Coffee importer believes in a fair shake

Man. business deals directly with growers | Father-daughter duo sell coffee to businesses in and around Winnipeg

CLANDEBOYE, Man. — Derryl Reid believes in sharing the wealth.

The coffee importer from Clandeboye, Man., buys organic beans green from South American growers, roasts them and sells them to businesses in and around Winnipeg.

Dealing with growers directly and enabling them to recoup more of the money are keys to Reid’s business strategy at Green Bean Coffee Imports.

“For us, it’s to make a living. (For them), the money is to survive,” said Reid.

Growers use the money for the bare necessities of life: food, clothing and educating their children.

“Coffee is grown by marginalized people,” he said.

Reid and his daughter, Alix, who recently joined the business, described how beans are painstakingly picked and sorted by hand.

“Someone is getting ripped off,” said Alix. “We’re used to that bottomless cup of coffee that should have never happened.”

She brings her experience working in coffee shops in Alberta to the operation.

“(Derryl) was all alone before and (the business) was all in his head,” said Alix, noting how she helped improve the organization, workflow and accounting.

Both Reids also took a barista course, with Alix now in charge of roasting the beans.

This day, she monitors the process from a laptop computer connected to the natural gas heated roaster. She manually adjusts airflow, temperature and time during the 16 minutes it takes to roast six kilograms of beans.

“Light to dark roast only is a matter of seconds,” said Derryl, noting a darker roast decreases the caffeine content. “The longer you roast coffee, it starts to roast out a lot of flavour in coffee. It’s like cooking a good steak, you get flavours coming out but once you overcook it, you’ve lost the flavour.”

Derryl, who has a degree in aquaculture, chose to run his own company after leaving a job in fisheries and watching the steady rise of coffee, a staple in Canadian menus.

“I wanted to start my own business and follow something I’m passionate about,” he said. “Coffee was a part of my passion.”

A native of Nova Scotia, he recalled small towns dwindling alongside cod stocks and the related industry.

Derryl wanted to live in a rural setting and foster a strong local economy, selling goods within a short commuting distance to small and independent businesses.

“We look at everything else before we look at the money side,” said Alix, who wanted to help build a for profit company that is also socially responsible.

“For me, it’s trying to do that and stick to a value system,” said Derryl.

That includes transparency in their dealings with growers. Their contract is displayed on their website at, showing a container load of 260 60 kg bags purchased for $110,000. Derryl plans to soon buy another container load.

He also drives a hybrid car splashed with the company logo and sells goods in recyclable or reusable bags and containers.

Derryl attends a farmers’ market, does in-store sampling and attends trade fairs such as SIAL’s international food show in Toronto, which helps keep him in direct contact with consumers and buyers.

“It keeps us on track,” said Derryl.

The facility is certified organic and must adhere to on-site audits, regular reporting and minimum prices paid to producers.

The five-year-old company turned to Community Futures North Red to create a line of credit enabling it to buy directly from a co-operative in Bolivia, which Derryl recently visited through a trip organized by Canadian Crossroads International.

Jason Denbow, executive director of Community Futures Manitoba, said CF offices offer small and medium rural companies help with business plans, regulatory details, financing and market research.

He said it’s common for clients to have funding from both traditional lending institutions and CF.

“It’s not meant to compete with those institutions, but to complement them,” he said.

The CF volunteer board of directors also looks at how a business will help the region.

“The goal overall is to help the community become stronger. A business that’s not going to improve the community would not be looked at favourably,” he said.

Denbow advised entrepreneurs to choose realistic business ideas based on what they are knowledgeable about and what they enjoy.

“They may see themselves as the restaurant owner at the door welcoming clients, but are they recognizing it also involves being awake at 2 a.m. cleaning the grease trap,” he said.

He noted that more than 80 percent of businesses fail after five years.

“Those clients that get into the business because it’s something they love to do are the ones that succeed,” Denbow said.

“Clients who get into business because it’s a good business idea may not have the drive and commitment long term to see it though.”

The Reids would like to move the roaster out of Derryl’s house and into an outbuilding on his 72-acre property, but they also dream about one day opening a coffee shop.

“We’re at 30 percent of what we could be doing,” said Derryl.

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