Sustainable Harvest delivers profit with purpose

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Sustainable Harvest's Let's Talk Coffee event in El Salvador last year resulted in 11 million pounds of coffee sales negotiated in three days.
Bryan Clifton/Sustainable Harvest

Sustainable Harvest's Let's Talk Coffee event in El Salvador last year resulted in 11 million pounds of coffee sales negotiated in three days.

Portland-based Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers is a fair-trade coffee import company with a community-building mission. It's also a thriving business.

Sustainable Harvest more than doubled its annual revenue last year amid an all-time high in coffee pricing, leaping from $33.9 million in 2010 to $78.2 in 2011.

While it's easy to do well in record-breaking years, a closer look at Sustainable Harvest’s finances reveals strong incremental gains. While coffee prices crept up by more than 30 percent last year, Sustainable Harvest’s revenue meanwhile more than doubled. Company officials say Sustainable Harvest is finally realizing the rewards of 14 years of clever financing for farmers and strategic investments in the coffee trade.

One of Oregon’s B corporations, Sustainable Harvest has long married the idea of long-term, mutually beneficial trade relationships with training and investment in coffee growing communities. In the annual B Corp. report released this week, the company was recognized as a "Rock Star of the New Economy" for its novel approach to the market.

"The secret of Sustainable Harvest's success is that we invest in training our suppliers and building transparent relationships with supply chain partners," said David Griswold, Sustainable Harvest's founder and president. "That way we are able to reliably bring a large volume of quality coffee to our roaster customers."

The company is not a coffee broker, but rather acts as a financial intermediary between roasters and growers while importing beans. Sustainable Harvest secures contracts for products and oversees delivery and tracking for roasters. The company’s strength lies in facilitating short-term financing for growers, enabling coffee co-ops, primarily in Latin America and Africa, to pay farmers during harvest, making the supply chain less vulnerable to one-time poachers toting cash and other economic forces that compromise stability among tight margins.

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