A social-impact experiment sought to see if that raw ingredient “could be leveraged in an entirely different way,” says Hannah June, head of research, design and strategy at Questtonó—and, as a result, help alleviate poverty in the community. The global brand consultancy firm, based in São Paulo, collaborated with AmBev, the Brazilian subsidiary of beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, to design a new business model whereby cassava farmers would be paid to cultivate their crop to make a local beer for their region. Questtonó led the exploration of how to build a sustainable model, as well as brands that would culturally fit specific regions. “How could we translate these ingredients, and all these families that are part of this value chain, to create a cultural symbol that all people could be proud of?” asks Leo Massarelli, Questtonó’s founder and CCO.
In 2018, the partnership launched the first beer: Nossa, which means “ours,” in the state of Pernambuco, made from cassava harvested by farmers in the state, in factories located in the state. There, the cassava starch is cooked until thick, when it’s transferred to the mash tun, a large brewhouse vat where it’s mashed and mixed with the barley malt. The final recipe was the result of months of trials—and that finished product is a light, clear, golden beer, with a faint malty aroma, slight sweetness, and dry finish.
The beers that followed are similar in taste and style, but with slight tweaks. Next came the Magnífica and Legítima brands, in the states of Maranhão and Ceará. All the beers are sold exclusively in their respective states, with low markups. “It wasn’t like we were marking up the price to be sold in São Paulo,” June says. Because prices are low, the production volumes are high in order to make a profit. According to AmBev’s figures, within four months, Nossa had 22.7% of the low-priced beer market share in its region; Magnífica had a 68% higher margin than the category average.
But, it was in 2020 that, with a proven concept, Questtonó and AmBev were able to expand the parameters of the framework, now known as Roots. It’s the winner of the Latin America category of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards. “There’s absolutely no reason why this replicable business model couldn’t be reproduced in entirely different markets, that have a different primary ingredient,” June says. A new brand, Esmera, moved into the central region of Brazil, in the state of Goiás. And, in Piauí, Berrió was launched, making beer not from cassava, but cashews—proving the concept that an area’s native crops could adapt to a new beer, not the other way around. That, June says, is different from more traditional models of corporations paying farmers to cultivate produce completely out of their…