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Meet Jennie Coleman, RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Momentum Finalist

Jennie Coleman is the President and owner of Equifruit and a passionate entrepreneur driven by a desire to use business as a mechanism for poverty alleviation and community development. She is focused on growth as a means to increase impact on fruit growers and plantation workers. Since acquiring Equifruit in 2013, volumes — and thus impact — have grown 10 times.

She is a multilingual (EN, FR, DE, SP, dormant CH) communicator with extensive international experience, who is able to adapt to new cultures, industries, organizations and changing environments. She is comfortable managing risk and dealing with ambiguity. She leads her team with the vision of achieving “Global Fairtrade Banana Domination.” She works collaboratively with Equifruit’s Director, Sales & Marketing, and sets commercial strategy across geographic markets and products. She builds relationships with Fairtrade banana growers and leads the operations team to deliver quality fruit on time to customers.


I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur when… I was living overseas and constantly seeing things that seemed like a good business idea, either from Canada for that culture, or from that culture for Canada. Pretty much every night at dinner I’d say to my husband, “Do you want to hear today’s business idea?” he’d roll his eyes and off I went.

Entrepreneurship is made for me because… I love the flexibility of running a smallish business: building the team you want to work with, setting manageable goals you’re motivated to reach, and having the pride of building something that’s making a difference in the world.

The impact I hope to make through my work is… At Equifruit, we say that our vision is “Global Fairtrade Banana Domination.” We want to change the banana industry and sell a fruit that has been grown sustainably, with a fair distribution of value along our supply chain. We’re changing mindsets on low banana prices as much as anything else, for small growers and plantation workers to earn living wages and labour in safe working conditions, all while respecting environmental production standards.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned on my entrepreneurial journey is… Don’t work with jerks! When I first bought this business, we were in a distribution arrangement with people who yelled at us and threatened to ruin us if we went elsewhere. We finally got the courage to break off that relationship and work with people who treated us like humans, and we’ve never looked back. Now, we choose partners differently and don’t tolerate abuse. It sounds so simple, but when you’re getting started and are very vulnerable commercially, it’s easier said than done.

My proudest accomplishment is… Since its founding in 2006, Equifruit has generated nearly $3M (USD) in Fairtrade social premiums for our growers, which has been used in community development projects like as irrigation systems, clean water, and school and health centre investments. With our growth, 25% of that has just been in the last year. This is extremely motivating for me and my team. Our motto is, “Si se puede.” We can do it, and when we see numbers like that, we’re fired up to do even more!

The biggest risk I took that paid off was… Buying this business! The first couple of years were really stressful and I worried that I’d taken all our savings and just flushed them down the toilet. Ten years in, we’ve more than recouped our initial investment, the business has grown, and the future is bright. It’s a great feeling.

My biggest setback has been… Most setbacks have been only temporary, and in most cases, have forced us to rethink parts of our business that the setback brought to light. For example, we had distributors who — within the span of three days — told us that all was good to drop us, with significant inventories on the water. It was a bit of a crisis of confidence with enormous financial implications, but it confirmed that this was a “don’t work with jerks” moment. We had to rethink our strategy for that market and we came out with much better partners on the other end.

The best advice I’ve received as an entrepreneur was… know your worth. Customers will always, always want what you’re selling at a lower price — but stick to your pricing and sell your value on a broader range of features than just the price.

I surprise people when I tell them… Officially, I’m a professional librarian! I did a Master of Library and Information Science at Western University in the late ’90s. My first job was running the information center of a banking and insurance organization in downtown Toronto and suddenly I thought, ‘Hey, business is pretty interesting.’ I think if you’re curious and confident enough to ask for help, then anything can be learned — including entrepreneurship.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would use it to… Look after my own needs a little more.  I’m a mom of three children (including one who is profoundly disabled), and weekdays are pretty much divided between caring for them and working at Equifruit. I know that I need to carve out some time to exercise, play music, or see friends — but these activities are few and far between. I’m sure I’m not alone in this!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I spend much of my spare time during the summer keeping “nature at bay” at our family cottage. Cutting down saplings, keeping the view clear, pulling out weeds. I put on a bug jacket, I’m by myself, and though no one else probably notices the work I’ve done, I find it super satisfying! It’s good to do some physical labour when most of your workday is spent at a computer.

The future excites me because… We know that through our relentless advocacy work for change in the banana industry, we’ve had a real influence on how buyers understand the importance of Fairtrade. We call people who have jumped on the Equifruit train “banana badasses,” and their ranks are swelling! We dream of Equifruit’s Fairtrade bananas being a mainstream item, and we know we’re at a tipping point. We know that further growth means further impact for our growers, and we’re all in!


Connect with Jennie on LinkedIn and Follow Equifruit on Instagram @equifruit.