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Social entrepreneur uses beer to feed the needy

MINNEAPOLIS ― When Jacquie Berglund sees a problem, she pours beer on it.

Berglund sells her beer brand, Finnegans, to bars and liquor stores throughout Minnesota, with 100 percent of the profits going to food shelves located in the sellers’ towns or neighborhoods. The extra foam on top: Some of the money is used to buy fresh produce ― the healthy, more expensive stuff most food shelves don’t get enough of ― from local farmers.

“Talk about a win-win-win-win!” Berglund says, beaming as brightly as the noonday rays of sun streaming into her homey office in Minneapolis’ Elliot Park neighborhood.

Her enthusiasm is so infectious that you don’t mind that she tacked an extra “win” on the end. But no, it’s not extra, she says: In addition to the needy, the farmers and the beer sellers, the beer drinkers also win.
Jacquie Berglund stands behind the bar Nov. 22 at Kieran’s Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis, which holds the record for selling the most Finnegans. Berglund is founder of the “spud society,” which sells Finnegans beer, giving 100 percent of the profits to charity. (Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)
Jacquie Berglund stands behind the bar Nov. 22 at Kieran’s Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis, which holds the record for selling the most Finnegans. Berglund is founder of the “spud society,” which sells Finnegans beer, giving 100 percent of the profits to charity. (Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

“It’s a great middle-of-the-road, gateway beer,” she said of Finnegans, a medium-bodied amber ale that has yielded more than $220,000 in total donations to charities since the label was first brewed in 2000. “It’s got some weight, but not too many hops for the person used to drinking lighter beers.”

In the Twin Cities, Berg­lund is a standout ― a rambunctious standout, to use a favorite adjective of hers ― in the growing field of social enterprise, businesses driven not by turning a profit, but by giving back.

Since she founded the company 11 years ago in her sister’s basement, it has averaged 30 percent growth each year ― despite the extent of her business training being a Marketing 101 undergrad class. Although she does have a few employees, much of the company’s work is done by the large, committed phalanx of volunteers and board members she has recruited. The beer itself is produced at the Summit brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota

In the past, Finnegans profits went to multiple Minnesota charities. But she found through research that she wasn’t having the kind of concentrated impact she wanted, nor was the public clear on her message, so she decided to tighten the focus.

“Hunger statistics are going the wrong direction in a big way, and there isn’t a need more basic than food,” she said. “Now, our mission is simple. Turn beer into food. That’s what we do.”

Next step, forming a partnership with the New Hope-based Emergency Foodshelf Network, or EFSN, which has facilities in 26 counties across Minnesota. Three years ago EFSN began the locally farmed produce program called Harvest for the Hungry. With help from Finnegans, the program has expanded the number of participating farms from one to seven.

“Her mind goes 90 miles a minute,” said EFSN director Lori Kratchmer. “I’ve never met anybody so interested in finding out how you operate so she can figure out the best way to help.”

Berglund grew up in Mahtomedi, Minn., then studied political science and communications at Augsburg College. She worked for a few years at the personnel search firm Andcor Corp., where she befriended co-worker Kieran Folliard, now a well-known restaurateur turned whiskey-maker. She moved to France in 1990 to earn a master’s degree in international relations. From a base in Paris, she worked for the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, helping northern regions in Russia to set up market economies.

Upon returning to Minneapolis seven years later, she found that her old friend Folliard was about to open what would become a very popular downtown gathering spot, the Local. She did some marketing for him, and when she told him it wasn’t the job for her, but that she’d like to try launching a charity beer, he sold her the Finnegans label and recipe that he had earlier commissioned. The price? One dollar.

“I still have the check,” Folliard said. “Jacquie didn’t have the full picture in her mind of what she wanted to do, but she knew she didn’t want an also-ran kind of life. So she latched right onto it and said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ How can you not support something like that?”

By Kristin Tillotson

(Star Tribune )

(Distributed by MCT Information Services)
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