Category winner: Barnana: Adventures in Upcycling

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This case won the Outstanding Case Writer Competition: Hot Topic 'UN Sustainable Development Goals' category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2021. #CaseAwards2021

 
The case

UN Sustainable Development Goals

This case is primarily focused on issues that relate to UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (Zero Hunger) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).

Caue Suplicy The protagonist

Caue Suplicy, founder of snack foods company, Barnana.

What?

A former professional triathlete, Caue was fed up of relying on processed energy bars and gels.

Inspired by the popularity in the US of coconut water and acai berries – healthy foods he enjoyed as a child in his native Brazil – Caue introduced friends and fellow triathletes in the mid 2000s to the homemade soft dried bananas he brought back from Brazil.

Little did Caue know that the flavoured dried banana ‘bites’ he later produced would have a sizeable impact on the environment and farming communities, starting with the decision to ‘upcycle’ waste bananas.

Barnana plaintain chipsWhy?

By the end of 2019, Barnana had become a certified Benefit Corporation, with organic foods and regenerative agriculture programmes almost always at the centre of the company’s organisation.

Caue and his new CEO, Al Multari, were excited by one of the new products they were thinking of launching.

They were plantain tortilla chips but in order to obtain the supply of plantain flour necessary to satisfy project demand, Barnana would not be able to offer an organic product.

Where?

Barnana HQ is based in the Los Angeles area.

The produce is picked by farmers in Ecuador and other tropical growing regions.

When?

Caue moved to the US in 2001 to pursue his love of competing in triathlons. By the end of the decade the concept of Barnana was born. 

Key quote

“I began to think around 2009 that we could take this simple, healthy food product and offer it in a more convenient, easy-to-eat form.” - Caue Suplicy.

What next?

A new supply chain would be needed to produce the plantain tortilla chips, but it wouldn't involve upcycling and it wouldn't be organic at the outset.

Barnana planned to work with the new suppliers to upgrade their sustainability practices in coming years, but could the project confuse consumers who viewed the company as a sustainability leader?

 
Judges viewpoint

This competition was judged by Katell Le Goulven, INSEAD; Lavinia-Cristina Losif-Lazar, Copenhagen Business School; Meredith Storey, SDG Academy; and Richard McCracken, The Case Centre.

Competition judges

“This is an outstanding case that could become a classic go-to for classes in Entrepreneurship, Sustainability, and Marketing. It covers SDGs on Sustainability, Zero Hunger, and Responsible Consumption and Pollution, as well as the entrepreneurial dilemma of how to balance growth with retaining personal control, and diversification while remaining true to the original values and mission.”

“The case delivers real insight into the entrepreneurial journey, from the original spark to the ultimate dilemma for all entrepreneurial start-ups - whether and how to take the company to the next level.”

 “The teaching note is excellent. It’s supportive and informative with good feedback on it being taught previously.”

The author

authors

Jeremy Dann

2021 marks Jeremy’s first Case Award for himself and the Lloyd Grief Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, USC Marshall School of Business.

Green cases

Jeremy said: “Last year, I was informed that my proposal for a new ‘Green Entrepreneurship’ course was approved at USC Marshall. As a case developer, you always want to put your own special touch on a course with new, up-to-the-minute materials. I’ve known the entrepreneur, Caue Suplicy, for several years, and I contacted him almost immediately about adding the story of his company to the course.

Green earth“I’ve been passionate about environmental causes for years and fascinated by the innovations companies, big and small, are making in order for us to re-engineer massive industries. Our university is making a push to change our curriculum and operations in major ways. I’m very excited my course and this case can be a part of that.”

Relating to the case subject

Jeremy explained: “I considered writing about some companies with very impressive, but complex high-tech solutions to environmental problems for this competition. But I think focusing on a venture with a very understandable product was key for my students and maybe key for the judges. Barnana started by developing snacks made from bananas that would otherwise become composted or wasted. Everyone understands banana – everyone shops for them and eats them. Bananas are the most popular item in many grocery stores, so finding a more sustainable solution for this category is a really major thing.

“I hope also that the story of the ‘supply side’ of this product resonated with the judges. The UN Sustainable Development Goals emphasise reducing poverty and providing opportunities for good work and economic growth. Barnana wants to invest in agricultural practices in tropical regions that can help create stronger local economies, while also reducing waste and improving soil conditions through regenerative agriculture.”

Writing in quarantine

Jeremy added: “Since this whole case was done during quarantine, I wasn’t able to visit the company and sample new snacks and sweets, which is usually a highlight of working with them!

“I had talked with Caue for many years about creating a case around his company. He had spoken to my classes many times. After such a build-up, it was particularly gratifying to see this case debut in the launch year of our new course.”

Importance of all of the story

The Amazon rainforest and river from aboveHe commented: “You have to view your interviewees as characters, not just providers of information. If a student remembers characters and their quotes when they come to class, they’ll be more likely to be an active participant. If they remember the motivations of these characters, the lessons will be more likely to stick with them for years.

“I also emphasise the ‘smaller’ parts of the stories I develop. Sure, we need to put some top line information about industry growth and macro trends, but I like to overinvest in small anecdotes that end up illustrating big points. In a case like this, that might mean examining a day in the life of a farmer eking out a living on the borders of the Amazon rainforest. It might mean spending what some might seem as a bit too much time talking about how a young entrepreneur makes a splash at a trade show. Look for opportunities to invest in some of those smaller stories within the story.”

About the author

Jeremy Dann is a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Case Program at Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, USC Marshall School of Business.
e jeremy.dann@marshall.usc.edu

 
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Barnana: Adventures in Upcycling
Ref SCG-576

Teaching note
Ref SCG-876

 

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