News Column

Brewing Up Sustainability

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Kermit the Frog might have crooned about how difficult it is to be green, but for F. Gaviņa & Sons Inc., being green comes as easily as sipping a cup of vanilla nut coffee. The reason is easy, says Gaviņa Purchasing Manager Michael Gaviņa: It's the family culture.

F. Gaviņa & Sons, based in Vernon, Calif., operates as Gaviņa Gourmet Coffee, which produces the Don Francisco coffee and La Llave espresso brands. Gaviņa has a long-standing commitment to lessening its products' carbon footprint, reducing waste, cutting energy costs and using industry-leading green manufacturing practices.

Gaviņa Gourmet Coffee was an outgrowth of Don Francisco Gaviņa's coffee-growing business in Cuba. The coffee roasting company was formed in 1967, eight years after he abandoned his coffee plantation in Cuba when Fidel Castro seized power.

Son Pedro Gaviņa, president and CEO of Gaviņa, told Reuters in 2010: "We started with Cuban coffee. Then we realized there are other markets."

The company began roasting coffee for other ethnic markets, such as Middle Eastern and Vietnamese.

"If you cater to them," Pedro Gaviņa explained to Reuters, "you have a small section that is solid. They're very loyal customers."

That loyal base of ethnic markets helped the Gaviņa company expand. Today, it supplies major companies, such as McDonald's Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp. Gaviņa's Don Francisco and La Llave brands are sold by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Safeway Inc., Kroger Co. and CVS Caremark Corp.

Sales for 2009 ran to $114 million, up 5.5 percent from the previous year, and 2010 was looking even better. Marketing VP Leonor Gaviņa-Valls said the company gets about 18 percent of its revenue from its deal with McDonald's. Depending on the time of the year, Gaviņa has 285 to 310 employees.

In the specialty coffee market, Gaviņa does pretty good. It roasts 40 million pounds of coffee a year, well ahead of competitor Peet's Coffee & Tea's 25 million to 30 million pounds a year. But it does have a ways to go before rivaling the giant of the specialty coffee market, Starbucks, which roasts 367 million pounds of coffee a year.

Gaviņa remains a family-run business. Francisco Gaviņa is the vice president of operations, Jose Gaviņa is the chief financial officer and Peter Gaviņa is plant manager. Pedro, Francisco, Jose and Leonor are the children of Don Francisco Gaviņa. Michael and Peter Gaviņa represent what the family calls the "fourth generation" stepping into the business.

Going Green
In 2007, the Gaviņa company was awarded the Solid Waste Alternative Programs Award by the city of Vernon for its then-newly inaugurated 240,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art roasting facility.

Over the past four years, they have raised their recycling rate to 84 percent and hope to have it at 90 percent within two years. For example, the burlap bags the coffee beans come in are resold at a modest price to a local vendor and reused by farmers up north. The silver skin on the coffee bean before roasting becomes what is called "coffee chaff " after roasting. "It makes the coffee too bitter," Michael Gaviņa says, so they sell it to a local vendor who uses it as animal feed fi ll.

Part of the Gaviņa company's routine is waste sorting, which helps make sure nonbiodegradable items are not sent to landfi lls. The company also recycles all its printer ink toners and batteries. In fact, it encourages employees to bring in their toner cartridges and batteries for recycling also. A special recycling effort occurs in the employee lunchroom. All soda cans and water bottles the employees bring to work are collected. The proceeds earned by this recycling effort are returned to a fund that belongs to the employees, which they can use, for example, for a special luncheon. And they recycle cell phones to a company that refurbishes them and sends them to Cuba.

All these efforts at sustainability earned Gaviņa Gourmet Coffee the "2010 Food Processor of the Year" designation from the Food Industry Business Roundtable of Southern California.

"Gaviņa's commitment and tangible contributions on the sustainability front are not only a source of pride for us here in Southern California," Don Whittemore, president of FIBR, said at the awards dinner, "but also a perfect example for the food-processing industry at-large of what can happen when vision turns to action."

But action for the Gaviņas is both a way of doing business and a way of living. After accepting the FIBR award, Michael Gaviņa's aunt, Leonor Gaviņa-Valls, said: "To my three siblings and me who continue to build on our father Don Francisco's four-generation legacy, we are just a tight-knit family with a whole lot of love and passion for coffee and the sustainability and wellness of the communities in which we work and live."

Going Beyond the Norm
Attention to detail runs strongly in the Gaviņa family business.

Daniel Medina, vice president of sales at Liborio Markets in Pasadena, Calif., a grocer specializing in Hispanic foods, told the Los Angeles Times in 2010: "We've sold Gaviņa coffee for more than 40 years, and the whole time, we've known the entire family."

"They come in, in person," he added, "and test the coffee in the store to make sure what's on our shelf is of good quality. They did that when they first started and we had one store, and now we have 13 stores in three states and they still do it."

But attention to detail and sustainability does not just run to the business of roasting coffee alone—it also involves paying attention to people.

In June 2003, F. Gaviņa & Sons Inc. partnered with CISA Exportadora in the "Adopt a School Project." The Gaviņa company agreed that 5 cents per pound of the coffee it purchased from CISA Exportadora would go into an account that would fund social projects in Nicaragua's coffee-producing areas.

Since then, Gaviņa's efforts have helped renovate schools in Nicaragua, Mexico and El Salvador. In fact, after finishing with his interview with HispanicBusiness magazine, Michael Gaviņa was preparing to go to El Salvador to inaugurate another renovation project for two schools, one in San Carlos and another in Talnique.

The Next Stage
UCLA has been making a study of Gaviņa Gourmet Coffee's efforts at sustainability. The next part of the project is a lifecycle study. They will monitor every stage the coffee bean goes through, checking energy use, safety use and the efficiency of each machine. That is a multistage operation, for the beans go through six cleaning methods before roasting and through mechanical cleaners after roasting. The objective is to identify all the ways they can reduce energy use and increase efficiency.

The company is in the process of obtaining a Leadership in Energy and Environment Design certification awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. The council sets the benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

The Gaviņas also will be looking into solar panel use. They had once before, but Michael Gaviņa said that at that time, solar energy was not a viable solution for them.

And they continue to look for ways to recycle. For example, the coffee bags they use are made of film and metal. Recycling places refuse to handle that mixture of elements, but a company in Nevada does. Coffee bags sent there would be recycled into corner posts.

The rich tradition of the Gaviņa family and its love and passion for coffee have blended perfectly into a business model for sustainability that could easily become the industry standard.

So, Kermit the Frog, chill out, enjoy some Don Francisco's Family Reserve coffee and contemplate the Gaviņa family's lessons on being green.

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