Building a coffee business based on sustainability & profit-sharing

Antony Papandreou
March 1, 2023
An image of coffee roaster Maria Fiallos from Aroma Nica loading green coffee into a large-scale coffee roaster in an article on Building a roastery on sustainability & profit-sharing

The history of coffee makes for a compelling story.

It follows the rise and fall of colonial powers as the commercial cultivation of coffee beans proliferated throughout the world. 

It is a story of boom and bust as coffee became a valuable trading commodity, but with prices dictated by a centralised authority that overlooks the needs and well-being of the farmers. 

However, the story of coffee is also one of community. An estimated 125 million people worldwide depend on the beans for their livelihood.

With around two billion cups consumed daily, most of us can only experience the story of coffee anecdotally, but for many, it’s their reality. 

For Maria Fiallos of Aroma Nica, the story of coffee is one of both her past and present.

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Rebuilding a coffee brand after the Nicaraguan revolution

Maria’s coffee story begins in the late 1800s, when her great-grandparents and their 13 children settled in Las Sabanas, Nicaragua. 

It was there they began farming coffee, with Maria’s great-grandfather quickly earning the community’s respect with his strong work ethic and moral compass. 

These are attributes he passed along to his son while teaching him about coffee production. 

Over time, Maria’s family built a reputation that outlived the revolution that disrupted life so much for Maria herself. 

“The revolution of the late 70s, and the confiscation of land and farms by the Sandinista government, meant my father lost his farm,” Maria explains.

Miraculously, her grandparent’s farm was spared. However, the family spent years grieving the loss of friends, traditions, and their land, never fully recovering from the devastation.

Years later, after Maria immigrated to Canada, she had an opportunity to return to Nicaragua. She had a chance to rebuild what her family had lost – an experience that changed her life.

The experience and renewed connection to local coffee producers inspired Maria’s commitment to an economically sustainable coffee market.

She understood that access to a sustainable coffee market would mean economic opportunities for all the families involved.

Particularly for the young women of the community, for whom coffee could represent a significant measure of financial freedom.

Therefore, Maria aimed to find a way for everyone involved in the production of coffee within her community to reap the rewards. 

To start, Maria began importing and distributing green coffee in Canada. Here, she could sell directly to the market at a price that ensured enough money made it back to the community on the other end of the coffee chain.

However, this was something Maria had no experience doing. 

“At 23 years old, I never considered how difficult it would be to import coffee and create a market,” Maria laughs. 

“That said, I did understand that bringing coffee to Canada meant starting from zero, and that required an enormous commitment from my coffee-growing community. But we believed in the quality of our coffee, and we placed all our bets on it,” she adds.

An image of a coffee producer packaging green coffee beans into jute sacks in an article on building a coffee business on sustainability & profit-sharing

Striving to provide a profit for coffee farmers

“Everything I do, every sourcing or roasting decision, comes back to the grower and their work,” Maria explains. 

One of the most critical issues the coffee industry is currently facing is profitability for the farmers.

Even with the exponential growth in coffee consumption in recent decades, prices rarely reflect the well-being of farming communities. 

In turn, there are few opportunities to encourage younger generations to pick up the mantle of their parents. 

As a result, generations of farming knowledge and techniques may be lost, as the children of farmers venture to the city to find better-paying work. Alternatively, farmers may also switch out coffee for more profitable crops. 

Buying low-cost coffee, although appealing to the bottom line, can be short-sighted considering the harmful status quo reinforced through such practices. 

However, there are green purchasing options that will strengthen the industry’s stability by securing sustainable prices for coffee farmers.  

“My business decisions have always come back to how or why it benefits the growers and their families,” Maria says. “That’s my guiding principle because I can’t help but think of my grandfather or father, and what my decisions and those of my roaster and retailers would mean for them.”

The goal at Aroma Nica is to move away from prices dictated by the C market and treat the grower like any other entrepreneur, dictating their worth based on their cost of goods sold (COGS) and profit margin. 

“We are constantly communicating about the challenges that every harvest brings, climate or financial. It is a relationship based on respect,” Maria says. 

She adds she sources coffee from these growers because she respects their business and agricultural practices. 

“I appreciate who they are as humans and I admire the work they do in their communities,” she explains.

An image of Maria from Aroma Nica and a local coffee farmer in an article on building a coffee business on sustainability & profit-sharing

Influencing other coffee roasteries

As a testament to the impact that sustainably priced coffee can have on coffee growers, Maria has seen dramatic improvement in the farms and the lives of the community. 

While Nicaragua may have its socio-political and economic difficulties, coffee farmers have the potential to earn a reasonable price in the market. 

However, for this to become a reality took more than good intentions and wishful thinking. It required Maria to build an entire market for her product. 

“Most roasters I supply green coffee beans to have been customers from the beginning,” she explains. 

Las Chicas del Cafe, a family-owned and operated coffee roastery, has also found very loyal customers and a market. I attribute all of that to the quality of our green beans, because it has always been about the coffee,” Maria adds.

This determination toward sustainability is a repeating theme with Las Chicas del Cafe. The brand has remained loyal to recyclable or biodegradable packaging whenever possible. 

Simple packaging that the consumer can dispose of easily, whether recyclable or biodegradable.

Aroma Nica also uses eco-friendly packaging, choosing to box its green beans in kraft paper wrap boxes. The simple and sophisticated black branding stands out against the natural texture of the material. 

To help you on your mission to provide a truly sustainable coffee offering to your customers, MTPak Coffee offers a wide range of eco-friendly packaging options. 

Our variety of coffee boxes is made using 100% recycled cardboard, while our sustainable coffee bags are made using kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.

We are also able to fully customise a variety of coffee packaging materials to help educate consumers about your coffees.

Additionally, we offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time, thanks to our innovative digital printing technology.

We also offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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