Hailing from Guelph, Ontario, this roastery has been in the specialty coffee world for a very long time… 26 years! We chatted with their founder Bill Barrett, to learn more about this worker co-op and their involvement with Fairtrade. 

- What is Planet Bean’s origin story?

We started in 1997. We were early adopters of the specialty coffee movement. It was a collaboration between two existing worker co-ops: a craft store and a cafe. We all decided to pursue coffee so we bought a used roaster from Montreal, set it up in the cafe, and taught ourselves how to roast. 

To this day, we are still a worker co-op which means we are worker-owned. After working here for a while, if someone wants to join, they can join and become owners; about a quarter of our workforce right now are worker-owners.

When sourcing coffee, we like to work with other co-ops. There is a specific language associated with the co-op’s principles and values. So, generally speaking, if we worked with a producer from a co-op in Ethiopia or Mexico, for example, we would have a shared set of values and a better understanding of each other's businesses and governance within it. 

From the beginning, it was important to us to participate in Fairtrade; since ‘98, we have been a licensee of Fairtrade Canada. We have always been certified organic, from the bean to our roasting to our coffee bars– it’s all certified organic.  

- How has Fairtrade developed since you first became a part of it?

I am involved in the governance of Fairtrade. I was on the Fairtrade Canada board and am now on the Fairtrade International Board. The beautiful thing about Fairtrade is how it has developed. Originally it was just Europeans and North Americans governing it and making all the decisions but it has evolved so that now 50% of the power in Fairtrade is producer based. This has changed the discourse, it's a huge improvement in understanding what producers need. 

It’s no longer just dictated in a sort of neo-colonial way from the north; it's equal participation from the south. So that's a huge improvement and has given us a more sophisticated understanding of what farmers' economic needs are. We are now moving from a minimum price model towards a living income. It’s very complicated, a long journey, and it's looking at things differently. 

- What does the future of Fairtrade look like?

There are competing ethical systems and labelling systems. We are with Fairtrade because we believe it is the best. One of the problems with Fairtrade is that it's not very good at telling people what it’s doing. I think it's doing amazing stuff but it's not very good at communicating that to the market. I think we are going to get better at that because we are facing more labels in the market place so that's a challenge. So we need a greater market presence and understanding of what it is. And of course, increased market share for Fairtrade farmers. I mean, that is who we are ultimately doing this for. 

March 03, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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