Finally, we headed to Lacas Coffee Co, a coffee importer, roaster, blender, and distributor which was founded in Philadelphia, PA, in 1921, and moved to Pennsauken, NJ, in the late 1990s after a devastating fire destroyed its facility in Philadelphia in 1997.
In 2012, CLD Ventures & Linden Tree Investors invested in the firm, and Jonathan Del Re (pictured above) took the helm as CEO. A year later, Lacas gained a stronger foothold in the higher-end coffee market with the acquisition of New York-based artisan coffee roaster Dallis Bros, which is even older than Lacas, having set up shop in 1913.
Today, Lacas Coffee Co - which is still partly owned by the founding Lacas family - has a large direct store delivery business supplying restaurants and cafes in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania; but has also been steadily building a wholesale business supplying offices, hotels, distributors and retail grocers across the northeast corridor.
Hipster micro-roasters, and ‘local’ coffee
While “some bs” has crept into the marketing of premium coffee, just as it has around chocolate and other artisanal foods and beverages, there is no question that coffee drinkers are becoming a lot more sophisticated and demanding, said Del Re.
“We’re seeing a lot of ‘third wave’ micro roasters coming in, like craft brewers and brewpubs, and in some cases we’ve been able to work with them and supply them with green coffee so they can roast it themselves and develop their own brands.”
And while in some respects, the notion of “local” coffee is a little bizarre in the US given that the beans are all sourced from thousands of miles away, consumers like to see local brands and there is “definitely room for strong regional players” such as Lacas in a market dominated by multinational giants, he added.
“The truth is in the cup. In almost all cases, people see that the quality of the product they are getting from big brands is inferior to what they can get from us. People will say, I want the Peets brand in my office or restaurant, or whatever, but when they try our products, they see that we are offering a superior product that is also more affordable.”
The truth is in the cup
The firm - which supplies Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic and Star K Kosher certified products - sources its green coffee from Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Salvador), South America (Colombia, Brazil, Peru), East Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya), Indonesia (Sumatra, Java) Papua New Guinea and Hawaii, and keeps a watchful eye on the futures market - and the weather - in order to ensure it can offer consistent products at a consistent price.
And this is probably the biggest challenge, said CFO Mike Vlahos, who is also responsible for procurement, and personally samples and cups each roast. “Sumatra has been suffering from a lack of rain, so prices have skyrocketed, while dry weather in Brazil pushed up market prices. The ICE Futures coffee market is up 70%. You have to keep on top of these things.”