Counter Culture Coffee Strives for Greatness Over Bigness—And Wins

Growth is the primary preoccupation of most businesses. Sell more. Expand the footprint. Gain more share. It’s a logical aim from a purely economic perspective, so most marketing is built around it. But for Counter Culture Coffee, the best marketing strategy has always been to focus on the integrity of its product. This week, as Green Mountain Coffee’s stock price sinks lower and lower, there is an interesting contrast for marketers to observe and learn from.
Woman doing a smell test on a row of coffee
Green Mountain, while no slouch and now the dominant player in the single-serve brewing market (they are the Keurig people), has been all about growth. Its familiar brand is carried by supermarkets and independent coffee shops everywhere and it is both a roaster and a marketer of equipment. It’s a play on taking a big bite – or sip – out of the enormous worldwide coffee boom of the past 20 years. For his smart work, founder Bob Stiller is a billionaire and the company sings all the right notes on sustainability and environmentally sensitive business practices, but behind it all is a growth-driven public company.

Counter Culture, founded in Durham, NC in 1995, has made coffee greatness its focus from day one. It’s very positioning – Coffee Driven – says passion for the product is the company’s driving DNA. Counter Culture is not known to the masses because it has not pursued mass-retail distribution. Rather, through a network of eight locations in the eastern US, it serves fine restaurants, gourmet and specialty retailers and wholesale customers. The centerpiece of each location is the Training Center, where customers are offered intensive education and training called “Counter Intelligence.” Counter Culture is a world leader in sustainability practices and lives by the ethos of responsible growth, direct trade and minimal environmental impact.
Workers sift through raw coffee beans
The results? Counter Culture’s cup runneth over. Better yet, the product and the people are exceptional – and that’s what will make this company keep growing at its own comfortable, managed pace. Counter Culture coffees win awards in all the highest level competitions. Founder and President Brett Smith has established a culture of empowerment and passion and has recruited professionals who love good coffee and the process of sharing it. Just last month, Counter Culture Barista Katie Carguilo became the 2012 US Barista Champion and is now heading into the worldwide competition. Amidst all the commercial success of the coffee segment, Counter Culture owns a very revered, high road position in addition to being a commercial success.

The lesson for all marketers is simple: focus first on the integrity of your product. Share that story, be an advocate for good practices in your trade and educate your customers to share your passion and beliefs. Then watch how greatness naturally drives growth.