Yuban ad campaign

by on October 12, 2006

As I was perusing a magazine, I came across an ad for Yuban coffee with the headline “The coffee you make can make a difference.”  It showed their coffee cans, emblazoned with the Rainforest Alliance seal and a banner saying “Conserving the environment & supporting coffee farmers.  Minimum 30% Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee.”

Let’s disassemble.  Who are we dealing with? Yuban is a Maxwell House brand, which in turn is owned by Kraft Foods. (More on which corporations own which brands here.)

How big a deal is it that Kraft is buying RA beans? While Kraft will purchase 12,000 tons of RA coffee in 2006, this represents a tiny fraction (I’ve calculated about 1.5%) of Kraft’s coffee bean purchases.

What’s with the 30%? Rainforest Alliance (RA) allows use of their seal on products with a minimum of 30% certified beans (a fact for which they are sometimes criticized).  In order for Kraft to keep their prices so low (suggested retail for a 12-ounce can of RA-bean-containing Yuban is $3.89; a 13-ounce can of Maxwell House is $2.56), the other two-thirds of the beans in the can must be lower quality, likely technified/sun coffee.  I don’t see any other way they can do it.  The cost differential between certified beans and non-certified beans also means that I doubt Yuban will ever contain more RA certified beans than the 30% minimum required for use of the RA seal. (Update: As of January 2013, the Yuban can still indicates 30% certified beans. However, RA is requiring companies to scale up their percentages over time…read more here.)

Does this move really help farmers? While RA certification includes fair labor practices, and RA certified coffee usually commands some premium, the criteria does not set a minimum price paid to farmers. RA certification is cheaper for corporations that Fair Trade certification.  Oxfam is still pressuring Kraft to agree to buy Fair Trade coffee.

RA cannot be faulted for their efforts in promoting and making sustainable coffee available to mainstream consumers.  Nor can they really be criticized for partnering with Kraft, since RA certifies a product, not a company.

Still, it difficult for me to endorse supporting a corporation like Kraft which has a dubious ethical record (Responsible Shopper profile here). And while Kraft deserves some credit, as none of the other Big Coffee companies is making this type of effort, real environmental preservation and fair prices for farmers is far, far better served by purchasing sustainable coffees from small companies and roasters with relationships with their suppliers, especially those that provide information on the specific farms where their beans are sourced.  Plus I guarantee it will taste better!

UPDATE! The January 2007 issue of Coffee Review goes over supermarket coffees, including this coffee, which is “dominated by a cloyingly sweet nut character, the calling card of inexpensive coffees of the robusta species.”  Robusta tastes bad, and is sun coffee.  Very bad!  As for the Yuban Organic brand, that review notes it is recommended for “Those on a budget with a commitment to organic growing principles that transcends the desire to drink decent coffee.”  Please also read the accompanying article or my post about it.

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Revised on February 8, 2013

Posted in Certifications,Corporate coffee,Rainforest Alliance

green la girl October 13, 2006 at 12:01 am

Damn good analysis! Thanks for the great info :)

Gina L. Piascik January 19, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Yuban's t-discs for the tassimo machine were the best thing that machine had going for it. i have only 24 discs left and when i finish them, my machine will be history. Kraft's decision to discontinue Yuban discs was a poor one. if there is any possible way to purchas the surplus inventory of what's been discontinued, i would be extremely interested in obtaining more, so i don't have to discard my machine any sooner than i have to. i recieved my machine as a gift and was going to exchange it for the competitor's machine, but once i tried the Yuban coffee i loved it and decided not to exchange it based on that brand of coffee alone. now it's too late to exchange it…….but i will now be investing in the competition. Poor decision on Kraft's part. sorry for the loss. Yuban was the best thing going for Tassimo.
Thanks for reading,
Gina L. Piascik

BirdBarista January 20, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Gina,

If you read through this blog, you will see that I do NOT recommend drinking Yuban coffee or any of the big supermarket brands. They do not support biodiversity or living wages for farmers. Nearly every brand of coffee that can be used in Tassimo falls under this category. And no wonder — it is owned by Kraft Foods.

My advice to you would be to invest in a good French press and a coffee grinder, and go to your nearest Whole Foods store and buy some fresh organic whole beans. You will wonder why you ever thought Yuban tasted good!

If you must use a single-cup coffee maker, I would recommend the Keurig system by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Green Mountain has a strong commitment to sustainability, and offers many excellent organic, fair trade varieties for their machines, including the National Wildlife Federation blend, which we have reviewed here. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

cfrank February 23, 2007 at 5:09 pm

I agree that supporting Kraft and their practices is not a good idea. However, I have tried every organic, fair trade coffee that I been able to get my hands on and bottom line for me is that Yuban is still my favorite tasting coffee (exception -Green Mountain-Harvard Blend – which i can only mail order). I was so disappointed to find out that Yuban was owned by Kraft but I can't deny that it is really good coffee. I noticed they now have Yuban Organic.

BirdBarista February 24, 2007 at 8:33 am

I agree that the Green Mountain coffees are very good — and while mail order can be a hassle, they have the Cafe Express program for automatic delivery. I use it myself, or I wouldn't advertise it here. But if mail order is not your bag, have you tried any coffees from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods? The Whole Foods coffees, sourced and roasted by their own wholly-owned subsidiary Allegro Coffee, are really good, organic, support producers, and the web site provides additional information on source.

Here is what you support when you buy Yuban coffee.

So keep looking! And thanks for stopping by.

Kim Huwald October 31, 2007 at 12:06 am

Thanks everyone for your informative comments. I would like to add , though, that at least Yuban (and Kraft) have their product right out there at the neighborhood grocery store. This is a small step to get the average Joe thinking about rainforests and the environment. The rest will come in due time.

Nancy Y October 31, 2007 at 9:18 am

I am a lover of Yuban coffee but trying to find it since I moved back to the Ohio area has been a pain..I support Krafts efforts to help out the environment..I can't drink anything else..I had to order it from Amazon because I cannot find it out here and when I do it is so expensive..

BirdBarista October 31, 2007 at 9:56 am

Let me reiterate: when you buy Yuban coffee, 70% of it is NOT certified. It is cheap coffee grown with lots of chemicals in huge areas of natural habitat that have been destroyed. Kraft's other coffees are 100% as described. YOU ARE NOT SUPPORTING THE ENVIRONMENT. Get it?

Kim Huwald October 31, 2007 at 10:31 pm

Nancy- Thanks for the reiteration. Because of that, I will no longer buy Yuban coffee. However, the point I was trying to make was that at least Joe Schmoe might be making his first steps toward becoming more socially concious by purchasing Yuban. As he becomes a little more informed, he can delve deeper into issues like Fair Trade. We all have to start somewhere.
Kim H.

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