The Top Eco-Brands

Package Goods: Green Mountain Coffee

Java Purveyor Is Greenhouse-Gas-Neutral, but Don't Call It 'Green Marketing'

By Published on .

Some of the best green marketers, it turns out, don't believe in the concept at all.

"The term 'green marketing' kind of drives me bonkers," says T.J. Whalen, VP-marketing for Green Mountain Coffee, "because it sounds like it's a foil to get someone to buy something."

Green Mountain Cafe Express
Leading the way
  • Greenhouse-gas-neutral since 2004
  • Partners include Rainforest Alliance and McDonald's
  • Has worked with International Paper to create a compostable cup
Mr. Whalen says it's more important to run a company well from the inside, hire people who are passionate about the environment and take good care of them. If the company is built around principles that each member of the supply chain understands, the message resonates more clearly than "if it was just a marketing campaign."

It also helps if you're Green Mountain. The company has been 100% greenhouse-gas-neutral since 2004 and claims it's the industry's largest purveyor of fair-trade coffee. Last year, it partnered with International Paper Corp. to create a compostable coffee cup, saving 250,000 pounds of nonrenewable petrochemical materials each year.

Mr. Whalen joined the Waterbury, Vt.-based coffee company as a consultant in 2001 and was named director-brand and market development later that year. He was charged with growing the brand and the market position for sustainable coffee. As president-national food service from 2003-05, Mr. Whalen opened up distribution channels including some club stores. He was named VP-marketing in 2005 and now leads the 35-person marketing team in defining the overall value proposition of the product and supporting the brand's position.

Doing without retail
During Mr. Whalen's tenure, Green Mountain's revenue has gone from between $80 million and $90 million to what analysts expect to be more than $450 million this year, head count has grown from a few hundred to more than 1,000, and the company has gone public.

These days, Mr. Whalen and his team focus on selling single-serving coffee makers, which he says will be equivalent to the quantum leap from percolators to drip coffee makers, and building a direct-to-consumer business.

"We have a catalog and a website that are both growing quite rapidly, and we enjoy those direct relationships, but we're in specialty coffee and don't have our own retail locations," Mr. Whalen says. "So others like Starbucks or Caribou, they have that retail environment to tell their story and connect with consumers and share their point of view."

It's a little more complicated to get Green Mountain's value-added sustainability messages to the consumer, Mr. Whalen says, so building relationships online has been critical. The marketer offers a consumer-continuity program. The Cafe Express program allows subscribers to get their favorite blends by mail, find out about other products they might like and keep up with the goings-on at Green Mountain.

"We now have north of 85,000 members that get coffee from us on a monthly basis," Mr. Whalen says. "[They] in turn act as advocates for our brand. [That is] very helpful from a word-of-mouth standpoint and allows us to be pretty skinny on traditional media."
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