A friend wrote the other day and said she bought some coffee that said it was from Aceh. I was very excited.
I started to wonder if it was possible, given what we now know about how coffee and cocoa are
“certified,” and how nearly impossible it is for us in the US to really know
where our products come from, if we could work backwards down the
value chain and find out exactly where this coffee came from.
My fantasy, of course, was that it would be traced to the Takengon region of Aceh, where JMD
helped 1,100 coffee farmers improve their growing and harvesting techniques
Did I mention it was a fantasy?
Not a far-fetched fantasy, mind you, since this was a very large project, done with IOM and one
which included all kinds of international marketing components and coffee
cupping competitions with European judges—in other words, the coffee from these
guys and their co-ops definitely reached the world market. Plus, it was organic. Plus, it won several competitions.
So I had high hopes.
I asked my friend
to tell me exactly what was on the label of her coffee.
Her response:Brand is Full Circle Foods, www.fullcirclefoods.com, dist. by Topco
Associates in Elk Grove Village Illinois
I got curious to know how companies know where the product comes from, and if indeed they know
which area the growers come from.
The results, while not remarkable, are mystifying. And sad.
A thorough internet search told me practically nothing about Full Circle Foods or their actual coffee. They seemed to be a company that specialized
in the more “natural” products, but existed only as a shell for another
company. The only reference to their coffee was found on another website:
Full Circle Coffee
Coffee, Organic, Whole Bean, Highland Blend
Weight: 12 oz (340 g)
This canister of coffee provides 2 meals in America.
[I have no idea what this means.] Fair trade certified. USDA organic. [however, it does not say that on the package, and how can Aceh coffee
be USDA organic?] Full body with a fruity
aroma and a smooth finish. Return to a natural way of living. Project 7.
Products for good. Feed the hungry. Provides food for the hungry. Help feed the
hungry by drinking Organic Full Circle Project 7 Coffee. Doing a little to save
the world - one cup at a time! Because we understand your well-rounded
lifestyle goes beyond what you eat, Full Circle has paired our natural and
organic mission with project 7's social advocacy. We know you are passionate
about giving your family the very best and we hope we can be a part of that
mission! Visit us at www.project7.com or www.fullcirclefoods.com. Certified
organic by OCIA.
Certified Organic Coffee. Really!
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Okay, so I looked up Project 7 http://www.project7.com/mission/
For much of Tyler Merrick’s life he
has been a successful entrepreneur and benefactor for good across multiple
platforms and organizations. Yet in 2008 Tyler found himself at a professional
crossroads wanting to help more people through his business endeavors and be a
catalyst for change in a continually inward consumer centric culture.
The answer was simple…“products for good”!
“If people are going to buy things.
Lots of things. Then let’s use those things they purchase to help change the
world around us. Let’s make everyday products for everyday people to solve
everyday problems around the globe.”
In 2008, Tyler Merrick became a
Social Entrepreneur and Project 7 was born; a company dedicated to making
“Products for Good.”
WHAT WE DO:
We make everyday products that give back to seven areas for good around the
WHO WE ARE:
Products for Good.
We exist to do good around the globe. We make everyday products like bottled
water, gum, mints and coffee that everyday people can buy. For every purchase
of a Project 7 product, good is done in seven areas of need
the Hungry, Heal the Sick, Hope for
Peace, House the Homeless, Quench
the Thirsty, Teach them Well and Save the
So. This website says they “make” coffee.
Well, no they don’t. Our Takengon farmers make the coffee.
There is another section called “How we give”
that lists a variety of non-profits, none of which I am aware of are working in Aceh,
and certainly not with coffee farmers, that says:
“We partner with
nonprofits to help provide financial support, as well as raise awareness for
each organization and educate about global issues. These organizations provide
aid/programs/relief specific to the seven areas of need that are P7’s core
focus including. . . ” and I won’t repeat them.
So now the big question in my mind is:
Who is Tyler Merrick?
I will say this; they have a wonderful and creative youtube video of Project 7 coffee
that says absolutely nothing about Aceh. But
it does say “We buy coffee directly from farmers.” (They have 33 videos by the
way. Project 7 s very busy, if nothing else!)
If project 7 buys directly from farmers, and Full Circle Coffee says something
very convoluted about a relationship with Project 7, then I should be able to
write to them and ask, “which farmers do you buy your Aceh coffee from?”
Along the way I found an article on Tyler Merrick at Entrepreneur magazine:
It talks about his early start in the chewing gum-and-mints biz (I am not making
this up), and then its expansion into organic coffee and bottled water.
Since its launch in 2008, the company has landed in nearly 4,000 stores nationwide, including
Caribou Coffee shops in the Midwest and HMSHost airport locations. In March,
approximately 170 West Coast Wal-Mart stores picked up Project 7's
(much-improved) Save the Earth Fresh Mint gum and Feed the Hungry Peppermint
Vanilla gum and mints. The company's annual revenue has topped $1 million.
Read more: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219817#ixzz2peyi4kgQ
Still absolutely no talk of how anyone knows where, really, this coffee comes from or
how they know it is truly organic, or what, indeed, that means.
The email I wrote to Project 7 ended up being a bit of a “form letter” to all the
little US links on this bizarre section of the Aceh coffee value chain:
Dear Project 7:
Building Bridges to the Future
supports a local sustainable livelihoods agency in Aceh province, Indonesia,
called Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD) that in part that helps farmers increase
coffee production. Your website and youtube video indicates that you “buy
coffee directly from farmers.” A company
called Full CircleFoods, a subsidiary (I believe) of Topco Associates, packages
a coffee called Full Circle Coffee, Organic Medium Roast Sumatra Aceh Ground
and indicates Project 7 as a “partner.” Therefore I am assuming that Project 7 buys coffee from Aceh farmers,
and in turn sells it to FullCircleFoods. Is this correct?
To help JMD better serve coffee and
cocoa farmers in Aceh, we are conducting a survey from "the other end of
the value chain" to see if we can trace our farmers' coffee from the store
back to its origins, and if buyers, importers and distributors have information
regarding the provenance of their product.
Can you let us know from which farmers
in Aceh you buy coffee?
You mention that you “partner
with nonprofits to help provide financial support, as well as raise awareness
for each organization and educate about global issues. These organizations
provide aid/programs/relief specific to the seven areas of need that are P7’s
core focus . . . “
Could you let us know
to which nonprofit in Aceh you are providing financial support? I did not see, from the list on your website,
and agency that was currently working in Aceh or Indonesia. Do you have another list?
Additionally, there are several
"certification" bodies and we'd like to know which one your company
chooses when it is purchasing beans from the farmers or cooperatives.
Thanks in advance for any and all
information you can give us.
That oughtta amuse ‘em.
It’s a great looking website. I do hope they are
legitimate. But when you start asking
really simple questions like “what does it mean to be “fair trade certified?” "Who at your company goes to Indonesia to buy
coffee? Do you really do that, or do you
do that by 3rd degree proxy, through a host of other companies so by
the time you get your coffee all you know about it is that it probably is,
indeed, coffee?" and you can't find the answer, you begin to doubt the validity of any pronouncements that are made.
All the other websites about fullcircle foods
or the Aceh coffee are pretty much
Full Circle Coffee, Organic Medium Roast Sumatra Aceh Ground
Product Details: This
northern-grown Sumatra has light acidity, a thick, rich body and a complex
flavor of sweet grapefruit with cedar and lemongrass undertones. Hand-crafted Arabica
coffee. Fair Trade Certified. USDA organic. Return to a natural way of living.
Fair Trade farmers have been growing coffee for generations. The Fair Trade
model ensures a fair price for their coffee so these farmers can have a better
life. They can keep their families healthy, build strong communities, and
preserve the land. Full Circle Fair Trade coffees taste better because they are
grown with care - for today and for the future. Certified organic by OCIA. Come
Full Circle. Return to a natural way of living. Visit us at
www.fullcirclefoods.com. Quality Guarantee: 100% satisfaction.
Certified Organic Coffee, May Contain Natural Flavors.
So I modified the
form letter and wrote to the full circle foods on their little “contact” form:
I work for a foundation supporting an
agency in Aceh province that helps farmers increase coffee production.
We're dong a little experiment to see if we can trace our coffee. I
cannot find where in Aceh your coffee comes from. Would the distributor
(Topco) know? How does your company know that it comes from an
appropriate source in Indonesia, ie what criteria do you use? Thanks for
any and all information you can give me.
Then I looked up Topco http://www.topco.com/
They are the distributor of every cheesy “store” brand you can think of, from
Shur-Fine to Top Care to Food Club to Valu-Time . . . and Full Circle is just
one of their sub-distributors.
Topco Associates LLC is a privately held
company that provides innovative business solutions for its food industry
member-owners and customers. Topco leverages the collective volume, knowledge
and commitment of these companies to create a competitive advantage in the
marketplace by reducing costs and offering winning business-building
capabilities. Topco's membership collectively represents billions in retail sales
volume with thousands of stores.
Topco provides procurement, quality assurance, packaging and other services
exclusively for its member-owners, which include supermarket retailers, food
wholesalers and foodservice companies. Topco has no conflicting profit motive
because it distributes all earnings back to its member-owners based on their
level of participation.
They have this section:
Premium / Value Added Brands
Topco provides business
solutions for both member-owned and Topco-owned brands. Offering nearly 20
Topco brands to its membership, the company’s item mix covers almost 10,000
items. With multiple tiers within its branding strategy, Topco provides its
members with the ability to differentiate themselves within their competitive
marketplaces. Tiers include premium and value added, mainstream – or
first-label quality, and economy brands.
And then they list their sub-companies
Paws (the low-end pet food)
And . . . .
Full Circle's products taste great and are good for you.
Full Circle is at the forefront of the rapidly growing natural and organic
market. The brand features more than 1,000 SKUs in 100 categories, including
grocery, fresh meat, produce, dairy, seafood, deli meat, bakery, HBC and
household cleaning products. Full Circle ... "Return to a natural way
Oy! Talk about full circle!!! It’s dizzying!
No mention of coffee, or certified organic, or where these things come from—I could not find
anything about this on the entire page.
But they do have an email address, so out zipped another form letter.
Building Bridges to the Future supports a
local sustainable livelihoods agency in Aceh province, Indonesia, called
Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD) that in part that helps farmers increase coffee
production. We understand that your company distributes a brand of coffee
called Full Circle Coffee, Organic Medium Roast Sumatra Aceh Ground.
To help JMD better serve coffee and cocoa
farmers in Aceh, we are conducting a survey from "the other end of the
value chain" to see if we can trace our farmers' coffee from the store
back to its origins, and if importers and distributors have information
regarding the provenance of their product.
Can you let us know how Topco verifies
that its "Sumatra Aceh ground" coffee comes from Aceh?
Which is the entity that verifies
certification and farm location?
There are several
"certification" bodies and we'd like to know which one your company
chooses when it is purchasing beans from the importer.
Thanks in advance for any and all information
you can give us.
At the end of this
exercise I got to thinking—does anybody really know that organic or certified
or Aceh coffee actually comes from where it says it does? The only sure fire
way is: if it tastes like civet cat poop—it’s authentic!!