may look to expand the yerba mate brewhouse concept embodied in its showcase café in Sebastopol to other locations to boost customer awareness of its products, of the cultural and social traditions around drinking yerba mate in South America and of Guayaki’s environmental purpose.