Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-operative

“People of the Planet before ProfitsTM”

“We felt that the activities around social change were important, and we saw there was a way to make a change in the world through developing a social enterprise. Fair trade was a new concept in Canada at the time and we saw that it was making a real difference in coffee producing countries. The concept was about buying directly and developing long-term relationships with producers. We also paid a fair price along with organic and social premiums. These premiums provided the producer co-operatives with money that they could invest in clean water, healthcare, and education for their community. For the producers this model was important for their development, taking it from a charity model to a fair business model.” — Debra Moore, General Manager of Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-operative

Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op is Canada’s first certified fair trade coffee roaster. Over the years, Just Us! became one of Canada’s most successful worker-owned co-operatives based on a firm belief in “People and the Planet before Profits”™.

Based in Grand Pré, N.S., Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-operative set a goal not only to purchase organic and fair trade products from small producers, but also to provide the best quality at the best prices for consumers. Just Us! believes that all people deserve respect and the opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. While running a business, the co-op continues to ensure that its producers/partners receive a fair price for their products, and the company work also has a strong educational component that tells producers’ stories.

Debra Moore, General Manager of Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-operative, told The Canadian Business Journal, “My husband, Jeff Moore, and I were involved with many solidarity initiatives in South America and we had seen the negative impact of free trade on these countries. We saw that producers were just asking for a fair deal. At the time, three things came together — Jeff attended a conference in Cuba to look at the economic rebuilding of Cuba after the collapse of Eastern Europe; we came across an article in New Internationalist about fair trade; and the third piece of the puzzle was that Jeff learned how to roast coffee during a visit to Ethiopia. With these coming together we saw that we could start a worker co-operative, create jobs for ourselves and others in the Annapolis Valley and continue our work in social justice.”

Indeed the co-operative grew into four coffeehouses, one of which is combined with its roastery, chocolate factory, and a museum, focusing on educating the public about fair trade and how the public needs to become aware of where its food comes from. The co-op strives to turn each coffeehouse into unique space in the community — inclusive gathering places for people to share ideas and cultures.

“We knew right from the beginning that people will buy our coffee once because of its message, but they wouldn’t buy it again if it didn’t taste good. So while having a social mission, we are also running a successful business that has us continually developing our skills around coffee roasting, innovating and producing the best products that we can for our customers. We also work hard to honour the work of our producers who provide us with a quality product.”

To remain on top of the Canadian fair trade coffee supply chain, the co-op continues to invest in technical development and has purchased a new computer software system (SYSPRO) which effectively integrates all aspects of the co-op’s business. “Our semi-automated packaging equipment, a new larger roaster and other improvements contribute toward making Just Us! a state-of-the-art coffee roastery.”

The company sells its products across the Maritimes, from major retailers such as Loblaws, Sobeys, and Co-op Atlantic, to smaller chains such as health food stores, Pete’s, Planet Organic, and others. The co-op also sells its products across Canada through online ordering, Ten Thousand Villages (a non-profit Fair Trade Organization (FTO) designed to benefit artisans) and small independent stores.

In 2012, Just Us! Coffee Roasters expect growth of nine per cent, while facing growing competition. Part of the company growth has been the development of new fair trade products. Today, in addition to its core product (coffee), Just Us! also offers lines of tea, chocolate, and sugar. The company buys coffee from countries such as Costa Rica, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Ethiopia; tea from India, Ecuador, and South Africa; chocolate from the Dominican Republic; and sugar from Paraguay. The co-op also introduces new food choices in its coffeehouses, stressing the importance of using organic and locally produced products.

Global Community

Fair trade promotion can overly focus on the price paid to the producers, and while this important, it has been the long-term relationships with the producers that have proven to benefit both the producers and Just Us!. To do this effectively, members of the co-op travel to meet with the producers, and have producers visit the Maritimes and tell their stories. In 2007, the small coffee producers approached Just Us! to develop a Small Producers Fair Trade certification. The official launch of the Small Producers Fair Trade certification took place in April, and will appear on Just Us! products in the fall. Many Just Us! workers have travelled to Mexico as a part of a community-based tourism project that Just Us! developed with the UCIRI (The Union of Indigenous Communities in the Isthmus Region) co-op that started fair trade in Mexico. This allows workers to pick coffee beans and learn about the life of the producers.

This has become important in developing the culture at Just Us! where everyone is encouraged to take advantage of training opportunities offered internally and externally for personal and professional growth.

Creating Change

As a pro-social-change co-op, Just Us! continues to participate in initiatives that create change. The co-op uses sustainable practices in its food and beverage production, equipment and processes, distributes 100 per cent organic products, and increases production process efficiency to the highest levels in terms of waste, energy, space, and overall flow. The co-op installed solar panels at the company’s head offices, and two co-op vehicles run on alternative fuel — one hybrid and one retrofitted to burn used vegetable oil for fuel. The company also purchases green energy through Bullfrog Power for all of its locations. This progressive co-op continues to make an impact on Canada’s coffee market as well as quality of life around the world.