Impacting Global Supply Chains from the Heartland

July 12, 2018 | Seth Petchers

Seth Petchers, Sustainable Supply Chain Manager, Frontier Co-op

When Frontier Co-op started sourcing spices from around the globe in 1976, we were intentional that doing business in a way that aligned with our core values was equally as important to us as building a successful enterprise. More than 40 years later, that intent has been the secret to our business success. Today, Frontier Co-op sustainably sources herbs, spices and essential oils from more than 50 countries and is continually recognized as leader in the natural products industry.  

One of the core values championed by Frontier Co-op is our commitment to "impact sourcing"—purchasing commodities in ways that create positive outcomes for the people and communities we deal with. We continually seek out opportunities to invest in sources that create social and environmental value. And beyond that, we share responsibility with our suppliers as they move to organic and sustainable farming practices—contributing to that cost or providing know-how with boots on the ground.

The cornerstone of our impact sourcing efforts is our Well Earth program. Launched in 2007, the program’s goal is to develop and secure reliable sources for sustainable products by incentivizing our suppliers to improve business practices in ways that benefit farmers, workers and the environment. Over the years, more than 40 suppliers have joined the program as Well Earth Partners, and we’ve provided them with $1.5 million in grants to support a variety of business building and community development projects. The program was ahead of its time in the spice industry, not only creating positive outcomes but helping us forge deep ties with partner suppliers in ways that are good for their businesses and ours. 

Frontier Co-op is now ready to take our Well Earth program to the next level in a quest to create deeper transparency within our supply chain and to provide bigger outcomes for farmers. Beginning this year, we’ll be greatly expanding the number of partner suppliers in the Well Earth program, collecting and independently evaluating more extensive information about their business and sustainability practices, and providing more targeted support for their continuous improvement.

Knowledge is power, and through collaboration and information sharing, Frontier Co-op’s approach to sustainability in our supply chain is creating wins for our company and our business partners. It’s this same premise that prompted us to join and support the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum (ISBF). As a platform to share opportunities and challenges with other Iowa companies, ISBF has helped Frontier Co-op understand best practices and identify resources to find cost-effective solutions to waste management, alternative energy, health and wellness, and sustainable packaging. ISBF events—which include free webinars, as well as roundtables and facility tours—provide a collaborative space to share information, learn and discuss challenges without the stress of judgment or criticism.

Frontier Co-op saw a payback from our ISBF membership right away. Networking at a quarterly roundtable, another member shared a consulting service with us. We were able to set up a meeting and find a recycling solution that saved us almost $20,000.

Frontier Co-op is a founding member of ISBF. Others include Barilla America, Casey’s General Stores, West Liberty Foods, Principal Financial Group and ISU’s Center for Industrial Research & Services. Other member-businesses include Allsteel, CURRIES-ASSA ABLOY, Bankers Trust, Hach, Kemin Industries, Kum & Go, McFarland Clinic, Meredith Corporation, Perishable Distributors of Iowa and Siegwerk. Having benefited from our engagement with ISBF and in the spirit of collaboration and sharing, Frontier Co-op encourages other companies to join an ISBF webinar, roundtable or member tour. If your company would like to learn more, please reach out to us or ISBF’s Executive Director Adam Hammes—we’d be happy to share more.

Seth Petchers is sustainable supply chain manager at Frontier Co-op and a board member of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum. Contact him via email at