What’s the real story behind Supermarket coffee?

Coffee, The Automat

Someone recently asked me which coffee they should buy when shopping at their local supermarket. They wanted to know if I would recommend a brand. It sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? However, it is really pretty complicated.

So, let’s start with “Who” is on the shelves. It should be obvious, as the name of the coffee company is usually printed in large letters on the bag. However, the Brand name very often does not tell you who actually sourced and roasted the coffee.

The largest players: JM Smuckers (yes, the jam and jelly people); Kraft Foods; Tata Industries (steel mills, chemical factories, owner of Jaguar and Land Rover); and, Sara Lee (although they have been selling their U.S. coffee brands to concentrate on their International operations).

Yes, I realize you don’t actually see these names on the coffee. However, these companies buy, sell and trade coffee Brands like poker chips. They are constantly moving them around. The following list is accurate as of the latest annual reports available for each company, plus the most recent industry news.

OK, the largest Coffee Company? That would be Smuckers. They produce Folgers, which is by far the biggest coffee brand. Folgers outsells Starbucks in grocery stores four to one.

Smuckers also roasts Millstone, which in many chains is the coffee you find in the self-serve bins.

What else does Smuckers roast? Dunkin’ Donuts. But I bet you guessed that one. (Note: they only roast DD’s for supermarket distribution, not for the DD’s branded stores.)

The next largest player? That’s Kraft Foods. Kraft is a $50B company with coffee accounting for $5B of their sales. Their largest coffee brand is Maxwell House.

Kraft also supplies Gevalia and Yuban.

Tata Industries: at one time they sold coffee under the Tata name. But I have not been able to find it recently. They do own Eight O’Clock Coffee however, and that is widely distributed.

Chock Full o’Nuts was recently sold by Sara Lee. It was purchased by Massimo Zanetti Beverage, USA. Massimo is an Italian company that also owns Hills Bros., Kauai coffee, Chase & Sanborn, and Segafredo. Unlike the other corporations mentioned above, Massimo seems to concentrate solely on coffee.

In my next post I’ll go into the economics of Supermarket coffee. How much of your money is actually for the coffee and how much to “feed the system.”  Hope you follow along.



Restaurant Coffee


Well, another very good Restaurant over the weekend…… with the too typical undrinkable coffee at the end of the meal.

We had high hopes for this particular spot.

There was a lot to like from the start: good decor; music in the background quiet enough to carry on conversation in a normal tone;  and, an attentive wait staff. As we were with old friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and the restaurant was busy but not crowded, we intended to settle in for the better part of the evening. The appetizers and drinks were excellent. More drinks and talk before the main course. I especially appreciated the service – attention when we wanted it, but no rush to move things along.

As we were in an excellent mood, we all opted for desserts. No sharing. They proved to be quite good.

Now came the big decision: coffee or no? As I was still recovering from restaurant coffee the previous evening, I decided not to spoil the meal. It turned out to be a wise decision. My partner’s expression was enough to tell me here was another “I’m not desperate enough to drink this” moment.

Of all the restaurants where I’ve complained about the coffee, only one responded with any acknowledgement. I received a hand written note from one of the owners, thanking me for my comments and explaining what they were doing to correct the problem. It seems I was not the only customer who was dissatisfied. We went out of our way to eat there whenever we were in the area.

Since feedback is not usually greeted with any seriousness, it mostly just leads to crossing that particular restaurant off our list. Or, if the coffee is the only weak point, at the very least no longer having dessert. This shortchanges both the restaurant and me. Dessert is my favorite part of the meal, and it is generally a very high profit item for the restaurant.

One solution I am seriously considering is bringing a small French Press with me on future outings. Then ordering hot water and brewing one of my favorite coffees. I’d even be willing to pay a BYOC fee.