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The Goose with golden eggs?

4 January 2012
Photo of Duncan Goose

Getting the right finance at the moment is very difficult for an organisation like ours. People can’t define us.

From water and eggs to microfinance, social business Global Ethics is turning profitable products into life-changing projects across the world. As it continues to diversify, the business is now looking for investment to grow. Claudia Cahalane spoke to founder Duncan Goose about its plans for 2012

“Someone said the other day that we’re right at the start of what will be seen as normal in 10 years,” says Duncan Goose.

The name behind brands such as One Water and One Eggs is speaking to SocialEnterpriselive.com about the structure of his enterprise and how it is being viewed by investors and lenders at a time when it is looking to grow.

The enterprise comprises a company, a charity and a brand licensing arm: the company is Global Ethics Limited, the company behind the ‘One’ brand. It sells a number of food and healthcare products in the UK, US and Australia, and gives its profits to the charity – the One Foundation, based in the UK. The charity then uses the money to support projects in Africa, Central/South America and Asia, respectively, through selected NGOs who are specialists in their respective areas. Meanwhile, the brand licensing arm sees companies like Noble Foods, an egg packaging and distribution business, exclusively licence the One label in the UK.

Goose, the co-founder of Global Ethics, says he’s spent the past 18 months in conversations with various financiers about what kind of money could be brought on board to scale up an enterprise like this.

So far, he has managed to bring in “a few hundred thousand, but not as much as we wanted” from the company’s bank, via the government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme. Up to £1m can be accessed via the scheme, but because Global Ethics doesn’t keep its profits and doesn’t have any assets, the actual amount they were able to pull in was much less.

“Getting the right finance at the moment is very difficult for an organisation like ours. People can’t define us,” he says. But he doesn’t sound exasperated. Ultimately the CEO believes in the business model and is confident that the right kind of finance will materialise.

Global Ethics, which began trading in 2005, has always been ambitious for growth. With a stable bottled water business in full flow, in the last year or so it has introduced eggs, porridge, bread and vitamin water into its product range to fund food programmes and plasters, soap, toilet tissue and condoms to fund sanitation and healthcare projects. “There is a list of about 45 things, but I don’t think we’ll bring all of them to market,” he says. Interestingly, the condom venture is being put on hold because Durex is too dominant in the market and was able to undercut them on bids, explains Goose.

The existing products are stocked in a number of big name supermarkets but, according to Goose, most retailers are not taking on more labels at the moment. “We hope to be more visible next year,” he adds. “There’s also more competition to reduce the price of production than there was a year ago,” Goose has found. “It makes you more creative. We’re looking at how we can make the bottled water 10% cheaper to produce.”

So far, Global Ethics’ profits do not appear to have taken much of a hit from the recession. Its turnover has roughly doubled every year, with £2.2m being generated last year. About 55% of turnover goes directly to the charity. “Since we’ve started trading, we’ve given 100% of profits to the charity – £7.6m million,” says Goose. The company estimates that it’s impacted two million lives.

Big companies are noting how Global Ethics does business, Goose’s friends on the inside tell him. “I always find that interesting, that massive companies are looking at little companies like us. I can see a change in tide for sure.”

Though it might not be a big corporate, Global Ethics does have big ambitions. It will continue to diversify, and its move into microfinance last year, in partnership with Alquity Africa, is part of a plan to help change poorer communities from the roots.

Goose says the enterprise is now looking at “three or four” other important areas for expansion. “Technology and healthcare are two of the areas we’d like to explore in depth, but I can’t say more yet,” he comments.

In the future, we might also see a stronger presence from the company in the UK. Goose admitted in a Q&A session at the Social Enterprise Wales 2011 conference that he had “pangs of guilt” about being a few miles from Tower Hamlets, one of Britain’s most deprived communities, but sending all profits to Africa. “We have similar problems here with low child literacy rates and financial poverty in some areas. When we get space to breath, probably next year, we’ll look into this.”
 

See the One Eggs ad, featuring the voice of comedian Ed Byrne, here

Watch an interview with Duncan Goose about the business here.

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