The power elicited from simplifying—it’s a cornerstone of SIMPLi, a leading Regenerative Organic Certified® (ROC) brand offering single-origin plant-based products. Eight ROC SIMPLi products were rolled out at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide this spring.
Founded in 2020 by native Peruvian Sarela Herrada and her husband Matt Cohen, SIMPLi partners directly with farmers worldwide, creating simpler, fully transparent supply chains that are more sustainable for people and the planet. The result is a range of beans, grains, oils, and superfoods/spices the majority of which are Regenerative Organic Certified or working toward that certification. In addition to SIMPLIi’s signature Regenerative Organic Certified Tri-Color, White, and Red Quinoa, new products include ROC Lupini Beans, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Gigante Beans, Chickpeas, Amaranth, and Chia Seeds. The new rollouts are also single-origin heirloom varieties, USDA Certified Organic, and Fair for Life certified.
“We want to connect the dots with our vertical supply chain, and bring the power back to farming communities,” Sarela told Forbes. SIMPLi wants a fairer food system—one that’s equitable, compensating farmers adequately, and regenerative. The company’s mission is to transform a flawed food system into one good for people, producers, and the planet.
SIMPLi’s name contains its mission—a “y” became an “i” to highlight its four “i’s.” Ethical sourcing of ingredients offers integrity and innovation in supply chains; it also delivers impact: reducing food fraud by over 1 million pounds, increasing farmer profits by 10% (expected to grow to 20% in next few years), and having the potential to sequester more carbon in the soil through regenerative practices. These impacts align SIMPLi very strongly with the Regenerative Organic Alliance’s goals of healthy soil, animal welfare, and improving farmers’ lives.
Eliminating the middleman
How are Sarela and Matt able to procure these often heirloom products from over 2000 farms in Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, Ukrain, Spain, Brazil, and Greece. It’s the polar opposite of the way traditional global supply chains work, where as many as 6 middlemen bridge the link between farmer and end consumer: local broker co-op, processor, exporter, importer, U.S. broker, and distributor.
It began in 2020, with SIMPLi starting in the food service industry. When the pandemic shut down restaurants, the company had enough product on hand from strong relationships with farmers to shift to providing ingredients for meal kit companies. It also went retail with its first item, quinoa. “We look to have multi-year contracts (some 3 to 5 years) and long-term relationships with our producers to support them, to eliminate volatility and increase stability,” said Matt. “For us… it was really important to establish those direct producer and direct farming relationships…[allowing us] to create resiliency within our supply chains too, especially through the pandemic…We have an entire sourcing team…often agronomists…with essentially boots on the ground in the country of origin who go out and seek out farming communities to work with.”
“We started with quinoa, but to break out of this monocrop mentality, we introduced other native crops—quinoa is naturally seeded to biodiversity through crop rotations, for example with lupini beans, which rotates with potato and oats,” Sarela explained. “This is how we grew our four categories of offerings. Regenerative is bringing back the original indigenous practices that were lost because markets and communities weren’t aligned.”
SIMPLi deals with direct sourcing challenges by diversifying into different regions of a country to mitigate risk.
Of the 5,000 farmers SIMPLi works with, 2,000 are in the company’s Regenerative Pathway Program, which guides native farming communities from conventional agriculture to transitional organic, to organic, and finally into ROC certification.
“Our target is to have 80% of our producers be organic or regenerative organic,” said Matt. “Our goal is to support over a million acres of land over the next five years.”
According to Matt, economic progress and environmental improvement could sustain communities for generations. Attract farmers with these impacts of sustainable farming, then they will create that demand. “One of the [farmers’] major concerns—it doesn’t matter where in the world—is climate change and how it’s impacting harvests,” Matt said. “By improving the agricultural practices, we can create that tangible change for the world.”
Multiple markets distribute nutritious ingredients
SIMPLi diversifies between retail and food service markets to sell its products. Currently 30% of business goes to retail, and 70% to food service—with quick service restaurants like Sweetgreen and other food service companies. A long-term ratio will probably approximate 50% retail, 50% food service.
Daily Harvest, a leading plant-based, sustainability-minded meal delivery company, recently launched a new collection of nutritious grain bowls featuring SIMPLi’s ancient grains and seeds. These include chef-crafted meals such as Curried Brown Rice and Green Chickpea, Herb Wild Rice and Black Lentil, and Lemon Quinoa and Butternut Squash.
Seeding the Future
SIMPLi’s vision remains one of simple, direct connection—of eliminating the boundaries, being able to provide products from around the world that connect people with the best food. The story lies in linking quality food to farming that heals the planet, which is linked to producers earning the livelihoods and security they deserve.
“Behind every piece of grain …or every drop of oil, there is a farmer that has touched the product at the country of origin…a hand that has harvested, has seeded. Being able to provide that visibility is what we’re trying to achieve here,” Serala says.