Coffee companies do a latte for social good
Emily Ehr never imagined that drinking a cup of her favored dark-roast coffee could help her community. But it can and it does. Ehr, a volunteer at Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center in Longmont, bought three bags of The Galloping Bean coffee over the Christmas holidays. Proceeds from each bag went to the hippotherapy center, which pairs therapy horses with local children and teaches the kids to overcome physical and mental barriers as they learn to ride.
“It feels really good to get what you want and to help a cause,” said Ehr, who lives in Broomfield. “It’s a double win.”
The coffee was created through a partnership with Erie Coffee Roasters.
While corporations have given to charity through various means for years, observers say it’s uncommon for a business to work with a benefiting nonprofit to develop a retail product.
The collaborative effort is seen as part of a growing movement among entrepreneurs — particularly millennial entrepreneurs — and their employees, to link business success with social change, said David Payne, an instructor at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business.
Embracing social values is sound marketing move. Polls in the last two years by Nielsen, Deloitte, Cone Communications/Ebiquity report 90 percent of consumers will switch to brands that support a cause or organization they believe in and 66 percent will choose to spend more on a product if it comes from a socially active company whose ideals they support.
Only a few Colorado businesses — including Erie Coffee Roasters, along with Mission Coffee Roasters and Bristol Brewing Company, both in Colorado Springs — have taken that a step further to involve nonprofits in product and label development.
It’s a move that can be “really empowering and foster ownership,” said Erie Coffee Roasters co-owner Lisa Zautke. “It feels like a total collaboration.”
Two years ago, Lisa and Nate Zautke left their jobs as biomedical researchers to begin roasting coffee, using beans they purchase directly from farmers in South America.
A close connection to producers allows the business to be globally respon-
sible. “But we wanted to also have an impact locally,” she said.
First came “Courage” – a medium roast blend to benefit the American Cancer Society and its Relay for Life fundraising races nationwide, including one in Erie held last July. “As scientists, Nate and I had spent years looking for a drug to cure this terrible illness, and now we could continue helping to fight cancer through our coffee business,” Lisa Zautke said.
They sold a total of 30 bags for $15 each, through their website and at the Erie Farmer’s Market, with $5 per bag donated to the cause. “It wasn’t huge, but Nate and I really wanted to keep going and see if we could make an even bigger impact.”
In the fall 2016, the couple met Deb Durand, a board member of the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center, took a tour, and were inspired to offer the nonprofit a similar partnership.
Horse therapists and volunteers sampled a variety of beans at the barn in 12 coffee pots and everyone voted for the best coffee and the name that would appear on the label.
The Galloping Bean was the roaster’s best seller over the holidays, with 179 bags sold online and $895 raised for the riding center, Zautke said.
What Erie Coffee Roasters has done is provide a sound business model, similar to social enterprises such as the Denver-based Women’s Bean Project, which creates products (in this case jewelry, and soup and bread mixes) to sell and support a social cause (women’s economic independence), said Bruce DeBoskey, a philanthropic consultant for businesses, nonprofits and foundations.
Similarly, Mission Coffee Roasters offers coffee fundraising programs that benefit local artists, schools and nonprofits. And Bristol Brewing Company has a Community Ales series of four labels, all dedicated to a large variety of local nonprofits supporting the arts, the outdoors and humane causes.
The most popular has to be Venetucci Pumpkin Ale, says Steve Oliveri, head of the Bristol’s development, communications and sustainability programs.
“It’s made from chemical-free pumpkins that we go out and pick off the Venetucci Farm. We gut them, roast them and cook them right into the beer that we sell to support this popular community farm that gives our kids free pumpkins every year,” he said.
While there is some discussion among breweries nationwide about creating nonprofit-benefiting labels on craftbeer.com among breweries, it’s still a rare occurrence, Oliveri said.
Payne, who teaches Socially Responsible Enterprise, a required graduate-level course, said products like these fit squarely into what he sees as a return to our country’s capitalist roots and what economist Milton Friedman espoused: to embrace the social value of a free-market system.
“It’s a naïve, false standard for businesses and investors to only care about profits,” he said. Today’s entrepreneurs, especially millennials, “are conceptualizing how to bring value to society and to solve problems.”
Nate Zautke, owner of Erie Coffee Roasters, checks on coffee beans in a roaster.
Coffee beans cool after roasting at Erie Coffee Roasters.
Some of the beans at Erie Coffee Roasters are transferred.
Nate Zautke, owner of Erie Coffee Roasters, measures some beans.