Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Kahlúa Accelerates Investments in Sustainable Coffee and Local Communities

By Leon Kaye

It’s a must-have in any liquor cabinet, and now this popular brand has decided responsible sourcing is a must-have, too. Kahlúa, the coffee-based liqueur that pairs well with milk (as in the White Russian shown above, yum!), coffee, soda, vodka, soda, ice cream or all of them together — don’t knock it till you try it — recently announced it's investing in the coffee farmers and their families that provide the brand its most vital ingredient.

Kahlúa and its parent company, Pernod Ricard, has said they are adopting a three-tiered sustainability program so that 100 percent of the Mexico-based brand's coffee is sourced responsibly by the end of this year. First, the company will launch education and training programs for coffee farmers — including tactics such as improved forest management, biodiversity and soil management.

Next, this plan has a social component, one that covers gender equality, education and social impact. Kahlúa says such plans include expanded access to clean water and sanitation, with the construction of rainwater capture tanks and dry toilets.

Finally, Kahlúa intends to pay farmers a premium for their coffee beans — similar to the fair trade model, though the brand has not explicitly used the term in describing this program. Still, the end game is similar: Investments in crop management, nurseries, soil health, and crop diversification can help ensure that farmers and their families can build wealth and thereby invest in their local communities.

Kahlúa will continue to partner with Fondo Para La Paz, a Mexico-based nonprofit, to carry out the aforementioned initiatives. The brand has been working with the organization since 2016.

Climate change and increased awareness about human rights are together forcing the wider industry to pivot. Single-bean coffees, for example, have surged in popularity in part because the sourcing of beans from a small region can help improve traceability. Colombia’s lucrative coffee sector, which includes the timeless brand Juan Valdez, has committed to working with growers to boost biodiversity and agroforestry.

There really aren’t any other options for the sector: Only so many coffee-based hoodies can be sold, and it will take coffee drinkers a while to warm up to synthetic or molecular coffee alternatives. The Inter-American Development Bank is among the organizations that have warned climate change could wipe out lands available for growing coffee by as much as 50 percent before 2050. The numbers aren’t adding up, as the enduring popularity of coffee house chains, beverages such as bottled cold brews, nitro coffee and single-serve coffee machines for the home point to steady growth in the coming years. 

“We recognize that the way we consume, do business and ultimately live has to change,” said Billy King, Kahlúa’s director of sustainable development, in a public statement. “With this program, we have the opportunity to engage with communities we rely on for our ingredients and work together to ensure a strong and more sustainable future for us all.”

Image credit: Ernest Roy via Pixabay

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye