Profile: Planet Bean Coffee

in Buying Coffee, Fair Trade and the Environment

There was lots to draw me to Guelph Ontario’s Planet Bean Coffee.  It started when a good friend who manages a food services unit in Guelph told me about the fun he was having trialing different coffees.  He had to pick one coffee supplier, and Planet Bean won him over hands-down.  I wanted to get to know them better.  Before I had a chance to, another friend happened upon them and bought me two half-pounds of their Morning Glory and Freedom Fighter blends.  It was time to see it for myself.

I arranged to meet with Bill Barrett.  Bill has been in the Planet Bean family for almost 15 years.  We sat down for an hour over a cup of East Timor coffee, after which Bill treated me to a backstage tour of the roasting operation.  When I left that day, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how I was going to condense everything I learned into one simple blog post.  So instead, you’re going to get several posts 🙂 !  I don’t even regret it, Bill is a fascinating man with community at top of mind in all he does.  And when everybody you know in a city swears by a small business in that city, they must have the goods.

Quality and Responsibility

In 1997, Bill wanted to do something that nobody else in Guelph was doing.  There were three components to Planet Bean’s vision:

1) Fresh roasted coffee.  If it is roasted locally, then it’s fresh when local people buy it.  There weren’t plans to mass-roast and ship it, keeping supply local and freshness top of mind.

2) Organic.  Demonstrate responsibility for sustainable growing practices and for what we coffee lovers put in our system when we’re drinking it.

3) Fair-Traded.  Advocate a supply chain where coffee farmers in poverty-stricken countries get a minimum price, and developmental funding in their area.

One Year Later…

The restaurant portion of the business was closed to ensure proper focus on the coffee roasting.

The company has  become as important locally as a wholesale provider to other businesses as it is known for its retail locations and coffee by the pound.  In 1998, the company itself became certified as a  Fair Trade vendor, and vendor of Certified Organic product.

Planet Bean is owned and operated by the Sumac Community Worker Co-Operative, of which Bill is the current President.  In other words, the company is run by its employees who each have a stake in its quality and success.  Employees of long enough tenure are invited to join the co-op and became a part-owner of the company.

I don’t think a word came out more often in our discussion than “community”.  It dictates how Planet Bean does business.  From the concentration on the local market they serve to ensure a product as fresh as possible, to the worker co-op that owns and operates the company, to the accountability they show in their responsible and sustainable sourcing of coffee.

Click here to read about Bill’s recent trip to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, to survey a farmer co-op in the area.  Planet Bean proves that there is no trade-off between quality and responsible practices – it is at the heart of what they do without trade-off.  Can you blame me for not being able to condense our one-hour conversation 🙂 ?  I am excited to share more from the great discussion that day.

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