Sustainability is the Heart & Soul of this Coffee Producer and Drives Packaging Innovation
The Rogers Family Company is growing and that can provide challenges for any company. However, at Rogers, the family is challenging itself to keep its core values intact as they build infrastructure. They’re creating an extended family, if you will, with a shared, unyielding commitment to sustainability as the path to innovation and success. In this respect it serves as an inspiring role model.
What’s truly interesting is that Rogers’ commitment to sustainability is not simply altruism. Its owners have made the leap that the right thing to do for the earth is also the right thing to do for their customers and for the business, a truly organic outgrowth of corporate social responsibility. Here’s an impressive example:
Saving the Rainforests = Better Coffee = Good Business
Rogers is working to restore rainforests in coffee growing areas all over the world. Not only is saving the rainforests critical to the environment, but, they say, coffee trees grown in the shade of taller rainforest foliage produce better quality beans than trees grown in sunny conditions. So their environmental efforts lead to better products with far greater perceived value.
This reality has attracted retail customers like Costco, which stocks Rogers’ San Francisco Bay brand 3-pound bag. Obviously for this cost and value-conscious retailer, Rogers’ sustainability and quality mission hasn’t priced it out of the market. In fact, Rogers also produces private label brands for many environmentally conscious retailers.
For Packaging – Sustainability = Innovation
When it comes to packaging, Rogers’ commitment to sustainability is the key driver of innovation. For instance, the company produces a one-cup serving size that is close to 97% compostable. So committed was it to giving consumers this sustainable choice that it stood up to legal challenges from competitors, and developed a universal adapter called the ‘Freedom Clip’. The clip makes the Rogers one-cup compatible with all recent-model single-serve coffee makers. It gives the Freedom Clips away for free.
So what’s on the horizon for Rogers Family Company? We spoke with two members of the Rogers extended family who are passionate about the company’s values and are helping lead it into the future. Jim Schuett is Art & Web Director and responsible for everything that goes online as well all branding, advertising and packaging graphics. Chris Miller is both Purchasing and Product Development Manager, in charge of a diverse range of strategic and tactical processes, including materials acquisition.
They generously responded to our questions about what they’re working on and how sustainability is contributing to packaging innovation at the Rogers Family Company.
Q. Given the attention that your one-cup and Freedom Clip have received, what’s next?
A. We’re currently working on a major rebranding initiative for our San Francisco Bay brand. Until now, every bag, even within the same product line, had a different look. The 2-pound looked different than the 3-pound and the 12-ounce had yet a different look.
Of course, built into the way that we do business, the new packaging has to improve not only on visual appeal and brand cohesiveness, but on previous sustainability benchmarks.
Q. How are you approaching the recyclability improvements?
A. We do extensive materials testing on every component of every package to come up with better results. We have failures along the way, but we’re persistent. It takes years of trial, which costs time, materials and money. As of now, for our new packaging we have a 100% biodegradable valve [to let air out of the package] and re-sealable tape. Now we’re trialing bio-films to find the most recyclable product that will run on our existing machinery.
This all takes test after test. We have to meet OCIA, USDA and other standards, which adds to the challenge.
Let us say that we couldn’t do this without our vendor partners, UrthPact, Ultra Flex and Capital Corrugated & Carton. Just today we received four trial rolls of film with four different specs worth probably $20,000. Our suppliers are aligned with our objectives and as committed as we are. They’re fully integrated into our processes and they’re awesome.
Q. It sounds like no one is sparing expense in pursuit of sustainability goals. How do you do that and keep your products competitive?
A. You don’t have to go to the cheap side to achieve sustainability. You just have to find the right suppliers. We never say, “How can we make this cheaper?” We ask, “How can we make it the best?” Then we figure out the cost on the other side of the equation.
We’ve brought this concept to the market and want to spread sustainability. The message to other companies is that it can be done. We can do the right thing. It’s a choice.
Q. What is it about your suppliers that makes them the right ones?
A. They’re philosophically aligned with us. Investing in our mission helps them meet their own. It’s completely a top-down thing. With our three key suppliers we’re dealing with the owners, which is rare. They’re involved. They do their own testing, they come to us and sit in on our testing and feedback sessions. They can’t do it without us and we can’t do it without them.
Q. What about consumers? Are they aware that sustainability is more than a message at your company? Is that attractive?
A. The key to attracting consumers to our products and our mission is transparency. If you visit our website, you’ll see how our storytelling is focused on all the many levels of sustainability in what we do and how we do it. Most consumers want to be part of the environmental solution – especially as evidence of global warming grows each year. They’re attracted to products they can not only enjoy, but that contribute to their sense of doing the right thing for the ecology.
Q. What’s your experience joining a growing family business? Do you feel that you’re part of an extended family?
A. There’s no one at this company who would dispute that the extended family feeling is real. The Rogers family recognized that it needed new ideas from outside and additional help to grow, but they would not grow at the price of losing their core values and mission. The sustainability culture here is totally top-down.
They carefully choose people with the expertise they need and who also share the company’s passions. We have no Sustainability Officer or ‘Green Team’ here. The whole company and the way we do business is green.
When we achieve a goal like creating a bio-degradable valve, we don’t say, “Wow! We did a great job!” Instead we consider how we can do better. There’s no ‘good enough’ here. ‘Perfect’ is the only option. That’s what we work toward on every level – every day. As long as there’s one packaging component that’s not 100% bio-degradable or compostable, we haven’t succeeded yet.
About Rogers Family Co.
San Francisco Bay Coffee
San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee, a Rogers Family Company, holds a steadfast mission to provide the best possible quality products while making the world a better place everywhere we do business. From investing in our own farms and mills all over the world to reinventing the ways coffee is processed and roasted we are constantly working to improve. We are committed to improving the life of our farmers, the quality of our product and to lessen the impact we have on the earth.
Chris Miller – Purchasing and Product Development Manager
Chris oversees the day-to-day purchasing needs of the entire company. From office supplies to production, Chris balances the daily supply & demand of the company with the art of forecasting production to ensure a proper balance between inventory and consumption. Chris also guides new product development with the goal that SF Bay Coffee is always on the cutting edge of packaging.
Jim Schuett – Art and Web Director
Jim has been working with brand marketing for over 20 years including owning his own business helping other companies establish logos, marketing and a strong web presence. He currently is the Art and Web Director for San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee and enjoys chasing the passion of his industry for an inspiring company.