Kicking Horse Coffee kicking goals

When Kicking Horse Coffee founders Leo Johnson and Elana Rosenfeld made the decision to only sell coffee that was certified as being both Fairtrade and Organic, they were met with skepticism on both sides of their business. “There was a lot of scepticism from importers and from the customer-base at that time,” says Tom Hoyne, who is the company’s Vice President of Coffee Quality Assurance. That cynicism was fuelled by doubt, on the one side that a growing coffee roaster would be unable to find a consistent supply of coffee with both certifications, while on the other side there remained doubt as to whether consumers would be willing to pay the inevitable premium that such coffee would demand. But having started out roasting coffee in their garage in the small Rocky Mountain town of Invermere more than a decade before, neither Johnson nor Rosenfeld were afraid of challenging conventional wisdom. That was 16 years ago and Kicking Horse Coffee is now Canada’s top Fairtrade Organic coffee label. Now in supermarkets all across Canada, and with a small but growing presence in the US, Hoyne says there are big plans afoot. “We’re looking at some pretty aggressive growth strategies to get Fairtrade coffee out there more,” Hoyne says. Kicking Horse Coffee runs two Diedrich roasters and produces 17 varieties of coffee, which are predominantly sold through grocery stores. This year alone, they have roasted more than 1.3 million kilograms of coffee. Alongside their roasters sits a Munson rotary batch mixer. Hoyne says that Kicking Horse Coffee used to use a wire type mixer, but could no longer tolerate the amount of loss and breakage of the beans that went along with it. Since buying in the Munson, Hoyne says that mixing has become a much more simple stage of the production process. “We are super happy with it. It’s stainless steel, it’s easy to clean and it’s quick,” he says. “I know on their end of it there is a lot of engineering and thought going into the machine, but on my end of it, it was really easy to get going and operate, which is what you want.” While Hoyne got into the coffee business due to his knowledge of food manufacturing, it is on the subject of providing a fair living for coffee producers at origin that he really warms up. “The organic movement has become really commonplace in Canada, but the Fairtrade movement is a bit behind that,” he says. Hoyne says he just wants to see an industry where coffee farmers are given a fair price for what they produce. “This is not about giving producers a premium over what the coffee is worth, this is simply about giving the producers a price that means that, over the long term, they are actually able to make a go of it,” he says. Hoyne says that while many small specialty coffee roasters are increasingly using direct trade as a way to ensure that their sourcing strategies are fair and equitable, the size of Kicking Horse Coffee means they need to take a much broader scale approach. “We’re not buying micro-lots, we’re buying thousands and thousands of bags to put on supermarket shelves all across North America… this is a big picture way to help affect change,” he says.

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