Alterra Coffee Plus Mars’ Flavia: A Sustainable Combo?

You’ve probably never heard of it, but Alterra Coffee is a well loved Milwaukee coffee roaster that has been growing steadily for years as one of the area’s most respected brands. It’s also had a very strong commitment to sustainability: It’s 100% wind powered, has gone to great expense to revitalize interesting historic buildings anchoring entire neighborhoods, has an experimental artificial wetland to treat parking lot runoff at one of its stores, and has made a solid commitment to fair trade practices. It even works with urban farming legend Will Allen’s Growing Power organization on a vermiculture project.

The company scored a big victory this week by teaming up with Mars corporation on a global brand distribution plan which will make Alterra a household name internationally and offer huge new revenue potential. Mars will distribute Alterra coffee as part of its Flavia line of single serve coffee makers. That’s great news for a small home-grown company, and something that likely resonates with readers of this site, many of whom are entrepreneurs with big ideas.

But what about Alterra’s sustainability commitment?

Nothing against Mars, per se, but the Flavia single serve coffee product is the ketchup packet of the coffee world: A wasteful, barely recyclable sachet that symbolizes the lazy, wasteful consumer society that is at the heart of the wrong side of the sustainability puzzle. In its defense, Flavia’s sustainability website discusses various energy saving features of the Flavia machine as well as a project with TerraCycle to recycle packets – how many of them actually get recycled isn’t discussed. Beyond that, Flavia’s reputation (whether deserved or not) is one of general cheapness, not quality.

So, Alterra wins financially but risks cheapening its brand and compromising its commitment to sustainability. On one hand, this is a classic problem that may affect any small company, regardless of its susty cred. On the other, hand, perhaps I’m over-reacting and this is a chance for some of Alterra’s green leadership to find its way into a larger corporation that may not be a well known leader in sustainability, but is clearly working on it.

What would you do if you were the owner of a brand such as Alterra?

Nick Aster is the founder of TriplePundit. has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place. It was acquired in 2017 by 3BLMedia, the leading news distribution and content marketing company focused on niche topics including sustainability, health, energy, education, philanthropy, community and other social and environmental topics.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He also worked for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

15 responses

  1. If I was the brand owner of Alterra — which I HAVE long heard of — I would run, not walk, away from Mars Flavia. Not so much for sustainability. But more for associating my brand with what is the Instant Tang of coffee.

  2. I agree. Flavia is so utterly second rate. You have to be a pretty uninspired office manager to install it. But I don't think people who drink Flavia care too much about brands.

  3. Coffee has to taste good and be accessible on my morning route, or at least where I shop. I haven't seen Alterra anywhere that would make it easy to buy, so I don't even know what it tastes like. Maybe they could sell more online? I'm just a creature of convenience I guess.

  4. Coffee has to taste good and be accessible on my morning route, or at least where I shop. I haven't seen Alterra anywhere that would make it easy to buy, so I don't even know what it tastes like. Maybe they could sell more online? I'm just a creature of convenience I guess.

  5. Being a large distributor of Flavia coffee I can only hope this improves the quality of coffee.Hopefully Alterra will bring its coffee house flavor to single serve coffee and do it in a responsible way.I have my doubts, but we will find out shortly. I do not drink Flavia, I’d much prefer a good cup of Peets or Starbucks. American culture , especially in NYC , demands speed and convenience over taste and social awareness.Not the recipe for a great cup of java.

  6. As a family of one, brewing pots of coffee and throwing half out seems to be wrong on so many levels. Flavia one-cup packets appear to be wasteful, but at least the coffee/tea itself is not thrown out.

    And who can afford Starbucks?

    Love MyFlavia, looking forward to better tasting coffee!

    1. As a family of one, there are other ways to make a single cup of coffee without wasting anything. I do it every morning. 

      Get a coffee grinder and a french press or a pour-over and some filters. 

  7. I am a home user of the Flavia machine. I love it. My office uses a Keurig and I have been unimpressed with the quailty of coffee it uses. I am currently looking for ways to recycle/upcycle the packets. There is a TerraCycle brigade for flavia packets, but unfortunately is only open for dealers, not home delivery.

  8. Maybe I’m just cynical but money trumps everything else. In this day of mega corporate profits substainability issues are overlooked or put on a side burner. Besides dedicated advertising can just about over come any issues.

  9. ..people from MARs may not realised it..but I am sure the founder’s remarks of being able to give hope to war torn victims a hot cup of chocolate is now visible and moment of despair when rivers overflow and flood victims craves for warmth..or nature’s wrath on mankind..a hot chocolate in mere seconds anywhere..and good tasting quality drink everytime..with ease and speed of set-up..I believe..they have the answer…but who is going to pay for this “charity”!

  10. I replaced my Keurig with a Flavia. The Keurig stopped working after 7 months. I think the coffee is better and the machine is better. I am very pleased. Because I am not a business that has a distributor so I cannot contribute to the TerraCycle coffee brigade which upcycles the flavia packets into pavers. I am hoping that soon home users will be able to contibute to the coffee brigade because I am not please that I am adding to the landfill. But Keurig packets add to the landfill, too.

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