Einstein’s Bros. and Noah’s coffees

by on February 28, 2008

Feb 29 cheap coffee promotion, and where it all comes from

In honor of leap day/year, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Noah’s Bagels, both owned by Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Inc., are offering regular coffee for 29 cents on February 29 only if you say “Happy Leap Day” to the person taking your order.

Researching corporate coffee sourcing is difficult and generally unrewarding, although my goal is to eventually cover as many of the popular chains as I can. This promotion prompted me to take a look at Einstein’s. Einstein Noah Restaurant Group has five independent brands and 600 stores in the U.S. The most numerous are Einstein’s (300 locations) and Noah’s, and I’ll concentrate on those since they are offering the cheap coffee promotion.

Background and suppliers
ENRG acquired Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea in 1996, which served as the company coffee supplier. However, it was sold in 2004. (The ENRG corporate site briefly mentions that the company has its own coffee roasting plant; I believe this was the Willoughby’s plant and that the information is out-of-date.) The latest annual report states that “all our coffee is purchased through a sole-sourced third party provider.” A later quarterly SEC filing notes that this source was under contract through 2007, and a second supplier is contracted for 2008.

The first supplier is Coffee Bean International. CBI is an Oregon-based supplier to coffee houses and retailers across North America. They have a sustainability page indicating that it has an in-house recycling program.

Last year, CBI was acquired by Farmer Bros. Co., an institutional coffee supplier. They describe themselves as a high-volume roaster, not a specialty coffee roaster, hence the CBI acquisition. CBI is to remain independent (ergo, Farmer Bros. may be the “second” supplier”). Farmer Bros. I’m less impressed with. There is not much detail on their coffee sourcing on their web site aside from the usual uninformative “Colombian blend” and “100% arabica” descriptions. Nothing about organic, Fair Trade, or other sustainable or certified coffees. In their investor information, they list their main competition as the nasty multi-nationals, which puts them in a different (and worse) league as CBI.

Farmer Bros. declared it won’t change the way CBI sources its coffee. The question is how much more Einstein’s and Noah’s will purchase from the lower-end Farmer Bros. offerings, versus CBI.

The bottom line on sustainability
CBI, apparently the main supplier of Einstein’s and Noah’s coffees, has a decent level of transparency. Granted, a number of the sources are highly likely to be sun-coffee growers, such as the Colombia and Costa Rica. Others in CBI’s organic line are likely to be more sustainable, such as their Mexican and perhaps Guatemalan coffees. The trouble is, of course, that you have no idea which source goes into the typical offerings at the retail level. Einstein’s has five daily brews, including their Neighborhood Blend and similarly generic-named coffees. Noah’s has four daily offerings, all unhelpfully named after New York neighborhoods.

However, each has a Fair Trade/certified organic coffee (which I believe is the same blend): Global Village at Einstein’s and Tribeca Blend at Noah’s. They are created by CBI, from Latin American, African, and Asian coffees. Cross-referencing that with CBI’s organic selections, we can guess that the Latin American component is from Mexico, Guatemala, or Peru (the latter grows a lot of sun coffee, even organic). The Asian is almost surely Sumatran. There are no organic African coffees listed, but of their conventional African sources the most likely country they’d obtain FT/O from would be Ethiopia.

Thus, the Global Village/Tribeca FT/O coffee seems to be the most sustainable choice, certainly better than whatever Dunkin’ Donuts or 7-Eleven is dolling out.  Whether these blends will be available as a 29 cent selection tomorrow, I don’t know. I suggest asking for it, and encouraging both Einstein’s and Noah’s to offer more sustainable coffees on a daily basis. Let them know it’s important to you!

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Revised on November 12, 2012

Posted in Retail and specialty roasters

Patrick March 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Do you have a list somewhere on here showing which restaurants/businesses are good to purchase from?

BirdBarista March 13, 2008 at 8:54 pm

On my sidebar is a list of roasters that have the best selection of sustainable coffees (this post explains the criteria I used). As far as the big chains go, I think Caribou does the best job in sourcing sustainable coffee. Frankly, many of Starbucks coffees aren't too bad either, and both are way better for the environment than any of the cheap coffee you get at Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds, or any of the other fast food places. Generally speaking, those places have to demand such low prices and high volumes that they cannot source coffee from truly sustainable producers. I'm going to try to tackle some of the mid-size retailers as I go along, but it's an uphill battle.

When you buy coffee, you can always refer to my top five indicators of sustainable coffee.

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