Better Business: Earthly Gourmet, Natural Foods Distributor & Social Change Activists
By: Jenna Chen, Marketing & Design Co-Manager
Earthly Gourmet is a vegan, gluten free natural foods distributing company based out of SE Portland, OR. Heman and Marlena Bhojwani started Earthly Gourmet in 2006, and in a short 9 years now supply many of the top vegan, organic restaurants and businesses in our city including Laughing Planet Cafe, Sip Juice Cart and Canteen, Harlow and Prasad Cafes, Next Level Burger (a vegan burger joint that just opened on 4121 SE Hawthorne) and your very own People’s Food Co-op.
People’s Food Co-op was Earthly Gourmet’s first customer. In 1996, former Grocery buyers Melody Anderson and Sarah Barnard bought fair trade chocolate syrups and ginger chews for the store. They also worked with Heman and Marlena to inaugurate Earth Balance into our bulk section. Earth Balance did not sell 30 lb boxes of their product until People’s and Earthly Gourmet expressed high demand and guaranteed an order. This is an example of how values driven businesses can use their collective power to directly impact how something is produced, sold, and distributed – for the better.
People’s commitment to buying in bulk not only reduces wasteful packaging but is more cost-effective for the consumer and producer. Now, Earthly Gourmet distributes a wide array of almost exclusively vegan and gluten-free products to the greater Portland area, Olympia, and Seattle, and almost 95% of these products are produced on the West Coast.
In addition to being a growing, values driven food distributor, Earthly Gourmet is working with Immigration & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) to employ refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and other places. They currently have five full-time employees working for them that have come from overseas to seek asylum in the US. These staff members often were employed as engineers and in other highly skilled trades in their homelands and now work at Earthly Gourmet. Earthly Gourmet goes through rigorous and thorough questioning and investigation by the IRCO before being permitted to hire. After they are hired, Earthly Gourmet trains them extensively on job tasks and serves as a resource as they adjust to living in the US. Heman and Marlena’s willingness to open their workplace and hearts to those less fortunate than us and use their business as an example of how social justice can be actualized is truly inspiring.
When asked what is next for Earthly Gourmet, a company that is meeting growing demand for vegan and gluten-free natural foods, Heman replies “The question is not how can we grow bigger - it’s how can we grow better”. As People’s embarks into a future yet to be written, the idea of better growth rings clear and relevant. How can we stay connected to our roots, our community, support the farmers and food producers around us in a sustainable way and thrive in our city? The answer is up to us.