During the past 20 years, Brooklyn Center–based Caribou Coffee has grown from a small shop in Edina to a global coffeehouse chain with more than 6,000 employees and $283 million in revenues. It is the second-largest coffee retailer in the country in terms of number of stores, with more than 500 locations in 20 states and the District of Columbia, plus about 95 stores outside the United States.
But Caribou hasn’t just sought to do well—it also seeks to do well by the planet. Caribou CEO Mike Tattersfield says the company continually strives to closely knit together its business and social practices. Caribou Coffee carries out the bulk of its social responsibility initiatives in the communities that it buys its coffee from—mostly in Third World countries in equatorial regions. It helps these communities build clinics, finances schools, invests in reforestation efforts, and supports clean-water programs.
Tattersfield says that investing in its coffee-growing partners helps Caribou ensure that these farmers are cultivating and selling quality coffee. “We have to think about the long-term footprint of what we do,” he adds. “Ultimately, our coffee and the products that we sell have to be the best in class.”
Earlier this year, the company announced that 100 percent of its coffee and espresso beans are now sourced from farms certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an environmental group that sets standards to guide farms in sustainable agriculture practices, including water conservation, protecting wildlife, and minimal chemical use. Caribou has been buying Rainforest Alliance–certified coffee since 2003.
Rashid Omar, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based Medina Realty and a native of Somalia, says that it was the company’s efforts in educating East African farmers water conservation practices that got his attention. “Farmers in these countries really have a great need for clean water,” Omar says. “Caribou has played a large part in supporting and sustaining the production of coffee in that region.”
In addition to its efforts overseas, Caribou has also made commitments to social responsibility and sustainability in the United States. All of Caribou’s bottled water and mints are produced by Project 7, a social enterprise that donates to causes such as feeding the hungry, healing the sick, providing housing to the homeless, and giving back to the Earth.
Tattersfield says initiatives like these help build the Caribou brand and image: “We learned that if Caribou continues to really push on becoming a cultural icon, it ultimately helps the business.”