More than Coffee
The good deeds have not gone unnoticed. Recipients of the coffee roaster’s generosity are not only in mid-Michigan; the company helps people in need halfway around the world.
The Paramount Coffee Company was founded in Lansing in 1935 as a family-owned and operated business. In 2000, employees took the business into their own hands—literally. “They’re now totally in charge of their own destiny,” says Morris. The transfer of ownership was made under an arrangement known as the Employees Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). “It probably saved Paramount from being bought out by a national company,” says Angelo Oricchio, current chairman and chief executive officer.
The first order of business for the new administration was to find ways to make the company more efficient and expand Paramount’s client base. They streamlined the workforce, allowing them to do more volume but with fewer specialized workers. They then went outside of the Lansing area, marketing to potential clients throughout Michigan and beyond. Today, their coffee is carried in 29 states and Canada. Sales have increased an average of 30 percent over the last five years.
Despite Paramount’s success, remembering the community that has supported the company for more than three-quarters of a century remains a priority. “The efforts that Steve Morris and his staff at Paramount have devoted to our project are evidence of how much they care about the children in our community,” says Laurie Baumer, president and CEO of Ele’s Place. The Lansing-based facility is a healing center for children dealing with the loss of a loved one or a parent or sibling dealing with a life-threatening illness. Since children deal with death differently than adults, they often need other outlets to help them come to terms with their grief.
“Steve has a big heart for grieving children and wanted to make a difference for them,” Baumer says. That difference involved Morris and Oricchio, finding a way to partner with Ele’s to raise awareness and funding. “Steve was so inspired by what we do, he approached us with his idea to create a brand of coffee to benefit our programs,” says Baumer. Paramount provided all of the marketing and manpower to produce and sell the new Ele’s Place Blend coffee in Lansing and Ann Arbor.
The unique packaging shares the story of Ele’s Place history and mission. The campaign has raised thousands of dollars for the organization.
Paramount Coffee has also partnered with Michigan State University in providing assistance to farmers in rural East Africa through the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) program. Paramount donates $1 for every bag of Fair Trade Rwanda Coffee sold to an endowment fund created under the PEARL program. Proceeds from that program allowed for the purchase of 400 goats for the rural village of Gashonga. In addition to nourishment, the goats generate fertilizer for coffee growers there. Oricchio says the ultimate assistance is showing Rwandans how to fend for themselves. “We want Rwandan farmers to learn the coffee business so they can improve their own quality of life.”
Those at Paramount Coffee also partner with MSU in training coffee roasters and distributors of the future. An internship program offers students pursuing careers in the food industry direct knowledge of the coffee business—everything from production, packaging and logistics to quality control, sales and marketing. Students are allowed to work side-by-side with company personnel or they are given independent study projects. The opportunity can also lead to paying positions down the road. Students in their sophomore or junior years are given primary consideration.
Another way the Paramount Coffee Company is exercising its social responsibility is by helping to promote the state of Michigan with its new MI coffee line. The single-serving pods feature exclusive Michigan packaging. The company also recently introduced a new line of gourmet coffee called simply: Joe. “It has all the taste of the high-end specialty coffees but at a fraction of the cost,” says Morris.
The company has continued to be profitable despite the fact that the price of doing business has increased 100 percent over the last eight months. The partners say that is due to a combination of careful planning and pure luck.
“Angelo is the buyer and takes a calculated risk on when to buy and when not to,” Morris says. Price hikes have hit everything from the cost of green coffee, which is coffee before it is roasted, to packaging and shipping.“We didn’t expect it and we didn’t plan for it but we’re dealing with it as best we can and trying to hold the prices as much as we can,” Morris adds.
Paramount Coffee Company
Angelo Oricchio, Chairman and CEO
Steve Morris, President and COO
130 N. Larch St.