Just in time for Earth Month, there’s exciting news out of one of Minneapolis’ highest profile sustainability-focused companies: Peace Coffee is being purchased by longtime CEO Lee Wallace and local entrepreneur Kent Pilakowski.
Peace Coffee was established back in 1996 as a demo project by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a nonprofit that advocates for policies that benefit farmers and the environment. Since then, Peace Coffee has expanded into a full-fledged company, and this ownership change will allow it to realize its full potential.
Peace Coffee’s focus on sustainability sets the company apart from the competition: Their mission is to support the livelihoods of everyone along the production chain while protecting the environment. The company recently became one of Minnesota’s first certified B Corporations, a third-party process that verifies companies meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Accordingly, the company’s coffee beans are fair trade and organic, and they’ve been buying direct from the farmer long before it was trendy. “When we first started out, we were weird,” Wallace explains. “We were weird hippies trying to put a face on the coffee farmer.”
But while it may have seemed weird, direct and ongoing partnerships with farmers make an impact in coffee-growing communities. As an example, Wallace points to her experiences in Guatemala. On an early business trip, her colleagues were excited that they had run electricity to a company office at the top of the mountain. On a more recent visit, they were showing off field trials that will determine which coffee varieties will work best in their microclimate.
Wallace’s first steps as co-owner of Peace Coffee will be to keep the company’s mission and culture intact. She plans to maintain existing relationships with farmer cooperatives -- for example, the company has been working with one particular Guatemalan co-op for almost 20 years.
The new ownership will also provide Peace Coffee with the resources to make changes that will benefit customers. A more consumer-friendly packaging redesign is in the works, and Wallace hopes to launch new products that highlight Peace’s focus on sustainability.
In addition to her leadership experience, Wallace brings an infectious enthusiasm to her new role as Peace Coffee’s co-owner. “I love what I do, and I have fun every day,” she says. “I am really excited about the next 20 years… we’re going to become an even cooler company.”