Good to the last drop.
The longtime coffee slogan refers to flavor, but goodness in coffee today is taking on far more meaning than simply brewing an aromatic cup.
Coffee is emerging as a touchstone for social consciousness as more brands tweak their mix of beans so their products can bear labels indicating that they've been sourced in a way that is environmentally friendly and/or economically fair to farmers.
An increasing number of shoppers, in turn, are paying a premium for brands that have earned USDA Organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certifications.
Although overall unit sales of coffee were down 1.8% for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 5, dollar sales increased 5.3%, indicating higher prices.
Trader Joe's, Wild Oats Markets and Whole Foods Market were among the first grocers to begin sourcing these coffees and more mainstream retailers are following their lead.
Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle is among them.
It promoted its selection of fair trade coffee while commemorating Fair Trade Month this October with two in-store presentations given by Cesar Rivas Pena, a fair trade farmer from South America.
“The feedback from those in attendance was very positive, as customers appreciated being able to speak with Rivas Pena and learn about fair trade from someone who benefits from the initiative directly,” said Dan Donovan, spokesman for Giant Eagle.
The Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers like Pena receive a fair market price for the coffee they supply.
Sales of coffee that has been certified as fair trade grew from $50 million in 2000 to $500 million in 2005, according to third-party certifier TransFair USA, Oakland, Calif.
Giant Eagle also highlights its fair trade coffee program in its monthly Market District newsletter, noting that the Vermont Coffee Company brand it carries is both Fair Trade and USDA Organic certified.
An eight-ounce bag of the coffee is priced at $5.69, while the 14-ounce bag sells for $8.49. Additionally, Giant Eagle highlighted the fair trade coffee in its weekly circular and distributed samples in-store. The chain also carries some fair trade chocolates.
Albertsons' Intermountain West division, based in Boise, Idaho, doesn't currently offer fair trade coffee but is now working on a project to incorporate fair trade and other socially responsible coffee into its private-label line, according to spokeswoman Donna Eggers.
Meanwhile, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans merchandises Green Mountain brand fair trade and organic coffees.
Its fair trade selection is housed in a freestanding 2-foot-by-4-foot wooden fixture that features an explanation of benefits enjoyed by fair trade farmers.
In addition to first choosing to purchase a socially responsible coffee, shoppers must sometimes also decide where their loyalties lie.
Sam's Club, for instance, offers three types of socially responsible coffee including Fair Trade certified, USDA Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified varieties. None have the stamp of all three. Each comes in a 2.5-pound bag and all cost $11.77.
Coffee beans that have gained the Rainforest Alliance certification come from farms that meet a set of ecosystem conservation, agrochemical reduction and wildlife protection standards.
Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., has started to offer fair trade coffees under the Marques de Paiva and Millstone labels and also some organic coffees in select U.S. stores, according to company spokeswoman Karen Burk.
Shaw's, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Price Chopper, Kroger, Giant Landover and Ukrop's are among the retailers who source fair trade and organic coffee from Equal Exchange, a coffee importer and manufacturer.
A few months ago, Equal Exchange opened its first coffee cafe in a Town & Country supermarket in Seattle, noted Rodney North, the company's spokesman.
Jeremiah's Pick brand of coffee is Mollie Stone's Markets' primary fair trade offering. The retailer also merchandises coffees from Peets, Starbucks and a few other specialty lines.
“We provide fliers on the displays to educate customers about these coffees,” said Mollie Stone's owner, Dave Bennett. “We last expanded the [fair trade] section about two years ago when we added the Peets brand.”
The ground fair trade coffee version of Jeremiah's Pick is among Mollie Stone's best-selling varieties.
Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market taps the resources of local roaster Boston Stoker for its specialty coffee program.
“We have an in-house coffee bar and a lot of our [bagged coffee] business is driven from that,” noted Scott Achs, grocery manager for the independent retailer.
The Boston Stoker line includes blends bearing fair trade, organic and bird-friendly claims. Coffee that is bird friendly has been grown in fields that are left as natural as possible to enable wildlife to remain in their habitat. Generally, bird-friendly coffees are certified under the Rainforest Alliance stamp.
Perhaps because it's taken on a more responsible profile, coffee has also shed its image as a caffeine-laden beverage whose key benefit is providing an energy jolt.
Scientific research cites the health benefits associated with high levels of antioxidants that coffee beans contain. Various studies have recognized coffee as a food that can protect against a host of ailments such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and even some cancers.
While the Denver-based Caffé Sanora brand takes a social approach with its use of organic and Rainforest Alliance beans, it has focused on making its coffee even healthier. The company patented a roasting process that retains more antioxidants in brewed coffee, according to chief executive officer Loretta Zap.
Chemistry professor Joseph Vinson of the University of Scranton, who has studied antioxidant levels of coffee, agreed that Caffé Sanora blends showed higher amounts than other coffees he has studied. The retail prices of Caffé Sanora typically ranges between $9.99 and $10.99 per 12-ounce bag. Vinson said while coffee marketers haven't put health claims on packages yet, he wouldn't be surprised if antioxidants rates start to appear.
A&P, Meijer, Schnucks and Ralphs are among the retailers sourcing the brand.
“Studies have shown that coffee has four times the antioxidants of green tea and it has more than red wine,” pointed out Joseph DeRupo, a spokesman for the National Coffee Association, which launched the Coffee Delivers information campaign two years ago.
Coffee manufacturers have been hesitant to make any definitive health claims on their products that address the high antioxidant levels.
“There would be a legal issue in making a health claim,” DeRupo said. “That would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”
While smaller roasters have taken the lead in developing socially responsible coffee, the major brands have been coming up with their own social and health-oriented initiatives.
In April, Folgers introduced Simply Smooth, a variety of coffee said to be gentle on the stomach.
Kraft Foods' Maxwell House decaffeinated version has received an endorsement from South Beach Diet and now carries that label, while Kraft's Yuban brand earned Rainforest Alliance certification earlier this year. At present, it is the largest U.S. coffee brand to bear the stamp.
There are numerous similar initiatives.
Nespresso, the espresso manufacturing arm of Nestlé, is working with the Rainforest Alliance group to promote environmental and social programs on farms that produce its beans. And in October, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced it would serve Rainforest Alliance approved coffee on its flights.
Of the Top 5 beverage categories, the highest percentage of carbonated soft drinks are sold on promotion, followed by table wine and bottled water.
|CATEGORY||$ SALES IN MILLIONS*||CHANGE VS. YEAR AGO||% SOLD ON PROMOTION**||% CHANGE VS. YEAR AGO|
|Source: Information Resources Inc. |
*Sales in food, drug and mass outlets excluding Wal-Mart (for beer and wine, food and drug only) for the four weeks that ended Nov. 5.
**Display, feature or price reduction.