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Wisconsin coffee country.

The Specialty Coffee Story is not only the story of big city roasters making it in New York and San Francisco, Boston and Seattle. It is the story of specialty merchants in every corner of the land, throwing their lot in with great coffee and trying to make a go of a little business often in a hostile business environment, and against great odds.

Hayward Wisconsin is a small tourist town about 150 miles from Minneapolis. There in 1980, James H. Cameron officially began his personal specialty coffee odyssey with a sample roaster, seven bags of coffee, a mill, and a dream.

Twelve years ago, rural Wisconsin was not yet ready for specialty coffee. A population base of 2,000 souls could not support a roaster. As his available cash dwindled, and debts mounted Jim realized that he was going to have to put on a jacket and tie and travel to the city to sell his fresh roasted beans.

A man named Butch Johnson of Byerly's, a chain of up-scale grocery stores, gave Jim his first big break with an order of 60 cases of beans in 100-lb. bags. Additional orders came in slowly, but surely. Eight thousand dollars the first year. Ninety thousand dollars the second year. Two hundred thousand dollars the third year. It was in the third year that the business showed its first profit. It was under $100, but it was profit.

In the early stages of his business, Cameron was so totally obsessed with survival that the only coffee quality he was able to focus on was freshness. He relied on the palettes and integrity of his green coffee sources to keep quality beans flowing in. They kept him supplied with the best, and Jim got them roasted and delivered fresh as can be. Cameron is a freshness freak. "Even a mediocre coffee freshly roasted is better than a great one that is stale," says the president of Cameron Coffee, and he means it. And he's right.

By 1985, Cameron's had a building, a salesman, a delivery vehicle and a good name in the trade. Not bad for five years work. Now in its 13th year and with sales above three million dollars, Cameron's is the force to reckon with in his six state market. He wears the label "Regional Roaster" as a badge of honor. "I do make exceptions for special projects that reach coast to coast and to Europe but my focus is in my geographic area doing the super coffees of the world," says this specialty coffee veteran.

Survival is still the primary struggle of most specialty roasters. Growth keeps the specialty coffeeman walking a tightrope between success and failure as he plows back his profits in new equipment, packaging, accounts receivable, and people. Cameron's is the quintessential story of the rise of a specialty roaster wholesaler. It is not a story without defeats, but the irresistible force is upward. In year three, Cameron offered to sell a half interest in his business for $20,000. Today, Cameron thanks his lucky stars the buyer decided against the investment.

No longer a toddler on the block, specialty coffee's success has given rise to large rosters all struggling to have a national impact. Cameron's is facing continuing pressure from larger competitors as well as new start-up business from within his market territory. The large fellows offer glitzy displays and low prices. The smaller ones have the personal touch that marks the entrepreneurial business. Cameron says, "It is unfortunate that the winner is not judged on the best product, but it is our job to make the best product win." Cameron's has done a good job of keeping both the wolf and the competition away from the door.

Cameron's survival strategy is to concentrate on the supermarket and grocery where Jim believes he can make coffee available to the consumer that is competitive in quality with that found in any specialty coffee store. To do this, Jim has committed Cameron's to PETE containers, which do not leak, are stackable, and permit the consumer to see the product. In addition, it makes a good secondary use container and is easily recycled. In a trade where innovation in consumer packaging appears to be very limited, the Cameron clear can is a refreshing and different look.

Jim Cameron's coffee business strives to be unique; to be the best that it can be. This philosophy tells in his attitudes about his coffees, his customers and the people he works with. When Jim talks about his employees the word is always prefaced with the word GREAT in capital letters. "One thing that we do realize," says Cameron, "is that there is always room for improvement and if we do not constantly try to improve, we will be passed up."

James H. Cameron is a specialty coffee hero. He represents character and perseverance - the stubborn refusal to succumb to hardship that is found in the heart of every successfull pure specialty coffee merchant. He deserves our respect and our friendship, and our thanks for holding the fort for a decade and more on the specialty coffee frontier in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Cameron Coffee established in Hayward, Wisconsin prepares specialty coffee blends
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Private Labeling: philosophic decision, pragmatic choice.
Next Article:The future of specialty coffee.

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