With Coffee, Origin Matters


For operators and their customers, terms like sustainability, traceability and social responsibility are as much a part of the conversation as freshness, food safety and quality. With the rise in third-wave coffee houses, coffee has become a magnet for interest from consumers who are increasingly curious about the provenance of their beverages, from how and where the coffee beans are grown to the economic health of the growers and their relationships with buyers.

Coffee producers and retailers aren’t alone in facing this kind of scrutiny. Across the board, younger consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z, have demonstrated a commitment to aligning themselves with companies that share their values. As Unilever VP Rob Candelino told Forbes magazine, “Young consumers prefer a far more intimate and personal relationship with brands. Brands must go beyond the functional to align with consumer values. More than 80% of millennials rank making the world a better place as a priority in their life, and they’re gravitating toward brands that live this vision.”

Fortunately, customers from all generations are ready to support their values by paying a premium for sustainably sourced products. According to a 2018 study from Hanover Research, 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for products from socially responsible brands.

“Millennials are discerning consumers, and they are increasingly willing to pay a premium for brands and products that embody their preferences for authenticity, transparency and responsible ingredient sourcing,” a 2017 report from Maru/Matchbox, a consumer insights firm, also found.

Budding coffee and tea drinkers in Gen Z are likely to follow in millennials’ footsteps in terms of loyalty. In a Survey by DoSomething Strategic, 53% of Gen Z respondents said they had purchased from a brand to show support for the causes it represented, and 40% said they had boycotted a company that didn’t align with their values.


To help operators capture the loyalty of coffee drinkers committed to supporting environmentally and socially conscious providers, S&D Coffee launched Raíz Sustainability® in 2015. Raíz, a sourcing program for coffee and tea, provides small growers access to training and technical assistance in adopting best practices in agriculture and business management. S&D works closely with its partners to develop long-term solutions for sustainability challenges.

The Raíz framework addresses three impact areas:

  • Social—Thriving coffee and tea producers strengthen entire communities and secure the foundation of our business.
  • Environmental—Enhancing soil health, improving water management and teaching forest conservation help to both preserve the environment and yield the best crops.
  • Economic—Investing in the future of coffee and tea encourages assured supply and predictable pricing, creating lasting value.

S&D Coffee also was one of the founding members of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a joint initiative of more than 60 industry-leading partners whose goal is to make coffee the world’s first fully sustainable agricultural product.

Operators that can support their great-tasting coffee menu with a back story about social and environmental responsibility are better positioned to capture consumers’ interest, loyalty and coffee dollars. Knowing the origin of the beans and being able to differentiate them makes that story even more engaging for consumers.