Jonathan Brun

Fair Trade and Second Cup

Second Cup is Canada’s equivalant of Starbucks, though we also have them too. Second Cup’s coffee is not labeled as Fair-Trade and after reading an article about their CEO wanting to make them more friendly, I wrote to Second Cup about Fair Trade coffee. The following exchange occured between myself and Second Cup. Post your thoughts.

—–Original Message—–
From: Jonathan Brun []
Sent: Sunday, June 18, 2006 3:29 PM
Subject: Fair-Trade Coffee

Dear Second Cup,

As a once loyal customer, I came upon an article outlining the recent
acquisition of Second Cup by Cara and the new “friendlier” direction
that the CEO wishes to take Second Cup to. This tactic was desired
because it would allow Second Cup to differentiate itself from
Starbucks and other coffee chains. However, upon visiting a Second
Cup location, one thing that quickly became apparent is that Second
Cup does not seem to use fair-trade coffee. How can Second Cup claim
to be “friendly” when it does not even have the decency (which
Starbucks does – not to mention their health plan) to provide coffee
that came from a source who has sufficient revenue to live decently.
I will no longer visit second cup, or any Cara location until this
practice is changed.


Jonathan Olivier BRUN


On 19-Jun-06, at 1:40 PM, Campbell, Allison wrote:

Dear Jonathan Brun,

Thank you for your interest in Second Cup and our coffee sourcing practices.

Is it possible for a coffee to be fairly traded without the “Fair Trade”
trademark on its package? The answer is definitely “yes!” At Second Cup,
we define fairly traded coffee as paying premium prices for superior coffee
to co-operative mills and to farmers in coffee growing regions.

Our Second Cup sourcing philosophy is simple: we pay a premium price for
superior coffee beans. We understand that you cannot grow superior quality
coffee on an on-going basis unless you have sound practices that take care
of both your people and your land. Consequently, we are pleased to pay a
well-earned premium for the coffee we buy.

As we are focused on buying only the highest quality coffees, Second Cup has
spent years nurturing and developing long-term relationships with farmers,
co-operatives and processors in order to secure the world’s finest coffee.
The prices we pay are far above the current world market price and often
exceed the price offered by traditional non-profit organizations, coffee
companies and commercial roasters. Our specialty coffees are in a class of
their own and cannot be compared in any way, including sourcing practices,
to supermarket brands.

Second Cup buys only the best mountain grown Arabica coffee, and we purchase
the majority of our coffee from small farms. We work diligently to support
the best practices in procurement, and where possible, we commit to
multi-year contracts, up front, to ensure farmers a premium for producing
top quality beans for an extended period of time. Here are just a few
examples of our coffee partners around the world:

* Second Cup works with a number of “best practices
estates” such as La Minita in Costa Rica and Fazenda Vista Alegra in Brazil.
These farms promote quality conditions for their workers, including health
care, education, accommodation, and superior wages.

* Cafe Volcan Baru is one of the most respected farms in
Panama. In addition to paying premium wages to its workers, the family-run
business operates its own government-approved school, as well as health
programs for harvesters.

* Second Cup buys directly from cooperatives such as
Exportadora de Cafe Condor, which is primarily owned by 17,000 coffee
producers. Our relationship with this co-op ensures that the substantial
premium paid for exceptional quality is transferred to reward the producers.

While Second Cup pays a premium price for superior coffee, we understand
that trade can only go so far in helping improve lives in marginalized
communities. That’s why Second Cup has teamed up with Foster Parents Plan,
which is an expert in community improvement. Since 1996, Second Cup has
invested more than $800,000 directly into coffee growing communities through
Foster Parents Plan, and our efforts have supported everything from
essential vaccination and nutrition programs to improvements in health and
sanitation, agricultural training and school initiatives.

While Second Cup is the leader in specialty coffee in Canada, we recognize
that within both Canada and the world we are a very small player. However,
that has not stopped us from establishing some of the most progressive
approaches to sourcing and procuring the world’s finest coffee. Second Cup
offers one of several responsible options within the coffee industry. We are
very committed to our trading relationships and to advancing the well-being
of all those who grow and harvest our superior coffee beans. To us, it just
makes good sense. If you require additional information, please visit our
website at or stop by your nearest Second Cup cafe to pick
up one of our Solid Grounds brochures.

Best Regards,

Allison Campbell
Guest Services
Second Cup



I appreciate the quick and detailed response to my inquiry. Yes, of course it is possible to buy coffee at higher prices without going through the Fair Trade label and from what you have sent me, it seems like this is the case. I am not an expert on coffee sourcing or quality, but I do have some concerns remaining. Though I trust Second Cup as much as the next corporation, it is often difficult to take what certian companies say at face value.

For that reason, we have seen the emergence of various regulatory bodies set-up in different industries such as LEED for energy efficient buildings , Forest Stewardship council for forest management, Organic Foods Washington for Organic Foods, and Fair-Trade Coffee for fair trade. I am not one to say whether these organizations have the best practices and guidelines, though there is certainly always room for improvement. The important thing about these organizations is that they provide a clear certifiable guideline for both consumers and companies. There have been rival organizations that have been set-up by various companies to mimic these ones, but usually with less regulation – thus giving the consumer the illusion of proper sourcing, when it is not really there.

I have little choice but to trust what you have outlined above and hope that these practices continue. I would be very interested to see the actual prices that Second Cup pays for its coffee in contrast to other premium coffee sources. Is that available in the Investors Report of Cara? I assume Cara is publicly traded. Obviously you do not carry the same beans as Forgers, which would be rather innaproriate considering the price of a coffee at Second Cup. Again let me reiterate that I am very pleased with the practices outlined below and will probably visit Second Cup, but that you may want to consider the merits of a certification of some kind that is internationally recognizable, whether it is Fair-Trade or something else.


Jonathan Olivier BRUN

Published on June 23, 2006