Stepping Away From Wholesale

For those of you who have known me since my farmers market days, you know that my dream for Blue Bottle has always been to provide an experience that is, above all, delicious and hospitable. When I got to the Ferry Plaza Market I tried to be a bit better at both with each passing Saturday. Many Saturdays I did. Some Saturdays I didn't, but I kept trying. As a company, we keep trying to be better with every batch of coffee, every pourover, and every buckle. Which leads to what this post is really about: the wholesale coffee business.

A few years ago when I was visiting Los Angeles, I had an excellent coffee at a café owned by one of the major local roaster/retailers. This roaster is known for their excellent wholesale department, as well as several well-executed cafes. As I walked across the street to my car, I strolled past a gelateria serving that roaster’s coffee. The gelateria had a sandwich board on the sidewalk describing how proud they were to serve that roaster’s coffee. Except for one thing: they spelled the roaster’s name wrong. This moment has been eating away at me for a while. To me, it is symbolic of the difficulties that are inherent in selling coffee wholesale. I get nervous when we can’t control the contexts, methods, and outcomes that are part of the experience of drinking our coffee. Because of that, I have decided to close the wholesale division of Blue Bottle Coffee. 

This decision has been a difficult one, as our wholesale partners have been an important part of our journey. Many are friends whom I met at the Ferry Plaza. It's been a point of pride for our entire company that our coffee has been served, and served well, at some of the region's great restaurants and I want to thank them for working with us. I also want to thank the hard working wholesale team for their excellence and dedication. Many of the team will continue to work with me to strengthen our retail program, lead our NOLA carton project, and help with the digital channel.

Moving away from an important revenue stream like wholesale is perhaps a questionable business decision. Some might even say that it's impractical one. We get so much joy from tinkering, refining, discovering, and inventing new ways of coaxing delicious flavors from everything on our menu that taking responsibility for absolutely every drink made from our coffee is a logical next step for us. We have learned that crafting increasingly delicious coffee is an iterative process that only works when your buyers, production teams, roasters, baristas and cafes are interconnected and sharing their discoveries. Continuous improvement requires an unbroken feedback loop. 

In the upcoming months we will wind down the wholesale division and will be concentrating our efforts on Blue Bottle retail cafés and Blue Bottle at Home. I've had good luck in the past following counterintuitive notions and hope that this one will also prove to be the right choice for our guests and all of us at Blue Bottle.

-James Freeman