There are hundreds of breweries in the country whose business plan include a charitable component — giving away a percentage of profits to support their community. But FINNEGANS is the only beer company we know that gives 100% of their profits back to the communities that buy their beer. Founded in 2000 by “rambunctious social entrepreneur” Jacquie Berglund, FINNEGANS has continued to further their mission of turning beer into food. We caught up with Jacquie this week to chat about social entrepreneurship, brewing with Summit’s head brewer, how Kickstarter is helping their cause, and the new beer they hope to release soon — Dead Irish Poet.
The Growler: Explain for any readers that are unfamiliar — how does FINNEGANS turn beer into food?
Jacquie Berglund: At FINNEGANS we donate 100 percent of our profits (after paying our bills and our salaries) to the FINNEGANS Community Fund (FCF). The FCF partners with a food bank in every state where we sell our beer (MN, ND, SD and WI). The Emergency Food Shelf Network is our partner in MN. Our funds are then used to purchase fresh produce from local growers in each market and that produce is transported to local food shelves and that is how we turn beer into food! The cool thing about this is that our giving is scaled by beer market so for example, all of the beer that we sell in the Twin Cities goes to purchase produce from farms around the Twin Cities and that produce goes to food shelves in the Twin Cities. Same for beer we sell in St. Cloud. It goes to a farm near St. Cloud and to a food shelf in St. Cloud – we support communities locally!
G: What has been your greatest inspiration in the beer business?
JB: I have been very inspired by the changing craft beer landscape. I love that consumers are getting excited about supporting local craft beers and that folks are wanting more flavor, quality and sophistication in the beers they purchase. We all win when we support local companies and their products!
G: Who has been your greatest inspiration in the non-profit sector?
JB: I would have to say that Paul Newman and Newman’s Own has been a huge inspiration. They proved it was possible to donate 100 percent of profits and still remain competitive and sustainable in the market place. I had the chance to meet with the folks from Newman’s Own this summer – they are trying to figure out how to support those companies they have inspired. I am thrilled to share that FINNEGANS was the longest running social enterprise with the 100 percent donation model, in the country, next to Newman’s Own – we celebrate our 14 year anniversary on September 1!
G: What is your definition of “social entrepreneurship?”
JB: There are loads of different definitions out there. I subscribe to the short and simple definition – A social entrepreneur is someone who applies the principles of entrepreneurship to addressing a social issue. We are entrepreneurs, we risk losing our house, we live on shoestring [budget] for a certain amount of time and all of those scary things and we choose to pursue a mission that includes doing something for the greater good.
G: How many people have benefited from the charitable efforts of FINNEGANS since the organization started? Or how many meals have you provided?
JB: We are at over half a million in funds raised and donated. Our social mission shifted at our 10 year mark from supporting at risk youth and the homeless to alleviating hunger. We realized that we did not have succinct metrics about our impact and that most folks didn’t understand where the money was going. By shifting to hunger we created a clear metrics and mission. We turn beer into food. Last year we donated over 91,000 pounds of produce. We also are big supporters of the MS150 as a side hobby at our company – we have raised over $150,000 for MS over the last two years with our FINNEGANS team.
G: Where did the name Dead Irish Poet come from?
JB: Our dear friends at Martin Williams ad agency. They have been our pro-bono partner for the past 4 years. They came up with the Reverse Food Truck concept as well – they are brilliant and we are lucky.
G: Stylistically, what is the inspiration behind the beer?
JB: We were really looking to do something that tipped our hat to our Irish heritage and yet stayed aligned with our current portfolio of beers (The FINNEGANS Amber Ale and Blonde Ale).
G: Who helped in the formulation of the recipe?
JB: The fearless and frequently entertaining Damian McConn, Head Brewer at Summit. I absolutely love working with him. I can sit and yap away about what we are trying to do and he seems to magically turn our ideas into a delicious tasting beer. The test brew of the Dead Irish Poet stout was so amazing we didn’t tweak a thing! He absolutely nailed it.
G: Do you have plans to continue to release more new beers?
JB: I love creating new brews (it is my favorite thing to do next to giving away money!), it is more about how many brews we are able to cash flow. Donating all of our profits obviously limits our cash flow and it is expensive to release new beers and this is really why we decided to do a Kickstarter.
G: What makes Kickstarter a good vehicle for fundraising this time around?
JB: We were really out of any other options – you can imagine that bankers don’t love to lend you money when you tell them that you are donating 100 percent of your profits back to the community. It has just become very challenging to have access to capital in order to grow our business. So, we looked at Kickstarter and crowd funding as a possible way to help us create a new brew and to help us to grow, and in turn, continue our powerful impact in the community.
G: How has the Finnegan’s organizational model changed with the dramatic expansion of the craft beer industry in Minnesota?
JB: We were primarily a volunteer run organization – I was the sole employee until 2009. Then we really started to hit our stride and now have 5 full time staff and over 2,000 volunteers.
G: Can you briefly describe the support you’ve received from other people and businesses in the craft beer community in Minnesota?
JB: I think the beer industry is full of community-minded people. We have seen many beer companies add community aspects to their business models; volunteer programs, loads of product donations to fundraisers, donating a percentage of their profits, etc. We are super appreciative to the Beer Dabbler and also the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild for ‘hiring’ our volunteers for beer festivals. All of those funds go directly to purchasing fresh produce from local farms to food shelves.
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