Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Not-So-Green Mountain

More than one green coffee importer (don't worry, you shall remain nameless) privately refers to Green Mountain Coffee (now renamed Keurig Green Mountain) as "Greenwash Mountain," and that's certainly a succinct and accurate description of the company's long-standing marketing strategy, using  its sizable Fair Trade and organic volume to deflect attention from its actual main business: selling commercial coffee, much of it artificially flavored, in ecologically disastrous K Cups, to convenience stores and the like.

The graphic above comes from this Mother Jones article, one of many over the years to highlight the high price the planet pays for consumer convenience.

Now while it looks like Green Mountain has plans to address this issue by the end of the decade, I found it interesting that the Rodgers Family Company has already done so:

97% compostable K-Cup style capsule

If you haven't heard of JBR you really ought to check out not just this article and video but their whole web site. They do a ton of business with Costco and other big box stores, own the Organic Coffee Company and other brands and in general have their fingers on the concerns and values of U.S. consumers who brew good coffee at home on a daily basis.

They're a family-run company with very little media presence, but they roast a huge volume of coffee, own 6 coffee farms and counting, and have been doing great things at origin for a long time. They probably roast more coffee in a month than all of today's Third Wave players put together do in a year, and have infinitely greater positive impact at origin. It's a big world out there in coffee, and other than their web site (which you'd have to work to find as a consumer) these guys seem to have no budget for promoting their good works through the kind of self-congratulatory marketing that we see so much of these days. Sounds like when it comes to walking the talk on being green rather than just having the word as part of your name they could teach both Green Mountain and The Green Menace (Gary Talboy's immortal nickname for Starbucks) some lessons.


  1. Gee , Kevin, you really know how to turn the thumbscrews. I wouldn't ever want to be on the opposite side of an argument from you.

    Nice post, by the way.

  2. Interesting article here:

    I don't know much about Tim Wendelboe, but I'd guess Tim doesn't have the access to the green coffee that the big players has, or the checkbook to invest in the quality control. That's just a guess, but in the end it all comes down to what customers are demanding.

    1. Hi Patrick -

      Thanks for the link to the interesting article on Tim Wendelboe and Nespresso.

      I read Tim's detailed response to Nestlé and either he's naive or simply doesn't know what quality, in an objective rather than aspirational sense, means.

      Nestlé certainly has access to an infinitely greater variety of top quality coffees than a roaster Tim's size would ever see. They also have the tools, in the form of water-cooled roller mill grinders and sub-1% oxygen packaging, to capture and preserve the aroma of just-roasted coffee to a degree that simply isn't possible working with shop grinders and conventional packaging. Now all of that technology is for sure mostly used in the service of providing a very consistent level of targeted mediocrity in the cup in their main product lines, but there's no doubt there are some exceptional coffees in the Nespresso line, and, perhaps more to the point, that they can easily deliver coffees in that form that are the equal of anything Tim or anyone else can deliver, if they so choose.

      Passionate small roasters would like to believe that being smaller scale makes for higher quality, but all it really guarantees is higher overhead, higher green coffee costs and other structural inefficiencies that the consumer ultimately pays for. The key in my view is to learn from the good practices of high quality companies like Nestlé and Illy, seeking to duplicate the key elements of their quality while remaining more nimble and without getting involved in ecologically disastrous packaging.

  3. Thanks for this article. I am a Rogers Family Coffee customer, and have always found their coffees to be just plain delicious. The customer service is pretty good too. I am currently happily drinking my way through a 3 lb. bag of their Colombian Supremo beans. I'll also add that I'm not related or affiliated with them in any way, I just appreciate the good they are doing for the planet, and agree with you that more folks need to know about them. I certainly don't have a huge media presence but I try to share as many of their facebook posts and tweets as I can, and we've also given their products as gifts before, and everyone is always happy after they brew and taste that first cup.