Toms Steps Into Coffee Industry: Will It Roast or Get Roasted?



Many consumers have no problem supporting the efforts of Toms to get shoes on everyone’s feet, but will they also back the company’s desire to provide clean water for cooking and drinking via its new line of coffee? That is now the big question. As it turns out, Toms will get its answer soon enough, as the New York Times reported Tuesday that the company’s founder, Blake Mycoskie, is unveiling a new initiative this week. Toms has developed a line of coffee, and its sales will be used to provide clean water for cooking and drinking as well as for sanitation to the more than two billion people around the globe the United Nations estimates lack such essentials, according to the Times.

Toms’s business model is now known across the world: sell one pair of shoes to a customer, and give one pair away to a needy person. The company has realized significant success with its shoe sales as well as its eyeglasses, and now it is focusing in on coffee, because Toms sees an opening in the market and the company’s executives also want to help finance clean water for those in need. According to the Times, every bag of coffee Toms Roasting Company sells will finance a week’s worth of clean water for one person. Cups of coffee, which will be sold at a number of Toms café-stores, will provide a day of clean water each.

Mycoskie unveiled the new Toms coffee, marketed in blue-and-white bags similar to Toms shoe boxes, on Tuesday at South by Southwest, an annual event in Austin, Texas, and there, the founder explained his reasoning behind the new venture. He said in an interview as reported by the Times, “Once people get over the initial shock when they hear we’re going into the coffee business, I think they’ll see what Toms and the one-to-one model is a platform for doing a variety of things, not just a shoe or eyeglasses company.” He went on to explain, “The No. 1 ingredient in making coffee is water, and coffee is often grown in places where clean water is scarce.”

Tom was originally founded in 2006 as a private company, and has since expanded significantly thanks to consumers latching on to its one-for-one business model. Though it all began with shoes, Toms now also successfully sells eyeware, and the Times reports that to date, the company has given poor children 10 million pairs of shoes and clear vision to some 200,000 people. That startling success is what inspired Mycoskie to look into other initiatives, and its latest coffee venture is just one of the ideas the founder has up his sleeve. Some believe that Toms will have a harder time cracking this market, only because the coffee industry is already so monopolized by companies like Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Dunkin (NASDAQ:DNKN), but it is still clear that Toms still wants to give it a try.

It’ll be interesting to see if Toms coffee can take off, especially since the Times reports the company will initially operate more café-stores in South Korea, Dubai, Amsterdam, and other international locations than at home where the shops will first be in Austin, New York City, and Portland. Toms says it is planning to work with Water for People, a nonprofit group that works to develop sustainable water systems around the world, and the group may even help finance the new Toms coffee venture. The coffee will be grown by small farms in Guatemala, Malawi, Peru, Rwanda, and Honduras, and the Times reports that Toms has enlisted coffee experts like Elan Lieber to ensure the new business runs smoothly.

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