Soup Bee is a small non-profit Winnipeg soup company with a bee-autiful mission. Founded by West Broadway Community Organization, they make two soups per week, which are delivered to downtown Winnipeg either for soup subscriptions or one-time deals.
Besides their healthy liquid mission, they also offer supportive employment opportunities, invest in local farmers and businesses and work hard to minimize their carbon footprint. Frankly, we were impressed with the idea of soup on bikes! Their community initiative is inspiring and we had to learn about how they do what they do.
We spoke with Executive Director Greg MacPherson, Production & Delivery Manager Alex Wright and Marketing Manager Bowen Smyth about the rewards of working for a company with so many lofty goals:
Tell us about how you started a company that is socially responsible, eco-friendly and healthy. Was it hard to have all of those boxes checked?
Greg: West Broadway Community Organization began working towards the creation of a social enterprise in 2008 to help provide a financially sustainable way of achieving a number of important community goals. This was a very democratic process, starting with a series of community consultations, striking an advisory group, doing feasibility studies, developing a business plan and building partnerships with local stakeholders, funding agencies, and customers. WBCO has always been committed to the socialâ elements of our social enterprise but it's true that striking a balance between the needs of our community and the needs of a new business can be challenging.
Do your bike couriers have to be super careful to get the soup to its destination without spilling?
Bowen: Our soups are delivered by Natural Cycle bike couriers, who use trailers and bags to deliver our soups in 1L plastic containers that are reusable, freezable, and microwaveable. We've tried a few different brands of containers that varied in cost, availability, shipping proximity, and quality of seal, and have found a balance between optimal seals and affordable costs. The occasional spills do happen, but our staff, couriers and customers work around them gracefully.
What has been the most rewarding thing about running Soup Bee?
Alex: Seeing folks come into the program with multiple barriers and the pride they have with working and enjoying what they do.
Bowen: One of the major barriers that many vulnerable community members face is a lack of meaningful job training and employment opportunities. Soup Bee is able to offer jobs to people who would otherwise face great challenges breaking into the work force, whether because of language barriers, health issues, or involvement in the justice system. It's rewarding to watch people achieve their career goals, helping them establish their own businesses, improve their English skills, or prepare for college and other training programs.
What's the soup you most often recommend?
Alex: The peanut yam, as it's quite rich and full of flavour.
What are your favourite ingredients to use in a soup?
Alex: I like lots of garlic in soup! Also, fresh herbs add lots of great flavour.
How do you concoct your recipes?
Alex: By researching recipes, at the library, on the Internet, and in cookbooks and then tweaking them to suit our customers tastes and the quantity we need.
What's your advice for people who are considering running a socially responsible company?
Bowen: A social enterprise or socially responsible business needs to function not just socially, but economically. Customers expect the same quality and customer service they receive from an ordinary business, and will stop purchasing your product if it doesn't meet their expectations. Having a well-developed business plan and regularly reviewing this plan with experts in all areas related to your business will help to ensure that social goals don't get sacrificed at the expense of financial goals, and vice versa.
The Canadian Community Economic Development Network in Manitoba has been a great resource for Soup Bee and other local social enterprises, providing training that is specific to this business model, and advocating for provincial policies that support the unique benefits of social enterprises. Check out http://ccednet-rcdec.ca/en/node/12969 for more information.