Community Coffee plans major initiatives – The Advocate

Community Coffee is embarking on two major projects this year: opening a new manufacturing facility in Harahan and adding a training and innovation center to its south Baton Rouge offices.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the coffee business,” said Matt Saurage, the chairman of the family owned company, which turns 100 this year. “More people are consuming coffee on a weekly basis.”

Saurage said Community has grown 30 to 40 percent over the past five years. The privately held company is estimated to have posted nearly $235 million in sales during 2017, according to coffee industry sources.

To meet future demands, Community purchased an 87,000-square-foot coffee manufacturing facility in Harahan about a year ago. The building had been used by Sara Lee and Folgers to roast and produce java.

Currently, Community has some of its sales and warehouse operations in the building. But later this year, the company will begin to expand the operations to include coffee roasting and packaging that will work alongside its Port Allen roasting plant.

“We’re at capacity in Port Allen,” Saurage said. “This will allow us to grow more products and operate at a greater capacity to take on large national customers.” The goal is to get the roasting operations up and running during the upcoming year.

David Belanger, Community Coffee president, said the plan is to grow the Harahan operations to more than 50 employees over the next few years. About 80 people currently work at the Port Allen roasting plant, and he also expects that figure to grow.

Community has two dozen sales locations, serving 22 states, covering the entire South and stretching as far north as Iowa.

The company has a “patient, steady growth trajectory” that’s based on getting into grocery stores, restaurants and offices and establishing a stronghold. “There’s amazing potential for this brand,” Saurage said. “We’re still experiencing growth in markets we entered in 2014.”

While about half of Community’s sales come from grocery stores and the other half comes from sales to offices and restaurants, e-commerce is a growing side of the business. The company operates its own website as well as selling coffee through Amazon.com.

“We’ve shifted our advertising from TV to digital,” Saurage said. That shift has changed the company’s geographic footprint. Belanger said two of the five biggest states for e-commerce sales are California and New York, both of which are well outside Community’s current sales territories.

One of the factors driving sales outside of the company’s Southern stronghold is the alliance with Southwest Airlines. Since 2016, it has been the exclusive coffee sold on flights, a move that puts the brand in front of 118 million passengers annually.

“We’re the only co-branded item on that airplane,” Saurage said. “They’ve made us a better company and we’ve made them a better company by exchanging ideas.”

Southwest recently renewed its arrangement with Community for another three years, with an option for two more.

The partnership with Southwest is a model for Community’s future arrangements. “We’re seeking similar outstanding customer relationships in different channels,” Saurage said. “Part of our growth is to identify the best businesses in different channels that are suited for a branded coffee like ours.” He expects Community will have some “big news” this year about partnerships.

Next up for Community is the development of The Coffee Place, which will be the primary point of entrance and introduction to the company, as well as a place to train employees and showcase the company’s innovations. It will be built at Community’s headquarters, located near Jefferson Highway and Interstate 12 in Baton Rouge.

“We’re blueprinting it now,” Belanger said. “We want to bring customers in and help them understand coffee and differentiate our company.” New products, such as ready-to-drink iced lattes, premixed espresso and espresso capsules also will be tested at The Coffee Place.

For key customers, such as large restaurants, The Coffee Place will provide a lot of insight into Community’s operations and standards. “We’re not going to be reading a brochure,” Belanger said.

The goal is to have the facility ready by the start of 2020.

The CC’s Coffee House chain, which makes up a small portion of Community’s overall business, is also growing. It was spun off from Community’s main business in 2013, but is still owned by the Saurage family. There are 44 CC’s stores now operating, all but one in Louisiana, and three more under construction. By the end of the year, Saurage said there will be 50 CC’s locations, split between company-owned shops and franchises. “Last year, we opened about 12, that was 30 percent growth for us,” he said.

Saurage is the fourth generation of his family to run Community Coffee. The fifth generation is getting ready to make its mark on the business. He recently took a trip to check out coffee growing operations in Honduras with his 21-year-old daughter. “It’s exciting getting to an age to truly see the new ideas my children and young consumers have for this industry,” he said. “This was a sleepy industry for a long time.”

The Saurages are one of the few families still in the coffee business, which is dominated by international brands such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Smuckers.

“Our goal is to be the most beloved, trusted and admired brand of coffee in the U.S. and in doing so, not to sacrifice quality or the core values of this company,” Saurage said. “That does not mean the biggest.”

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