November 2, 2021

A coffee shop owner’s guide to finding a wholesale roaster

Whether you’re thinking of opening a coffee shop or have owned one for a while, choosing where to source your coffee from is one of the most important decisions you will need to make. Many choose to work with a wholesale roaster.

Ultimately, sourcing beans that match your quality standards and meet your customers’ needs is key. However, finding the right wholesale partner is easier said than done, and it isn’t as simple as just buying the best coffee you can find. Pricing, sustainability, minimum order quantities, and many other factors are just as important, if not more so. 

To learn more about finding a wholesale supplier, I spoke to a roaster and a coffee shop owner. Read on to find out what they told me, and what you should consider when looking for a wholesale supplier. 

You might also like our guide to supplier partnerships for coffee shops.

roasting coffee

An overview: What are wholesale coffee roasters?

The word “wholesale” generally refers to the practice of buying goods in large volumes, and distributing them to other businesses in smaller quantities. 

In the coffee sector, it’s generally used to refer to large roasters who supply multiple coffee shops, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses that require coffee. Wholesale roasters buy large quantities of green coffee, roast it, and then sell it on to their clients. 

It is undeniably the most popular model of sourcing roasted coffee in major coffee consuming markets around the world. This is because roasting coffee generally requires a lot of investment in equipment and training, and is not always easy for coffee shop owners to handle themselves.

Erica Piedmonte is part of the Sales Team at Higher Grounds Trading, a coffee roaster based in Traverse City, Michigan, US. She says that finding the right wholesale roaster can be particularly helpful at the beginning of a coffee shop’s journey.

“Often, a full-service wholesale roaster will be able to help with everything you need to get your café open,” she says. “These services might include supporting on café layout, equipment leasing & installation, coffee selection, drink recipes, barista training, and more.”

Wholesale roasters will also have a range of different coffees on offer – and will be able to support you to choose from various different beans. 

For instance, if you’re opening a coffee shop in a market where you know milk-based drinks are popular, you’ll want to look for a blend that can “punch through” milk. Conversely, if you’re in an area where single origin light roasts are more popular, the right roaster will be able to support you there, too. 

checking roasting coffee

What are the advantages of buying wholesale?

Alongside having the option of several different coffees and being able to rely on external roasting expertise, there are a number of other benefits to buying wholesale.

Firstly, there is generally a significant price advantage. Buying wholesale will often be cheaper than ordering online or buying small quantities of coffee.

Furthermore, if you’re entering into a long-term partnership, roasters will be more inclined to be flexible with your needs. Some will even provide additional services for partnerships, such as roasting special or exclusive blends, providing training, or even leasing equipment.

It’s also worth noting that coffee shops can benefit from the brand and reputation of the roaster they buy from. For instance, if you’re looking to communicate a commitment to sustainability, you can work with a wholesaler that pays fair prices and supports coffee producers at origin. You can then subsequently make that clear that to customers.

Take Higher Grounds Trading, for instance. Erica tells me that they roast coffee wholesale for their customers while also supporting the farming communities they buy from in a number of different ways.

“Higher Grounds offers organic, specialty-grade coffee and is a certified B Corp,” she says. “All of our coffee is traceable, and we have a mission to support the communities where we source our green coffee, as well as offering all the benefits of a full-service wholesale partner.”

Olivia Andrade is the co-owner of Mezzo Coffee House in Otsego, Michigan, US. She says that for Mezzo, the three biggest benefits of working with a wholesale partner are quality, training, and cross-promotion. 

“Our roaster, Higher Grounds, has more staff for social media and a larger following than we do,” she says. “It helps to be able to share their content with our audience as well as their offerings.”

roasting coffee

What should you consider?

While wholesale supply can be beneficial for coffee shops, every café is different, and subsequently has different customers and requirements.

As such, Olivia advises to determine your priorities before searching for a wholesale partner. Start by asking some key questions. What’s your demand like? What prices can you afford and what level of quality are you looking for? Do you need any equipment? Training? Other additional services?

Pricing

Pricing is crucial, and for any hospitality business, it will be near the top of the agenda. In many cases, it will be inherently linked to coffee quality – so keep that in mind.

In many cases, you’ll find that better prices will come with a fixed term supply agreement. However, if a contract is on the table, make sure it offers everything you need. 

Erica explains that wholesale contracts often don’t just cover the supply of roasted coffee – they can also cover equipment pricing or leasing terms, training schedules, obligations to exclusively use certain coffees, equipment maintenance and repair, and even drink recipes. Read the small print and ask the supplier if you’re not sure about anything.

“A long-term agreement can be beneficial for better pricing on equipment, training, and services,” Erica says. “It also helps you know that your wholesale partner is committed to the services they are promising.”

Product range & coffee quality 

Olivia tells me that not all suppliers are created equally. She says that each individual wholesaler will offer a varying number of coffees and roast profiles.

In short: if you want to have several options on your menu, make sure you choose accordingly. Third wave coffee roasters are far more likely to offer lighter roasts, while more “classic” roasters will generally offer darker blends.

At Mezzo Coffee House, Olivia says that they offer a range of different coffees. “We try to offer a light, medium, dark and decaf roast daily for our freshly brewed coffee,” she says. “We also offer a dark roast espresso and decaf medium roast espresso, for six in total.”

Alongside breadth, quality is another crucial factor to keep an eye on. Consider: does their coffee match the quality you’re looking for? And, perhaps more importantly, does their roasting schedule ensure you’ll have fresh coffee when you need it most?

“At Mezzo, quality was our first priority,” she says. “However, we also wanted to work with a roaster that aligned with our mission, brand, and values.”

Brand values: Sustainability & social responsibility

Today’s consumers are more ethically conscious than ever before, and their buying habits are increasingly driven by sustainability and social impact. Coffee is no exception, and this trend is especially prominent among specialty cafés and roasters.

If sustainability and ethical business practices are important values for your café, it makes sense to find a wholesale roaster who sources coffee in a sustainable, ethical way. 

However, this is ultimately part of a wider question about brand values and reputation. “Look for a company that can meet all of your needs,” Erica recommends. “This includes everything from equipment and training to delivery and coffee quality.”

roasting coffee

Other things to keep in mind

Finding the right wholesale partner can be a daunting prospect. However, a good place to start is research. Roasters offer all kinds of information on their website or social media. This means that learning about their coffees, sourcing practices, and farmer partners doesn’t have to be a hassle. 

After you think you have a candidate, enquire about it and maybe look at visiting their premises. This will allow you to get a better understanding of how they work. You’ll also most likely get the opportunity to try their coffees, learn about their product range, and what is most popular with other coffee shops. 

An in-person visit can also help you understand if their products are suited for your business. If you’re buying equipment, it also gives you a chance to become familiar with it in person. 

Check their minimum order size, too, and compare it against your demand. If it’s bigger than what you need, this can be an easy way to eliminate potential suppliers from your lists. Often, large minimum order quantities are a way for wholesale roasters to streamline their operations by having a smaller partner list of larger clients. 

Location is an important factor, too. For instance, if your chosen roaster is too far away, shipping times might be longer. This can affect coffee freshness, which will in turn may make it more difficult to offer delicious, high-quality coffee to customers.

bags of coffee

Finding a wholesale roaster is by no means an easy prospect. It requires no shortage of time and research. There’s also no simple answer – the right supplier for you will strongly depend on the specific needs of your business.

However, working with a wholesaler can bring many benefits. Choosing the right partner means getting the right coffee for your customers at the right price, along with continuous support that helps your business remain profitable.

In the end, it’s all about finding someone you are happy working with. Look for someone who can offer you a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership – that’s the best place to start.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how coffee roasters can drive change at origin.

Photo credits: Mezzo Coffee House, Higher Grounds Trading Co.

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Higher Grounds Trading Co is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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