Cultivating Connections

A strong coffee program begins with good coffee and a great partnership.

May 28, 2021

This article is brought to you by Farmer Brothers, a NACS member.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—High-quality coffee is a trip driver for convenience stores, especially in the crucial morning daypart. NACS Magazine recently interviewed Maurice “Mo” Moragne, chief sales officer, Farmer Brothers, about the company’s commitment to helping their convenience retail partners grow their businesses and cultivate meaningful connections with their customers.

Q: “Cultivating connections through coffee” is part of the new narrative at Farmer Brothers. Can you explain more what that means?

A: Farmer Brothers started way back in 1912 when Roy E. Farmer thought it should be a priority for every restaurant to serve a great cup of coffee. That focus propelled the company’s growth over the next century, even as we expanded into teas, culinary products and other ways to serve our customers. In the last year, the company brought in a new leadership team—including me. It was clear the company was suffering from some inertia and could benefit from some fresh eyes and new ways of thinking to drive its next evolution to meet the moment. Those fresh eyes brought expertise from a variety of categories, all grounded in leading positive change, and that’s what called me to this company.

With the new team in place, we knew there was a lot to do, and we also knew we needed a rallying cry. So, we invested some time in mission, vision, values and purpose work to guide how we show up in the world.

After a lot of discussion and consideration as we really looked into the soul of who we are as a company, we distilled our purpose, which is to cultivate connections through the love of coffee. At its core are the moments we come together at the kitchen table or the coffee shop, cup in hand. Coffee serves as a vehicle for human connection, whether you’re just getting to know someone, sharing a laugh with your family or confiding something deeply personal with a dear friend.

This helps every team member and every customer understand that while we are a commercial venture, we do not have a merely transactional relationship with our customers. Cultivating connections with our customers and helping them cultivate connections with their customers is truly the foundation for our success and a guiding principle.

Q: Part of what makes Farmer Brothers unique is the strength of your DSD network, is that right?

A: Yes, that’s one of our greatest advantages. Consistency in DSD service can be difficult for our customers. Our 50,000 touchpoint network is deep, and our DSD team has strong and often lengthy relationships with our customers. We go far beyond simply keeping our customers in stock: We partner with them to help grow their businesses by bringing them true coffee expertise. That includes a quarterly Cup Quality Check to monitor quality of the beverages they’re serving, keeping their equipment functioning properly with a quarterly preventive maintenance program and bringing them the new products that today’s evolving coffee consumer wants.

Q: How does your coffee service set you apart?

A: We are proud to offer a remarkable selection of coffee and all that goes with it. But let me take you back to our purpose—cultivating connections through the love of coffee—to illustrate that we are not just about moving product, no matter how good it is.

We are deeply committed to the experience of enjoying coffee, and we understand how important that is to our customers, whether that’s a mom and pop café, a major national hotel chain or a small regional convenience chain. With our understanding of the end customer and their love of coffee, we have the marketing and innovation horsepower to help any of our customers re-envision their offerings to take advantage of more omnichannel options and become a true coffee destination. For example, we’re investing in some of our brands that consumers are accustomed to seeing in convenience stores—Boyd’s Coffee and foodservice operations and China Mist Tea—and developing their retail presence from supermarket shelves to our owned direct-to-consumer e-commerce platforms. That expansion is supported by targeted digital marketing. This is all designed to build the equity these products bring to our customers where they’re served, increasing sell-through and enhancing the consumer experience.

Beyond product quality, we will always differentiate with our service, which comes from our outstanding team members. If we continue to have high quality products and plus it all up with high quality service, we have something that we believe can’t be beat.

Q: With such a focus on safety and cleanliness these days, what options do you provide for safe product handling?

A: It’s important to point out that coffee, tea and other hot beverage equipment is designed to be very easily and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, regardless of its touchlessness. We do offer some designs that minimize touch, such as soda-dispenser-style faucets that let customers “pour” coffee by pressing a cup against the lever, which eliminates one touchpoint. Pull-style dispenser levers can easily be replaced with these touchless dispenser faucets with no tools at all. We offer these for a variety of existing machines. Equipment manufacturers are beginning to develop digital, internet of things applications that will initiate beverage selection and recipes. As with most things, initially these will require significant investment, but it’s out there on the horizon.

Q: Sustainability is also a critical element for many consumers. How is Farmer Brothers embracing this?

A: Sustainability for us is a three-part equation: social, environmental and economic development. We call that SEED—which is not a “program” but a framework for how we approach our business. Each of these parts is inextricably intertwined with the other two. If we falter at one, we cannot be champions of the others. We have been a sustainability focused company for many years. In fact, sustainability is one of our core values, and we have kept true to it in many ways by reporting sustainability metrics through our sustainability report for nine consecutive years, by sourcing coffee from the same growing communities for more than a decade through our Direct Trade program and by establishing science-based targets to reduce our carbon footprint to align with the Paris accord, to mention a few. Our inclusion in Newsweek’s list of America’s Most Responsible Companies, or being among the top 7% out of 9,600 companies worldwide on the 2020 CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) Supplier Engagement Leaderboard, sends a strong message to the community about the work we’re doing in sustainability. Because we have elevated SEED in our work, demonstrated by how we show up in the world at large, we’ve earned recognition within our industry. If we have high quality people who do high quality work to produce high quality products while protecting the planet, we will produce healthy profits. It’s a virtuous circle when we all do the right thing.

This Farmer Brothers Q&A, “Cultivating Connections,” is featured in the May 2021 issue of NACS Magazine.