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Heine Brothers’ is a Kentucky coffee company sells Fair Trade and Organic Coffee because it is good for business while also being good for the planet and the small-scale farmers who grow it.
Heine Brothers’ is a founder of the largest fair trade coffee cooperative in the world. The cooperative enables small coffee businesses to buy organic and fairly traded coffee collectively.
Since opening, Heine Brothers’ has been recycling coffee grounds, paper and plastic products. For 21 years the company has kept thousands of pounds of paper and plastic out of the landfill.
Heine Brothers’ has proven it is possible to do good while making a profit.
The Heine Brothers’ Organic and Fair Trade Coffee innovation was the participation in establishing the first fair trade coffee cooperative in the world called Cooperative Coffee. This innovation was driven by Heine Brothers’ guiding principles of making a profit while also making a positive impact on the community. The Cooperative buys coffee from small-scale farmers in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Their mission states it best: “Cooperative Coffees exists to import high-quality, organic green coffee from small-scale farmer organizations to build long-term relationships and foster fair and equitable trading practices. Our goal is to make coffee-growing a sustainable and beneficial endeavor for farmer families and their communities.” Here is the vision: “ Cooperative Coffees strives to be: A Thriving Importing Business – Our terms of trade are the best choice in the eyes of our trading partners and our business practices are defined, documented and disseminated to serve as a model for the coffee industry. A Thriving Community – We understand the basic needs of our trading partners and facilitate access to specific expertise to help small-scale farmers improve their production capabilities and meet their basic needs. We measure the impact of our relationships not only economically, but also in terms of overall quality of life for our partners and their communities. A Thriving Cooperative -- Our governance and operations are: explicit, effective, forward-looking, fun loving, fair-minded, and sustainable."
Mike Mays, Co-founder / President says his inspiration comes from international travel. When he graduated from law school he postponed employment so he could travel around Asia for several months. In Mike’s words, “that trip was life changing for I realized the world is a bigger place. It shifted my thinking.” He grew up in a middle class family in Kentucky where he was sheltered from the conditions of how other people lived around the world. His co-founding partner inspired him to hold their guiding principles of impact, respect and dignity in the early days when making business decisions.
For 21 years, Heine Brothers coffee has kept all of their plastic milk jugs, paper and coffee grinds out of the landfill. Last year alone they purchased 61,000 gallons of milk. That is a lot of plastic jugs. Since becoming a member of the Cooperative Coffees they have supported growing organic coffee, which has had a positive impact on the environment all across the world. In 2016, Heine Brothers’ will purchase 200,000 pounds of coffee through the cooperative. They purchase from approximately 28 small-scale farmer cooperatives in 15 countries around the world. Each farmer cooperative includes 500 to 1000 small-scale coffee farmers. Most coffee is grown around the world by small-scale farmers. The practice of fair trade has positively impacted small farmers, their families and communities.
“Heine’s decision to sell organic fair trade coffee and to recycle doesn’t matter to the average customer but to the employees and store leaders we count on the most do care about it.,” according to Mike Mays. The guiding principles attract high quality employees who stay long-term, strengthening quality employee retention. Quality employee retention positively affects the bottom line.
I interviewed Mike Mays, co-founder/president; Andrea Timmer, Stores Operations Manager; and Stephanie Tandy, store manager. Andrea has been with the company since the inception. Many of the 210 employees have been with the company for many years. Both Andrea and Stephanie confirmed that one of the main reasons they were committed to the company was because of the guiding principles and values of the founders. In Andrea’s words, “I am proud to work for Heine Brothers’.” What the company stood for mattered to them greatly and was the primary reason they are so dedicated. I observed that Mike, Andrea and Stephanie were aligned in their business values and what they were most proud of was being part of working for Heine Brothers’.
Heine’s long-term responsible business operation is a benefit to the local community and world. Working with small farmers across the world to produce organic coffee has kept “farmers from dumping toxic chemicals” in the soil. “Fair trade benefits the farmer because they are not at the mercy of the commodities markets and they can invest and grow their production. Going direct to the farmers helps to smooth out the spikes and dips of market volatility.” (Mike Mays) Purchasing coffee through fair trade has enabled farmers to improve their economic status, which has impacted entire communities. The co-op is a “powerful example of how you can do business and do it fairly. We’ve proved that you can impact people’s lives and also be profitable as a business. We have fed our stomachs and our souls. It’s a model that could benefit the rest of the world.” (Mike Mays) There are many cooperatives; however this is an innovation in the coffee industry. Another societal benefit is job creation and employment opportunities with a company that operates with high integrity. Heine Brothers’ currently employs 45 full-time employees with benefits and 165 part-time employees. The company is on a trajectory to almost double the number of jobs in the next ten years.
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Mike Mays, Co Founder / President, Heine Brothers' Organic and Fair Trade Coffee