Farm To Cup: Atlanta-based THRIVE Farmers Changing The Coffee Industry
An Atlanta-based coffee company is changing the way people enjoy their morning cup of coffee. THRIVE Farmers has launched a groundbreaking farmer-direct revenue sharing model that allows farmers to participate in the retail market value of their coffee.
THRIVE’s business model has served as a “wake up” call to an industry that continues to put the coffee farmer at risk. In 2012 fair trade coffee sales reached a record breaking $4 billion in sales and specialty coffee consumption was at an all-time high. Yet coffee farmers continue to abandon their farms and many who remain barely earn enough to pay their monthly food bill, often working additional jobs.
It was this reality and their personal involvement with the challenges of the coffee supply chain that motivated three men from different walks of life to launch Atlanta-based THRIVE Farmers Coffee.
Ken Lander, a retired lawyer turned coffee farmer; Alejandro Garcia, a fifth-generation Costa Rican coffee farmer; and Michael Jones, a seasoned entrepreneur started the company with two goals: to provide consumers with exceptional coffee and to provide a sustainable way for coffee farmers to earn a living.
Retired Georgian lawyer turned coffee farmer learned Fair Trade was not enough
When Ken Lander first bought his Costa Rican coffee farm in 2005, he grew coffee as a hobby relying on his real estate investments to support his family. But when the financial crisis hit in 2008, he quickly learned how hard it was to survive as a coffee farmer.
At the time, he was part of a fair trade co-op and earned $1.30 a pound on coffee that retailed for $12 a pound. When he found himself on the verge of not being able to feed his family of six, he looked for a new way to sell coffee.
“While fair trade has done an incredible job of raising public awareness about the plight of the farmer, it still did not give me the ability to earn a sustainable living,” says Lander. That’s when he began roasting and selling his own coffee — first to his friends on Facebook, and then through his coffee shop in Monteverde.
A partnership that launched a new model of growing and selling coffee
When Lander ran out of beans to sell to his customers, he partnered with Costa Rican coffee farmer Alejandro Garcia. Garcia had just rescued his family farm after working for two years in a buffet-style restaurant in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. He saved $40,000 in a shoebox – enough money to buy his own processing equipment and pay off farm debt his father had amassed in the coffee crash of the 90’s. He, too, learned that growing, harvesting, processing and selling his own beans was profitable. Like Lander, he had already begun selling coffee in his own coffee shop when the two met.
As sales continued to grow, they got more local farmers involved. Lack of resources forced them to design a creative model where farmers consigned their coffee without initial payment, and then got a significant portion of the sales proceeds when it sold. This became the foundation of an entirely new economic model in coffee.
“Our customers loved knowing they were buying direct from the farmer and that they had a direct impact in helping farmers and communities thrive,” says Garcia. “We wanted other farmers to benefit from this new model.”
Atlanta entrepreneur takes farmer-direct model global
Two years later, Lander and Garcia connected with successful entrepreneur Michael Jones in Atlanta, Georgia. Jones, whose father-in-law is a “Blue Mountain” coffee farmer in Jamaica, had experience tackling supply chain opportunities when he started Implantable Provider Group (IPG.com) which was named as one of America’s fastest growing companies by INC Magazine in 2008, and ranked fifth on Forbes list of America’s most promising private companies in 2011.
Jones developed a vision for taking the model that Lander and Garcia had piloted in the small Costa Rican mountain town and expanded it in a way that could change lives around the world. He and a group of private investors have put their money behind their vision, investing more than $1 million to date. In December 2011, THRIVE Farmers Coffee was launched globally.
“Our goal is to offer a truly sustainable solution that allows farmers to become real stakeholders in the crops they produce, and maybe for the first time, support their families on just coffee,” says Jones, co-founder and CEO. “By selling direct to the consumer and cutting out the middleman, farmers earn upwards of 5 to 10 times more than “so-called” fair trade models.” Jones added, “This is possible because of our relentless focus on quality coffee.”
According to the International Coffee Organization, green or unroasted Arabica coffee beans purchased from the typical farmer sold for $1.53 a pound in February, 2013. However, the THRIVE farmer-direct model aligns the interests of the farmers with the consumer and provides a platform to earn at least 50% of the sale price generated by THRIVE.
In 2012 THRIVE Farmers sourced 328,000 pounds of coffee grown from Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica out of their Atlanta headquarters. They sell directly to retailers, specialty cafés, roasters and coffee lovers who buy from their online store at www.thrivefarmers.com.
“We are excited about the partnership with THRIVE Farmers because we’re all about supporting the local farmer,” says Bradley Hunter, Coffee and Cheese Category Manager from Earth Fare, one of the most successful natural food retailers in the nation. “We love that you can look at the coffee bag and know who’s growing this quality coffee.”
With more than 400 farmers across six regions in three countries, THRIVE Farmers is on track to represent every major coffee growing region in the world, while providing consumers with the ability to support the success of the farmers and their community – one great cup of coffee at a time.
About THRIVE Farmers – THRIVE Farmers Coffee is changing the coffee industry by supplying specialty grade farmer-direct coffee to consumers in an innovative revenue sharing model that benefits farmers and coffee lovers. To learn more, visit www.thrivefarmers.com.