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by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Better Bean Co. president Keith Kullberg checks on the consistency of a batch of cooked beans at the companys Wilsonville plant. When Oregon rolled out its new Benefit Company law in January to complement the existing B Corporation certification for green-minded businesses, the similar-sounding names and concepts caused instant confusion.


But Wilsonville-based Better Bean Co. didn’t hesitate — it signed up for both programs — and now credits them with helping it make a giant leap in its business.

The five-year-old company, which makes fresh bean products such as dips, chili and refried beans sealed in low-waste packaging, already was supplying 301 stores in the West, including New Seasons and Food Front locally and Whole Foods groceries in the chain’s Pacific Northwest, Northern California and Rocky Mountain regions.

At a recent sales presentation to Whole Foods, Better Bean highlighted its newly earned B Corp certification (a rigorous process that uses third-party evaluators to prevent greenwashing), as well as its recent registration with the state of Oregon as a sustainable Benefit Company.

Impressed by the products and the company’s values, Whole Foods struck a deal in May to carry Better Bean products in 382 more of its stores, in its Southern California, Southwest, mid-Atlantic and East Coast regions.

“This is a huge thing,” says Hannah Kullberg, who runs the bean business with her father, founder Keith Kullberg. The deal could enable the company to double its production.

“I think B Corp certification really helped seal the deal,” says Kullberg, who handles marketing for the company and calls herself the Bean Queen. Down the road, she adds, the Oregon Benefit Company designation “allows us to legally bake our values into our company.”

She also credits the B Corp and Benefit Company designations for bringing in “values-based investors” who infused the business with $750,000 in cash. That will go a long way to help the company increase its capacity to supply more Whole Foods stores, she says.

Which is which?

by: PMG - Submitted PhotoFor both designations, companies set a higher bar for sustainability practices.

The nonprofit B Lab, based in Wayne, Pa., confers the B Corp certification on businesses that meet higher environmental and social performance standards. Using its assessment tool, B Lab evaluates companies on their commitment to workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Companies pay the nonprofit a fee.

Becoming a B Corp enables a company to brand itself based on those sustainable practices. B Lab likens its B Corp designation to Fair Trade certification for a coffee bean supplier, or USDA Organic certification for a milk producer.

Benefit Companies have many things in common with B Corps.

To become a Benefit Company, a business must make a legally binding sustainability obligation, conferred, in this case, by the state of Oregon. Companies write into governing documents that management is permitted to pursue social and environmental goals alongside shareholder interests, which means they can make business decisions that place environmental protection over maximizing profits.

In traditional business and accounting, the “bottom line” tallies revenues and expenses to arrive at a company’s profit or loss. Sustainable companies often refer to the “triple bottom line,” meaning they set sustainability goals based on social, environmental and economic considerations.

Growth ahead

by: PMG - Better Bean Co.The Better Bean Co. now is plotting how to ramp up production to supply more Whole Foods stores.

“What we really hope to do is employ more people,” Kullberg says. “But first we need to build out the rented kitchen we’ve been using and sharing.”

Initially, the company wants to offer its part-time production employees full-time hours, before it creates new positions, she says. “We’ve been dreaming about that.”

Having the Benefit Company status, she figures, enables the company to sustain its operating principles in the long run.

“If some day our company would be sold or have a significant change in ownership or decision-makers and our board became very profit-focused, they would not be able to compromise our values,” she says.

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