Five Questions: Bruce Goldsmith Of Hartford's Baronet Coffee
He Represents Third Generation Of His Family To Run The Business
By DAVID HOLAHAN
October 03, 2011
Bruce Goldsmith is the third generation to run the family coffee business, which began in 1915 in New York City. After purchasing Hartford's Baronet Coffee in 1947, the company has prospered despite losing its facilities twice to eminent domain proceedings instituted by the city.
The firm is privately held and does not release sales figures, but it has grown "five-fold" since 1990, according to Goldsmith. Baronet, which doubled the size of its Hartford manufacturing operations in 1998, sells to institutional customers such as restaurants and hotels, nationwide and overseas. It employs 40 people.
Goldsmith, who is 47 and a graduate of Union College, joined the family business in 1988 after working for Procter & Gamble. He is a board member of the National Coffee Association.
Q: Your family has been in the coffee business for almost 100 years; what is the single biggest change in the coffee world from 1915 to 2011?
A: I would say two things. One is the increase in the amount and the varieties that customers are drinking. It used to be just regular and decaf and now there is more demand for origin coffees like Sumatra and Kenya and European roasts, different blends and flavors. The consumer is much more educated about what high-quality coffee is, and the industry has responded to that.
The second is the whole single-cup craze that we got into in 2004. It has really helped the industry in terms of total consumption.
Q: The way that coffee is grown is now a big consideration for many consumers: for example, organic and shade cultivation by small, indigenous growers vs. agribusiness farming on fields that have been clear-cut. Roughly what percentage of the world's coffee comes from the former?
A: Fair Trade USA and the Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee Program, and other organizations with similar goals, really came on the scene back in 2000 or so. At that time the farmer wasn't making a fair wage and it was affecting the quality of the coffee, and the quantity as well. The Fair Trade concept was to pay the farmer a fair wage. Customers are looking for those coffees, the organic, the shade grown and the like, and they are available now, not just in specialty shops but in grocery stores.
We don't give out percentages on specific coffees, but the percentage of Fair Trade coffee we sell has probable doubled since 2002. It all depends on the consumer, if they want that type of coffee and will pay for it. At schools and colleges, this is absolutely what they are looking for.
Q: Coffee has become almost a religion to many people — perhaps a cult is more accurate. They demand choices and savor each cup of Joe as if it were fine French wine. How did this come about and when did it start?
A: I would say sometime in the 1980s. They used to call it gourmet and now it's specialty coffees. The Specialty Coffee Association of America, which we're a member of, was formed then .
Q: Like beer, there are many small purveyors of specialty coffee today, grinding pedigree beans on the spot for their customers. How do you compete with that?
A: Favorably. When many of our competitors had to come up with a secondary brand name for their lines of specialty coffees, we have kept the Baronet name because it has always stood for quality.
Q: How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
A: My grandfather would drink 10 cups of coffee a day, and he passed away in 1993 at 99 years of age. My father and I still strive to keep up the family tradition. I drink at least 10 cups a day.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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