Popular coffee brands: a compilation

by on January 10, 2013

Over the years, I have examined the sustainability (eco-certifications, sourcing transparency, corporate social responsibility efforts, etc.) of many popular coffee brands. Here is a compilation of those posts.

First, who owns what brands?

Many coffee brands are owned by just a few large multinational companies. These companies buy most of the world’s coffee as a commodity, and strive for profit over sustainability. These companies have been the drivers of low coffee prices at the expense of habitat, biodiversity, and farmers. While there are some certified choices among these brands, they make up just a tiny fraction of the coffee purchased by these companies, and the companies themselves often have dismal overall corporate responsibility records. Here are the companies and brands that are best avoided (links are to related posts):

  • Nestlé (and here) — Nescafé, Nespresso, Taster’s Choice, Clasico.
  • Smuckers – Folgers, Millstone, Dunkin Donuts bagged coffee, Cafe Pilon, Cafe Bustelo, Java Coast.
  • Kraft FoodsYuban, Maxwell House, General Foods International Coffee, Gevalia, Kenco, Maxim, Tassimo, Nabob, Sanka.
  • Massimo Zanetti — Chock Full o’Nuts, Chase and Sanborn, Hills Bros., MJB. A huge privately owned company which sources a lot of its coffee from it’s own massive full sun plantation in Brazil, said to be the largest in the world.

I regularly update a table on how much certified coffee is purchased by the large coffee companies; it includes other popular large buyers such as Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. If you’d like to know under what “standards” most commodity coffee is produced, see this post on the big industry code of conduct — it’s a real eye-opener.

Popular coffee brands, retailers, and fast food coffee

Conservation/partnership coffees

  • Songbird Coffee, partnership coffee with American Birding Association and Wild Birds Unlimited (Thanksgiving Coffee Company). A number of organic selections, all labelled as “shade grown” but none certified as Rainforest Alliance or Smithsonian Bird-Friendly (although they do sometimes buy from at least one Bird-Friendly certified producer, they do not use the Bird-Friendly seal). Here is some background on the partnership.
  • Audubon Shade Grown Coffee (Rogers Family). Now all certified organic and Rainforest Alliance. Note that they are marketed as “certified shade grown,” even though RA certification does not guarantee the coffee was grown under shade. (We will be re-reviewing Audubon coffees sometime this year.)
  • Birds and Beans (US). Exclusively Smithsonian Bird-Friendly (and hence, organic) certified coffees. Supports bird conservation organizations.

Two other conservation coffees we reviewed, National Geographic’s Terra Firma, and National Wildlife Federation Blend (Green Mountain Coffee Roasters) have apparently been discontinued since the reviews.

Researching these takes quite a bit of time, especially if the brand is owned by a large corporation (they tend to be secretive) or is privately-held (no annual reports or legal disclosures to dig through). But make your suggestions for future posts in the comments…maybe I’ll do a poll if there is enough interest. Just make sure your candidate has a broad geographic distribution.

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Revised on January 18, 2013

Posted in Corporate coffee,Retail and specialty roasters

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean-Sébastien Guénette May 3, 2013 at 9:23 am

Very interesting! Could it be possible to have your thoughts about Van Houtte’s coffee, a company very popular here in Québec.

Thank you! :)

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JulieCraves May 4, 2013 at 7:13 am

Van Houtte was independent — and well respected — for decades, but within the last three years was purchased by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, who recently sold it to food service giant Aramark. When companies are having finanical issues and being shuffled around, then end up with a large company that wears multiple hats (Aramark provides vending, food service, facility, uniform, and entertainment services to business, among other things!) it is a sign that dedicated, careful coffee sourcing is NOT a high priority. Aramark has had a rather poor track record in labor relations. Sorry to break the news to you, but since it seems like Van Houtte may not be the company it once was and you may want to look elsewhere.

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L. Scherer May 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I don’t see the Seattle’s Best brand mentioned. The package says it is Fair Trade certified and USDA organic. Any other info?

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JulieCraves May 17, 2013 at 5:58 am

Seattle’s Best is owned by Starbucks. As far as I know, they use the same supply chain/sourcing guidelines (I am working on finding a solid contact so I can report on this). The Starbucks sourcing program, called CAFE Standards, have very good environmental criteria. I wrote a post detailing this program, and a follow-up.

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coffee subscription australia October 1, 2013 at 7:50 am

It is great to hear about these different coffee vendors and what they offer. It is just a shame that starbucks and macdonalds are the only two that are available here in australia and even then starbucks is few and far between due to their recent withdrawal from most states to target asia more agressively.

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