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.



The Automat opened 110 years ago

The Automat

Events of 1902:

Events of 1902

January: The first Rose Bowl game is played in Pasadena, although it wasn’t called that until much later.

February: Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie founds the Carnegie Institution for Science; Dowager Empress Cixi bans foot binding in China.

March: The American Automobile Association (AAA) is founded; mining magnate Cecil Rhodes dies.

April: Tally’s Electric Theater, the first purpose-built movie theater, opens in Los Angeles.

May: The London School of Economics awards its first degrees; Cuba gains independence from Spain and the U. S. occupation of the island ends; the Second Boer War ends; writer Bret Harte dies.

June: Horn and Hardart opens the first automat in the U. S.

July: John McGraw becomes the manager of the N. Y. Giants baseball team.

September: Clothier Levi Strauss and writer Émile Zola die.

October: feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton dies.

November: U. S. Army physician Walter Reed dies.