Imagine waking up on a chilly Sunday morning, waiting for the sun to rise just enough for the shadows to play with the streaks of light coming into your bedroom window. Beautiful right? One thing that can make that even better? You guessed it – Coffee!
Coffee is a staple in almost everyone's morning routine. When you wake up, it's the first you want to get a deep, hefty sniff off. Populace Coffee knows just that. They understand what coffee lovers fantasize about in the morning, and that's why they've established a coffee brand by people who love it, for people who love the same. We learn more about Populace with Dave:
"My name is Dave, and I am a co-owner and creative lead at Populace Coffee Roasters. Populace was born out of a desire to make coffee for people who liked coffee. Accessible and void of pretension. Populace has always been about making a coffee experience for people who are interested in elevating their relationship with coffee. Hence the name “Populace”. It’s for the people!
Andrew, my business partner and founder of Populace moved out to L.A. from Bay City, Michigan in 2008, in the pursuit of what many early 20-somethings do. To see a bigger world, outside of their hometown; broaden horizons, etc. He began working at a well-known coffee shop in LA, where he began to learn the ropes of the cafe/coffee industry. It wasn’t until 2010 that he packed it up to head back to the midwest to start his own coffee company in Bay City, that would later become known as Populace – roasting and serving coffee for more than 10 years strong now!"
Populace is a conscious brand. The business knows its responsibility towards the planet, and with that, practices sustainability in their everyday operations.
"Populace has begun to shift all of our packaging, all of our cafe disposables, and all of our shipping materials to be either compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable. How we treat our planet directly effects our ability to continue to function as a coffee company for the people. Simple put, coffee is two ingredients. Coffee and water. But it adds up to so much more. We need to curb as much greenhouse gas emission as possible to save the bees so they can pollinate the coffea plants to produce our raw product. We need to continue to protect our waters from pollution, so we can have a renewable resource of clean water to make coffee."
Because of the pandemic, like all other businesses, they also experienced a bit of a hurdle when it came to sales. But seeing that most of their customers were struggling too, they came to the rescue and initiated a support program that helped bring their partners revenue.
"Certainly last year was, (and this year continues to be) a challenge. We’ve seen a loss of business with our wholesale customers, because many of their cafes were unable to be open in their full capacity due to the pandemic. We’ve been there as much as we could for them. We started a Small Business Support program on our e-commerce site. Selling bags of coffee on their behalf with their logos on them to help to bring even a little bit of revenue. Delivering the Populace Coffee experience directly to their customer’s door. We ended up generating more than $35,000 in support for our partners and other businesses struggling to stay open."
If you're looking into starting a food/coffee business like Populace Coffee, this is what Dave advices you:
"Research. Research. Research. But not too much. It’s good to have a foundation of research and data to show that something will either be successful or not. But there is something to be said for the gut feeling. If you have an idea that hasn’t been done, or hasn’t been tested, test it! If it’s successful, implement it. If it’s not, change it, and try again! Don’t give up on something you believe in, just because it doesn’t work once. Tweak it, and give it another go."
As someone responsible for the media and physical touch-points of Populace, Dave gets really excited by product photography and being inspired by other photographer's and designer's work. He also believes that their branding helps a lot in differentiating them from the rest.
"One thing that i’ve been reading lately is the brand standards book for the EPA developed by Chermayeff & Geismar in 1977. Particularly how the intersection of graphic, color, type and photography can establish a confidence in the material being viewed.
I’d like to think that our branding helps differentiate us. We’ve been consistently growing and developing our brand since late 2014, when I joined the company. Little by little, carving out a representation that not only feels confident, but somewhat of an authority on coffee. But instead of a strict principle, we’re like that one cool history teacher, or cool art teacher you had that wanted to see you succeed, but still connected with you on a level that made you feel like an adult, and not just another 'student'."
One of the more memorable experiences the coffee brand had was from 2020, when a customer emailed them about how much they loved their Ethiopia Tega & Tula single origin coffee.
"He mentioned to us that he liked it so much, that it had actually inspired him to write and record an instrumental song. We got such a charge out of that! He’s still a regular to this day, and he keeps us on our toes still. He gave us a 2 star review for another one of our single origins that he DID NOT like! Haha! Luckily we released the Tega & Tula recently again, and he was ecstatic to see that, and gave us a 5 star review for that one again. It’s great to have honest, musically-inclined customers."
What’s something you always have in your fridge?
Tahini. If you have some Tahini, and whatever greens left over, some lemon, boy you a got a good DIY marinade, salad dressing or pita chip dip going! Just get that in the food processor and you’re basically a Michelin rated chef. BASICALLY.
What’s one thing on your menu that you would love everyone to have a try and why?
I could sit here all day and spout some really “cool-guy” stuff about our single origin menu, but honestly, everyone should try, at least once, our Decaf. I know, i know…DECAF? It’s true though! Our Colombia Caldono Decaf is a super tasty, and has a smooth mouthfeel. Notes of lemon, milk chocolate and graham cracker, you wouldn’t even know it was a decaf coffee! Decaf processing has come a long long way since the days of mass produced decaf coffees.
One food brand you think has a unique menu?
When we did the Small Business Support Program last year, we were connected with a restaurant in NYC, named Atoboy that was looking to be apart and get some help. I’ve not personally eaten there, but one of our partners personally vouches for it’s inrcredible-ness. Until we’re able to go to NYC without the big C19 hanging over our heads, I just admire and drool over their Instagram.
Because Populace Coffee values sustainability, they've taken steps to refocus their business practices and a part of that was switching to use compostable packaging from noissue.
"We use compostable packaging for our retail coffee bags, our mailers are compostable from this cool company (maybe you've heard of it?). In our cafes, all of our utensils, cups and lids are biodegradable along with our trash bags.
Another thing we’ve been doing, for the last mile of our e-commerce deliveries, where we cannot really control a lot of our Co2 emissions, we purchase offsets. For now, at-least until things become less dependent on burning fuel to get around and make our logistics happen, this is our best course of action when it comes to getting the package to the mailbox.
While we still do not have true *custom* packaging from noissue (the 10k MOQ is a bit hard to stomach for our cashflow, at the moment), we do want to get a custom package one day.
noissue was recommended to us from a colleague after we had been trying to source a more sustainable package to ship our product in. It truly was a no-brainer. Even the price was in the same ballpark as what we were paying previously for bubble mailers."
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