Caffeinated Activism: Three Ways Peace Coffee Thinks Outside the Beans

I considered myself a seasoned coffee junkie.  I jump-start every morning with a cup of Sumatra, with Fair Trade, organic and shade grown stamps of approval.  A fair – and delicious — start, but after meeting the folks running Peace Coffee, my coffee awareness, appreciation and activism was jolted.  Issues I never thought about – cooperative buying, aromas, local roasting – now percolate and affect my next buying decision.

Engaging customers to become activists.  Don’t think that’s in the McDonald’s “Premium Roast” marketing plan.  But Peace Coffee doesn’t play by anybody’s business rulebook. As a successful, Minneapolis-based coffee company with an ecopreneurial zest for leaving this world a better place, Peace Coffee uses their java beans to do more than brew coffee.

Their coffee serves as a change agent, positively changing and greening the lives of everyone involved in the process.  From the farmer in Guatemala now supporting his family thanks to a fair living wage to me direct to me, drinking my morning cup on my Wisconsin farm, this innovative business changes people through their purchases ever since they started as a fledgling brainchild of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in 1995.

“We’re not out to be the biggest coffee company in the universe,” explains Melanee Meegan, marketing manager at Peace Coffee.  “When people choose our coffees, their purchases go directly toward improving the quality of life for farmers across the globe.”

Here are three innovative approaches Peace Coffee uses to engage and inspire their customers:

1.  Keep Local Priorities
Peace Coffee doesn’t want to sell me coffee.  Trust me, I asked.  Talk about a radical approach to business:  turning down potential customers in today’s economy.  But I did get free education with my denied purchase request:  In addition to buying Fair Trade certified, organic and shadegrown coffee, another key decision would be to buy beans from a responsible local roaster, closer to home than Minneapolis and avoiding multiple shipping costs and fossil fuel bills.

“A better option would be to buy beans from a roaster Madison, Wisconsin, if that’s the closest place you can buy Fair Trade, organic and shade grown coffee,” explains Lee Wallace, director of Peace Coffee.  Turning me away from their product but turning me on to their educational mission – now that’s a radical business strategy.  Do you think I’m going to be talking up Peace Coffee to anyone I know in the Minneapolis market?  As we say locally in Wisconsin, you betcha.

Another way Peace Coffee make a clear statement about their local priorities is through their choice of alternative delivery systems for their beans:  bike and, when needed, trucks powered by biodiesel.  The bike-delivery in particular reaps notable marketing benefits as folks in the Twin Cities area recognize the bright red Peace Coffee trailers pulled by intrepid Minnesota bikers year round. “Roast beans, not fossil fuels” is their motto and “delivery cyclist” ranks a sought-after job slot.

2.  Promote Cooperatives
Working directly with small, organic coffee farmer cooperatives, Peace Coffee helped found Cooperative Coffees, an organization dedicated to fostering a more just and equitable coffee trading system where the benefits stay home with the farmers.  Theoretically, cooperatives butt up against the traditional business model focused on bottom line profit.  The goal here isn’t serving a cheaper cup, but a just cup where each purchase dollar goes directly toward improving a life halfway around the world.  As we write about in ECOpreneuring, cooperatives have a triple-bottom-line embedded in how they operate.

“Successful fair trade cooperatives, like the ones that Peace Coffee works with, prove that this business model works to blend profit with social change,” explains Elizabeth Ü, manager of strategic development at RSF Social Finance, a nonprofit financial institution inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, and a Food and Society Policy Fellow.  “All our food purchase decisions make an impact on farmers, whether they’re farming here in this country or across the world. Cooperatives can help these farmers both increase their income AND implement more environmentally-friendly growing techniques. Supporting companies like Peace Coffee enables our purchase dollars to multiply positive impact in communities that need it most.”

3.  Savor those Beans
“Coffee is one of the most complex beverages,” comments Keith Tomlinson, head coffee roaster at Peace Coffee.  “With over 1000 aromatic compounds, it towers over wine that has about 120 compounds.  Chocolate comes in at 14 aromatic compounds.”

Add in the fact (one that Peace Coffee readily promotes) that coffee takes a lot of effort and energy to make my morning cup:  1000 coffee beans go into one pound of coffee, which is basically a single coffee tree’s harvest.  Another way to look at it:  it takes one coffee worker to support one average coffee drinker.

Gulp.  But Peace Coffee isn’t telling me not to drink coffee – whew – but these numbers do radically shift my approach to gulping, no I mean drinking, my coffee.  I’m trying to be more conscious of each cup, savoring those complex aromas and the good karma my personal coffee grower put into those beans.  I’m trying to be more grateful for the goodness I have in my life; slow down a bit and enjoy the moment.  I realize that coffee is one of the most energy intense beverages I could drink – so I do need to be particularly mindful of how I do so.

“Grateful for the goodness I have in my life; slow down a bit and enjoy the moment.”  Not sure if those exact words are in Peace Coffee’s marketing plan, but do you think they’re pleased they got me to consciously think about my coffee in that way?  You betcha.

  1. Paul Phillips

    Dear Naive,,,,,
    Where do I start with you….. you bought it “lock stock and barrel”… the whole FT O SG gig… I’ll keep it simple and to the point…
    1. 90-96% of all ARABICA coffee is ORGANIC.. farmers don’t have enough $ to buy fertilizer much less “ruin” their land, as little as they own, with pesticides etc…
    2. Shade Grown? ha ha… all “high grown” hilside coffee trees are protected by some “bigger” [usually Plantains] trees to hold up the mountain side.. [coffee grows in a verticle 20% grade]
    3. Don’t be so “in bed with CO-OP’s ” — you are not really serious are you about the “non greed” in the third world??? The co-ops, or sol there called, are as about as CO OP as GM is with TOYOTA… the farmer “gets” what ever they want to give him [no accoutability] no DISTRIBUTION balance sheets etc…. but the farmer isn’t the issue either – its the poor worker, who you aligned yourself with saying that your cup of java encompassed 1,000 beans of hand picked coffee by a guy, gal who gets $2,00 a day !!!
    4. FAIR TRADE… another joke… maybe in 2001 [the C coffee market was at all time lows of .50 cents/lb ] TRANS FAIR the blood sucking organization which charges the farmers, 10 cents a pound, prorata share of expenses to travel to their isolated farms while they are in the hotels of major coffee producing countries…. so today with the “C” market at 1.60 a pound base and arabicas at $2.00 + that gimmick is just another “unnecesary” add on cost, which farmers do not need to survive when price levels have “tripled” since 2001 days….

    Some advice to you…. start saving your money… don’t pay more than $5.00 a lb for ARABICA coffee, forget the FT, O, SG sales pitch and buy yourself a good espresso machine and make your own coffee drinks..
    The margins of profit STBK’s is getting is 200-300% mark up… you can determine the cost from that…..

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