Spice supply chains are fundamentally broken. They’ve been built from colonial systems which, from their very beginning, imposed scarcity and opacity by obscuring origin and elevating traders to positions of exploitative power.
There are hundreds of thousands of farmers involved in global spice supply chains, almost all of whom are smallholders in the global south, growing on small plots and selling their products into a commodity market that undervalues their expertise. They lack access to logistical, regulatory and marketing partners who are willing to (literally) meet them where they are: to source directly, pay fair prices, and build demand for unique, beautiful spices among professional chefs and home cooks. Consumers don’t see spices as agricultural products from farms or
grown by highly skilled, experienced farmers, and as such, they don’t demand transparency or quality in their spices as they do for coffee, cacao, wine or other valuable agricultural crops.
Burlap & Barrel is solving the problem in two ways:
- by building a template for direct, transparent supply chains to connect smallholder farmers in the global south with high value markets, and
- by educating consumers about the importance of transparent sourcing. B&B’s work provides farmers with direct access to high value markets and provides healthy, premium spices to cooks in the US. Smallholder farmers assume risk disproportionate to the value of their crops; due to limited capital, low education and outdated market systems, the risk inherent in the industry keep farmers and their families locked into low-cost, low-value agricultural cycles over generations.We have already built direct supply chains from Zanzibar, Afghanistan, Guatemala and elsewhere, and have paid smallholder farmers $250,000 for their spices in the last 3 years. We supply some of the world's best restaurants including Eleven Madison Park, Blue Hill & sweetgreen; artisanal manufacturers of food, beer and cosmetics; and home cooks. We’ve used press to educate via the New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Saveur, a viral video with Epicurious, etc. Bypassing outdated networks of traders and middlemen allows for greater transparency and equity between producers and consumers. By working with chefs, writers and other thought leaders, we hope to extend the farm-to-table value system to spices for the first time.