Malcolm Jolley talks to Parachute Coffee Co-Founder and CEO Michael Potters.
Michael Potters, president of Parachute Coffee says “freshness is our promise to our customers” and that focus prompted my interest in the young company he runs with two other founders, Jake Van Buskirk and Yehia Elkhouly out of a small office on West Queen West. Many years ago Derek Zavislake explained to me the problem with most commercial coffees is that they are stale, even before you buy them. His remedy to that problem, at The Merchants of Green Coffee is to sell green coffee beans for people to roast at home. Potters and Parachute Coffee have a solution that’s less labour intensive and turns on an interesting business model. I talked to him about his company, which is just a few years old and currently making a push to attract new subscribers, recently and our conversation is reproduced in the interview below.
This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.
Good Food Revolution: Parachute Coffee isn’t new. You’ve been around for a little while, but I think you’ve just got a new injection of energy and money, so you’re launching some kind of push for the holidays, including gift subscriptions, which is how I came to be here. But before we talk about that, let’s go back to the beginning. How did Parachute Coffee come to be?
Michael Potters: We identified that there was a gap between in our own experiences with coffee. We would enjoy specialty coffee, or ‘hipster coffee’ at cafés, and we appreciated the quality and the freshness and authenticity of that experience. But we weren’t able to achieve that in our own home. I think that’s a problem most Canadian coffee drinkers can relate to. The coffee you find on the retail shelf, at the grocery store has been sitting there for upwards of 16 weeks. There is a reason why they don’t print the post date on those bags of coffee. It’s simply not fresh. It’s very, very stale. Parachute Coffee is meant to address that problem…
Good Food Revolution: By…
Michael Potters: We’re the first direct-to-consumer solution for better home coffee in Canada. And the “secret sauce” is that we don’t actually hold any inventory. We roast and ship on the same day to our subscribers across Canada and we only roast and ship enough coffee to satisfy the volume for that particular week. Circling back to the problem that we understood there to be, it’s particularly the case for suburban families: they can’t find the coffee that they have grown to appreciate in the city. They’re very busy, they might have a big family, and they consume a lot of coffee in the home. Another consumer segment that has this problem are urban empty-nesters. They’re excited by the fact that we offer a different coffee each month. They’re a bit of the explorer type, where a Parachute subscription can be a tasting and trying experience. And, of course, they appreciate the high quality of the product and the fact that it’s fresh. And the other group are Millennials. The Millennials are the thought leaders, so even though they might spend a great deal of time in cafés, they still can’t find that coffee at home. 97% of specialty coffee drinkers, those that visit cafés, brew coffee at home. 63% of those that brew coffee at home think it’s substandard and not as good as what they drink in the cafés.
Good Food Revolution: Well, sure. You can tell. And to your point on freshness, the thing with coffee is that as soon as it’s roasted, it starts to oxidize, right?
Michael Potters: Exactly.
Good Food Revolution: It spoils and goes rancid. That’s why there are those holes in coffee bags…
Michael Potters: The one way valve.
Good Food Revolution: It’s letting all this gas, and flavour, escape.
Michael Potters: You used the word ‘oxidize’ and that’s precisely what happens. That one way valve is designed to allow carbon dioxide to escape from the bag, but not to let oxygen in. And we have that technology on our bag as well. Freshness is our promise to our customers. And it’s one that we hold to a very high standard.
Good Food Revolution: OK, so if I sign-up what happens?
Michael Potters: We roast and ship on the Tuesday of every week – what we call an airdrop. And what we ship depends on how you customize your order, which you can also change. You can pause or skip an air drop, increase or decrease the frequency, or adjust the volume of the number of bags you’re getting. It’s very intuitive and very customizable.
Good Food Revolution: OK, but how does it get to my house?
Michael Potters: Canada Post. So, if you’re in the GTA your window of delivery is one to two days after the coffee has been roasted. That’s peek freshness. Our coffee never sits on a shelf. That’s another part of our secret sauce: we never hold inventory. Parachute Coffee is shipped as soon as it is roasted.
Good Food Revolution: Do you contract with roasters, then?
Michael Potters: That’s a great question. One of the really interesting parts of our model is that we’re not necessarily wedded to any particular roaster, but we have identified one roaster in the GTA that we work with. When we first started Parachute Coffee, we were shipping different coffees from different roasters. What that allowed us to do was get to understand the landscape of roasting in Canada. We personally know about every single roaster across Canada on a first name basis. It’s a very special community, and it’s one that we’re very proud to be a part of. Through that process we identified which roasters met our threshold of quality, which ones could deliver on our expectations of freshness, and so on. Our customers also, obviously, gave us a tremendous amount of feedback, which we compiled to decide on which roaster we would be working with in Canada. When we grow our model outside of Canada, which we have ambitions to do, we’ll replicate it and hold that promise of freshness and quality wherever we go. We know our roast profile. There is a ‘roast curve’ and a science and art to specialty coffee and we know exactly what the variables are to reproduce our product.
Good Food Revolution: What about the actual beans? Where are you sourcing the coffee?
Michael Potters: That’s part of it. We know exactly where our coffee comes from. It’s entirely transparent and depends on the season. We’ll source our coffee from anywhere along the coffee growing belt depending on the harvesting season, which is very different in Columbia compared to Kenya, for example. So, the green coffee is sourced by us, roasted where we need it to be roasted, and shipped to where we need it to be shipped.
Good Food Revolution: How’s the business going?
Michael Potters: It’s going well. We’ve opened our company up to external investors and there is an appetite for this kind of product. Direct to consumer models for any type of good are very popular right now. A lot of that is Millennial driven but now there are other segments that are starting to follow suit and explore the benefits of having things shipped directly to you. Direct to consumer brands like Casper or Warby Parker are mainstream and share a very similar model to ours. And our subscribers are pleased. We just launched a brand new website, with new features based on feedback from our subscribers and we have new packaging. And our external investors are our best ambassadors and ones we’re very pleased to have on our team. It’s great.