The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Wild Card Roasters/Weaver’s Coffee & Tea

Sustainability Series: Wild Card Roasters/Weaver’s Coffee & Tea


May 27, 2013


Wild Card Roasters, which owns Weaver's Coffee & Tea, is an accomplished, artisan coffee and tea company based in San Rafael, California. The Weaver’s brand bears the name of master roaster and president of Weaver’s Coffee & Tea, John Weaver, who began roasting coffee in 1980 where he apprenticed under two legendary coffee experts, Alfred Peet and Sal Bonavita. Weaver left Peet’s Coffee to start Wild Card Roasters with Michael Brown and Bryce Inouye in 2007. We talked to Renee Brown, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Wild Card Roasters, LLC, about the importance of maintaining a quality product which can be manufactured and distributed in the most sustainable ways possible.

How does your business define sustainability?

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. It has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. Since we are coffee roasters and work in a commodity-based business, we know we can change the world with our actions, and that every purchase matters. This is a tall order, and not an easy one to maintain for a start-up in a downed economy with limited capital.  

One way we define ourselves is to offer the majority of our coffees as Certified Organic and Fair Trade Certified. Fair Trade Certified means that the farmer is getting a fair price per pound for his coffee. Farmer’s lives are improved through the practice of Fair Trade, which in turn provides sustainable community development. We purchase an Ethiopian coffee from women farmers who were struggling to survive in 1998, and now, because of the power of Fair Trade, have better access to malaria free drinking water, and are able to help their community by building new schools, bridges, and flourmills.  

Since our goal is to be ethically minded (we are green coffee buyers who are willing to pay a higher price per pound for coffee) our business automatically meets social responsibility. When Wild Card Roasters first began, people told us they loved our brand, Weaver’s Coffee & Tea, and loved that our coffee was hand roasted, but that it seemed more expensive. I would always ask, “Did you try the coffee?” They consistently answered, “yes, I love it, but it is more than I normally pay for a 1 pound bag of coffee.” I took this moment to educate them: do you feel that paying four cents more per cup of coffee each day is worth it if that money goes to the farmer? They always answered yes.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

We use Certified Organic and Fair Trade Certified Coffees. We purchase compostable cups and sleeves. We offer used coffee grinds for free to customers for their home compost. We have minimized our delivery vans’ routes to lower our carbon footprint. We encourage customers to bring in a refillable travel mug for their hot or cold cup of Weaver’s. Since we do private label roasting for large accounts, we recommend that instead of bagging the coffee, we supply them with sealable tubs that are re-filled each week, saving literally thousands of bags each year.

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

Changing the lives of Fair Trade Certified Farmers who directly benefit from our green coffee purchases. Since our inception in 2007, our exponential growth has allowed us to increase our green coffee purchases, thereby returning money to the source – the coffee bean farmers. And we do incredible outreach across the State of California by pouring Weaver’s Coffee & Tea at numerous charity events, in addition to donating gift sets to be auctioned off for charity.  

One coffee in particular, Weaver’s Astral Blend, a specialty roast we only offer from January through May and the month of October, was created by John Weaver as a tribute to his mother, and all the women in his life. We donate a portion of the sales of Astral Blend to non-profits that support breast cancer research funding for local hospitals, and community organizations that provide breast health education, breast cancer screenings, and treatment.

How do you measure your progress?

Defining and measuring progress in a start-up is about moving quickly. Since 2007 we have made sustainability a core value in our philosophic and strategic planning. We sit down every quarter and review our strategy on People + Planet + Profit. If you’re in business, it’s important to remember it is all about the customer. The product is important, however. If you have a happy customer who tells their friends about your brand, well, you have a customer for life. That’s what gets us excited. 

There are always bumps in the road, but for us it’s about communicating, analyzing the solution, and then moving forward quickly. So progress to us comes from our customers. When you are doing things well or not, people will let you know immediately!

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

Food affects our health. The food industry has learned some hard lessons in the past few decades. One lesson we have learned is that today’s consumer is far more educated about the food they put in their body than ever before – what it is, where is comes from, how it was grown, is it local, organic, pesticide free and so on. If businesses use sustainable business practices as part of their standard operating procedure, then that business can literally change the world.  

Fair Trade USA has a motto – Every Purchase Matters, which we believe is true. If consumers say “I am only buying Certified Organic and Fair Trade Certified Coffee,” then they literally make a purchasing decision that affects another person’s livelihood – a small farmer in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, or Africa. The same set of standards also applies locally: if a consumer decides to only shop at their local farmer’s market, then the local supermarkets will suffer.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumers are leaning towards supporting businesses that use sustainable business practices. Today’s consumer is more informed than ever, and tends to spend in areas they feel benefits themselves, their family, and their local and global communities. They feel good when they know their money went to something bigger than their local chain grocery store – that it went to something that was good for them, and good for the planet.