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Custom roasting: a service driven segment.

We sell our customers the way they want to be sold on a mutually profitable basis. We do this by listening to their needs and wants and by providing service after the sale. We are a service driven company and this service is not limited to coffee and equipment, it also includes marketing and merchandising support. We consider ourselves partners with our customers and what we bring to the table is personal integrity, our reputation in the industry, continuity and consistency."

The president of a coffee company shared these thoughts with me and his personal pride in the company was so obvious, you would have thought he was involved in a small roast house and roasted every batch of coffee himself. What makes the situation unique is the president is James Bankard and the company is Continental Coffee Products Company, a Chicago-based Quaker Oats Food Service Company and one of the oldest and largest custom roasters in the industry.

Continental Coffee was founded in 1915 by a 19 year old named Jacob Cohn who sold his coffee to restaurants from a horse drawn wagon; it was the first roasting company to be dedicated to foodservice. The company has grown quite a bit since Jacob's day. Deliveries can no longer be made by any sort of horse and wagon as Continental's poundage is now well into the millions annually.

The roasting plant in Houston, Texas is five stories tall, covers 230,000 square feet and is the largest foodservice roasting plant in the United States.

At this mega-roasting facility, Continental generates one of the broadest product lines of any roaster in the industry -- over 1,600 different coffees. The package size of these coffees can vary from a 3 pound can to a .6 ounce in-room brewing pouch and anywhere in-between.

In the 1970's, Continental began custom roasting and their client list reads like a who's who of food service: McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Delta, United Airlines, Marriott Corp., ARA/Cory, Continental Airlines, Wendy's ... the list goes on and on. Their poundage is now split about 50-50 between branded and private label and Continental's total poundage represents a 10% market share of foodservice coffee sold in the United States.

Because Continental is service driven, it has ventured into the specialty coffee arena at its customer's request. Continental has a full line of traditional gourmet coffees in whole bean as well as ground, fractional packages. In addition to the traditional gourmets, they have sold whole bean, flavored coffees for several years and just this summer, unveiled an expanded line of flavored coffees in ground, fractional packages.

This is exciting news to those of us who follow trends in the specialty industry. When a foodservice giant like Continental Coffee ventures further into the gourmet market, it means that more consumers are drinking traditional and flavored coffees at places other than their home. Some of this coffee is sold under the Continental branded label, some of it is sold under a client's custom label, but regardless of how it is packaged, the most important thing is that it is sold.

Another company that specializes in custom roasting is River Road Coffee Co. in Messena, New York. The president and owner of this company is David Copeland and he considers himself a "specialist within a specialty industry." The reason why? He specializes in custom roasting for other coffee roasters. From the way he has grown in the last few years, he must be doing a good job of it. (Although Dave is the president and owner of River Road, his father Mort Copeland helps him design and engineer new equipment.)

Dave first became involved in the coffee industry in 1984. He owned a small, 40 lb., batch roaster and was a wholesale roaster supplying retailers. After several years of competing directly with major roasters, Dave decided working with them rather than trying to sell against them, would be better for him. Although Dave specializes in flavored coffees, he can custom roast and pack any type of coffee.

Working in Partnership

According to Dave, "Working in partnership with other roasters is a good way to do business. A roaster may do something very well and working with another roaster who also produces a quality product can only enhance overall profitability. A good example of this working partnership is Nestle and Coca Cola. Who would have ever thought these two giants would be working together to produce a cold coffee drink, but they are and I think it makes sense."

Dave quickly moved from a 40 lb. roaster to a 1 bag roaster, then a 4 bag. He recently added another 4 bag roaster and a high speed form and fill packaging machine with valve application ability. For small roasters who have toyed with the idea of custom roasting, Dave pointed out that custom roasting has an "insatiable appetite for capital. With the addition of any high speed equipment, all surrounding equipment has to be brought up to match it."

While the roasting plant now covers 17,000 square feet; if business continues at its current rate, he foresees doubling his current facility next year.

When asked why he thought his sales have been growing year after year, Dave had no hesitation "attention to the customer combined with experience, personal service, and attention to detail." In other words--service.

Customer service still drives growth. It's nice to know there are still some constants in the world.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Words:907
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