Imagine, if you will, that you managed to pick the perfect packaging for your new private label coffee. You write the perfect copy for your sales campaigns and before you know it, the coffee bags are leaping off the shelves. Customers blissfully stream towards checkout and head home. But after taking their first sip, their spirits plummet. There’s no way around it – the coffee tastes rancid, like stale, expired mouthwash. Rapidly working themselves into a frenzy, your customers retaliate in the only way they know how – leaving rage-soaked online reviews about your horrible tasting coffee all over the internet.
Of course, the above scenario would never happen with a reliable coffee supplier. But it does serve to illustrate an important point – your private label is only as good as the coffee you serve. No matter how perfect your packaging and branding strategy is, the bitter truth is that it won’t matter if your private label coffee roaster doesn’t provide you with coffee that actually tastes good.
Since there are shady coffee roasters out there, we have collected three important questions to ask private label coffee roasters you’re considering. These questions are not meant to be exhaustive, merely used as a starting point. Let’s get into it.
Question #1 – Do you work on a private label contract basis or as needed?
One thing to consider when looking for your private label coffee roaster is if they will offer you the ability to get coffee from them as needed, or if they require a more firm contract. Roasters like Empire do not have firm contracts with our customers, relying primarily on our years of relationships and consistent coffee. There is nothing wrong with a contract per se, however we believe that having a firm contract can only open you up to problems down the road if you are unhappy with the coffee, relationship or anything else. If a coffee roaster insists on only working with you after signing a firm contract then you should see that as a red flag and consider looking at other roasters. The one benefit of a contract, though not exclusive, is the possibility of a roaster purchasing your packaging on your behalf. This of course would require a certain poundage per month and a contracted amount per pound. In most cases, depending on historical volume, even a roaster like Empire might consider making this purchase without a contract in place.
Question #2 – Can I visit your coffee roastery and warehouse?
There’s no comparison between merely talking to someone over the phone and actually visiting the premises. A visit will allow you to see if their premises are kept clean. Are they FDA and SQF certified? The SQF certification is a globally recognized test for food safety that all serious coffee roasters should undergo. If the roaster you are considering is not SQF certified you should look elsewhere. For example, Empire Coffee maintains a level 2 SQF certification, which means we have proven that our facilities preserve extremely high levels of cleanliness and food safety. Another item to check off your list is whether the supplier has technicians on staff to handle equipment issues. You don’t want to get a call that your coffee won’t be delivered on time because equipment has failed. Remember, you want to work with someone who is serious about private label coffee – not an amateur.
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Question #3 – How fresh is your coffee? What quality control measures do you take?
If you visit a potential coffee roaster and you see the place is bustling, it’s likely that they are taking many orders and moving through coffee fast. This is a good sign, since it means that their coffee beans don’t have time to spoil – they are sourced fresh and are processed fast enough to leave the building fresh. Like at our roastery, where the same coffee never lingers for more than a week after being roasted. It’s also very important to make sure your private label coffee roaster is testing for quality control throughout the process. For example, we use shade meters and moisture meters to perform daily tests on every single roast so that we can make sure the coffee is keeping a consistent flavor profile. When you’re interviewing a prospective coffee supplier, ask pointed questions about QC (quality control) equipment used and pay attention to how specific they are. You want to deal with a supplier who is transparent and honest about freshness, rather than getting locked into a relationship with someone who will deliver decent coffee one week and downright shoddy beans the next. Your customers want their coffee to taste the same each time they drink it.
Question #4 – Is your company able to give me exactly what I need for my private label coffee?
Can this supplier source, roast, and package the kind of coffee you need? To give an example, some suppliers only offer high-end coffees and won’t sell anything less expensive. Other suppliers only have experience roasting large volumes of commodity grade coffees. Empire has experience roasting both large volumes of more common coffees on our two Jebez Burns 500 pound roasters as well as smaller batches of specialty coffees on our Diedrich roaster. Does the company offer the kind of packaging capabilities you need such as fractionals, retail bags, urn or even 1000 pound super sacks? Our customers can order coffee in practically any size, which means they don’t have to repackage the coffee after they order it – it’s already in the right sized package when they need it. You might need to order different quantities every month – will they allow that, or demand that you sign a contract that requires you to commit to buying fixed weekly volumes? Does the company have a logistics team able to move your coffee out the door without any hiccups? Do you get a dedicated account representative that will handle any issues and walk you through ever step of the process? Building a successful relationship with a supplier isn’t just about the roasting and packaging – it’s also about all the other support along the way.
Question #5 – Can you help me design and procure packaging?
Lets say your are just starting your new private label or are looking for an refresh on the brand. It’s important to ask any roaster your are considering if they offer full design and procurement services. Unless you have your own designers or experience designing packaging yourself, utilizing the in-house design team at a roaster with vast experience in designing packaging can be invaluable. At Empire we offer a full line of design and support services to help any brand new or existing.
In conclusion, if you find yourself not getting a straight answer to any of these three questions, check your peripheral vision for a whale-sized red flag. If the company insists that freshness or an SQF certification isn’t that important, or if they try to offer vague reassurances that they will customize your order, run for the hills.
If you’ve been wondering how you can sell coffee under your own private label, contact Empire Coffee (that’s us!) to start discussing your private label coffee program. We’re happy to answer all your questions, and support you all the way.
Question #6 – Do you nitrogen flush your ground coffee bags and k-cups?
Without a doubt you need this answer to be yes. Once coffee is ground it immediately begins to degas, releasing carbon dioxide. Unfortunately oxygen does not play well with ground coffee, and as the coffee is degassing, it’s also oxidizing. This oxidation is staling the coffee and you now start loosing all those wonderful aromas and flavors that the coffee once possessed. By injecting nitrogen into the fractional, retail or k-cup package you are displacing the oxygen and elongating the shelf life and flavor of the coffee. At Empire Coffee our goal is to get the oxygen level down below 3%. On our k-cups we can even get as low as 1-2% depending on conditions.