A little more than a year since its launch, Alltech's fair-trade Haitian coffee is reaching new heights. The company has vastly expanded its distribution, began offering profit-sharing to charities that help sell it, and continued to use all the remaining profits to help improve the coffee cooperative that grows the beans.
"Every time we sit down with a potential client or customer, they almost immediately have such faith in the story and how great this project could be that we essentially have a new supporter every time we meet someone," Alltech Product Development Manager Chris Gayton said.
The growth is already coming for the project that was rooted in Alltech founder Pearse Lyons' visits to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there in January 2010. When Alltech launched the coffee, called Alltech Café Citadelle, in September 2010, it initially looked at restaurants as the best distribution avenue.
"We're still pursuing that angle but learning that the food-service business is part of the learning curve for us on this project," Gayton said.
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Instead, the Nicholasville-based animal nutrition company has been increasing the coffee's presence at retailers and is embracing what Gayton calls the "Girl Scout cookie model."
The company has worked with a number of Rotary Clubs and offers them a charity code to give to people who buy the coffee on Alltech's Web site. Each bag bought with the code equals $1 for the cooperative. The money is paid out quarterly.
"We realized what we needed to be doing was tapping into the charitable-cause community essentially," Gayton said. "We split profits with them to help use the coffee to raise money for themselves, and it helps us multiply our sales force."
Alltech's share of the profits goes directly to a non-profit foundation the company set up that then distributes the money to the Haitian coffee farmers through infrastructure improvements and other projects, said Alltech Product Development Coordinator Matthew Mathis.
"We truly do feel it's a direct correlation between you buying the coffee and us going back down to Haiti and doing projects," Mathis said.
Recently, the company has helped to install a sanitary kitchen, bathrooms and a water system in a school at the co-op.
"It was a really good little school that was doing some good things but didn't have the money to stay in the building they were in," Gayton said. "The amazing thing is, when I list these projects off, they sound huge but, in Haiti, where labor and materials are cheap, it's not that difficult for us to accomplish."
Alltech also has paid for a new roof over part of the building and a new security wall for the coffee co-op. Rather than wait on profits from the coffee, the company funded much of the improvements itself "because Alltech has the means," Gayton said, adding that the company is paying the salaries of the school's teachers, too.
And anticipating sales growth for the coffee, Alltech and the co-op are investing in infrastructure projects to produce more.
"That's the main idea, of course: to increase their business by importing coffee and giving them a brand-new market," Mathis said.
Among the projects so far is repaving the coffee's drying surfaces, because the beans are dried in the sun. The co-op had large paved courtyards on which the beans are laid and turned, but "there were cracks everywhere all sprouting with weeds, rendering half the courtyards useless," Gayton said.
"Now the surface is brand-new and will last another 30 to 40 years, we hope," he said. "It's a way for them to suddenly and very quickly up their efficiency in drying coffee and making a better use of their resources."
And just as the company is helping the co-op make better use of its resources, Alltech is doing the same internally to support the coffee's sales. Mathis said the coffee team is partnering more and more with the company's Kentucky Ale team to focus on persuading the same retailers that carry the beer to stock the coffee.
Among the most recent successes has been Liquor Barn, which has stores in Lexington and Louisville.
"We're huge supporters of local products," said General Manager Roger Leasor. "And this in an odd way is a local product, even though it's from Haiti. The quality is outstanding."
The coffee has even made inroads in more unlikely places: offices. In August, the company announced that Louisville-based restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse stocked the coffee in its corporate offices through its supplier, Louisville-based Consumers Choice Coffee.
"Café Citadelle is a great product, and it benefits an even greater cause: the people of Haiti," Kent Taylor, founder and chief executive of Texas Roadhouse, said in a statement. "We hope other local companies will consider Café Citadelle so we can help end the plight in Haiti."
Of all the growing options, Gayton and Mathis said the company's best avenue for growth is probably the Girl Scout cookie model involving charities.
"It's easy, it's online, and it utilizes established networks," Mathis said, and growth as high as 10-fold in a year "is not outrageous."
"The potential of growth is immense," Gayton said.