Sunday, January 11, 2009


I have not posted here for a long time. We are struggling to grow from a small niche market of churches and sports teams to a national distribution. Indeed, the Eco-coffee market is growing. The buyer's recognition of and access to good coffee, however, is still not what it ought to be. There is not an industry wide grading system. Without an industry wide certification of quality, there is no way for the customer to identify good taste or good quality. The importer of the quality stuff too finds him or herself at a cost disadvantage and is motivated to cut corners.

Environmental and social justice coffee is not necessarily good coffee; it should be because the good stuff comes from the most remote, inaccessible, high mountain rain forests, and that is where fair trade coffee usually - but not always - comes from. The high mountain coffee matures more slowly, more disease free to a more mellow taste. The best, when properly screened, is graded SHB, for strictly hard bean, the highest quality grade. The big labels, big names, usually blend small amounts of the good stuff with the much less expensive commodity coffee to achieve what the roaster thinks is a good taste. It does not take the second cup to tell the difference.

Then, there is the issue of stale coffee. The bigger the coffee company the greater the inventory and thus the probable age of the coffee. Let me tell you from a logistics standpoint - and that's what I do - the greatest challenge is achieving sufficient turnover to insure freshness and -- financial sustainability for the company.

It is hard to be all things to all people: quality, organic, chemical free, shade grown, carbon-offset, rain-forest and fair trade, never mind good taste. --- How do you know when advertising has little to do with reality?

In an R&D marketing project, scoping out a broader specialty market, we bought a Keurig coffee brewer. We heard that this machine was the rage in the East. It is certainly a step up from the home espresso machines of the last generation -- at least the coffee comes out hot. The small coffee pods are cleaver things with their own built-in filter. The initial inventory of pods that come with the machine demonstrate a wide variety, including tea and coco. The machine itself is an engineering marvel, but big. It makes the coffee: fast, one cup at a time, and most of all clean!

It's the coffee pods, however that interest us. Is this a market for our "world of good" coffee? Well maybe but the coffee that came with the machine was all stale. I believe that Green Mountain bought out Keurig and, indeed, most of the samples were Green Mountain, some with Paul Newman labels. No matter, if you don't have good quality going in and freshness coming out you just don't have good coffee; you have a gimmick. I just brewed myself a cup of the Paul Newman strong blend, which should have been equivalent to our dark roast; although, all of our coffee is single source and SHB. I drank a fifth of the cup, set it aside and pored myself the remainder of this early morning's brew, our own coffee, which still tasted far better. Please note, we take the poorly ground or out dated coffee - the seconds - for home use.

Now I'm not saying the Keurig machine is not good; I think that it is. I am not saying that Green Mountain is not good coffee; it is usually good. But providing freshness in a small sealed pod - with a very special manufacturing and distribution challenge - did not result in an acceptable product as we researched it. Do we want to distribute our coffee through these small pods for use in the popular Keurig brewer? I think not; we would expose our product - outside of our control - to the same degradation of freshness that destroyed the samples we received. Coffee is perishable. Time, temperature and exposure to other smells can all destroy a roast in the off gassing, shipping, warehousing and delivery stages. So in fairness to the vendor, we will move the Keurig to the basement next to the old Braun espresso machine, and we will continue to brew our coffee with a teapot and filter into a very old Thermos.

Our little company is successful on a small niche market scale; we distribute nationally, but we need to morph or merge ourselves into a vertically integrated distribution enterprise that features the quality and taste that is our hallmark. I am willing to conclude that our one pound bags remain our best vehicle for delivery. Business school, nature food chain, green distributors where are you? We are open to suggestions.

We also need commissioned sales people with experience and motivation. Un-employed? Stuck at home? Willing to work hard? Call EFCC or
rick .