Two Brilliant Cause Marketing Strategies

Feb. 19, 2020

Last month’s Best of OCS feature on Cause Marketing received plenty of interest on social media. In fact, I heard directly from operators who wanted more on the topic. The most common question: “How do I convert doing good into new business – in a humble way?” 

Ultimately, I learned of two strategies that are absolutely brilliant. Best of all, they are borne out a genuine desire to help as many people as possible. This is Cause Marketing at the highest level.

On a mission

In 2002, Melissa Brown's parents launched a non-profit effort in Nicaragua. Brown, founder of Well-Bean Coffee, fell in love with the people and the region. 

Following a coffee tour in 2012, she decided to enter the coffee business by roasting coffee and operating a Well-Bean coffee cart on a seminary campus, with an eye toward helping coffee farmers.

Two years later, Well-Bean Coffee entered the office coffee service business in "The Triangle Area," serving Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham in North Carolina. 

Giving back is at the core of her efforts and the message has resonated with Well-Bean clients. The company grew from $300,000 to $3,000,000 in sales over a four-year period. "We always do coffee demos, but we lead with the cause marketing story, and it is a big reason why companies choose us,said Brown. For sustainability purposes, Well-Bean uses bean-to-cup brewers exclusively and always projects the Well-Bean cause-based message on the bean-to-cup menu screens.

Well-Bean gives back in two directions:

The New Song Mission – non-profit company started by Brown’s parents which supports health initiatives in Nicaragua, on and off coffee farms. The mission inspired the brand name, "Well-Bean."

Coffee Farmers  Well-Bean buys directly from farmers, bypassing brokers and often doubling the farmer’s earnings. Well-Bean’s goal is to work with six farmers, but so far, has only been buying from one. Brown said it is hard to make a major impact on farmers with their current bean purchasing volume. Buying container loads of beans is challenging for a relatively small roaster.

A Brilliant Idea

Well-Bean’s ability to impact farmers and the New Song Mission is about to change dramatically. 

In the near future, Well-Bean's OCS routes will be acquired by another company so Brown can focus on providing "directly traded, specialty coffees" to other OCS operators around the country. This strategic move will provide a vehicle for Brown to accomplish one important goal: to buy more coffee direct from farmers. Her Well-Bean roasting operation will allow her operators to join in the "cause marketing" that has made Well-Bean so successful. "As part of the acquisition, we will enter into a roasting partnership," she said. Well-Bean is currently roasting at only 20% of capacity, so that partnership will make a big difference. 

Brown announced that following the close of her upcoming deal, she will donate $500,000 to the New Song Mission, to be distributed by a “donor advisor fund” over several years.

Brown’s OCS exit strategy, which is designed to significantly strengthen her level of giving can only be described as brilliant. Well-Bean accomplished quite a bit in a relatively short period of time and is now positioned to do even more as a roaster for other entities.

Canteen – Making an impact

Canteen is very active in the Cause Marketing world. In addition to regional programs like the one at Gourmet Coffee Service that was described last month, Leigh-Anne Wooten, part of Canteen’s Sustainability and Wellness Team, said that all Canteen branches are involved in a partnership with RightWater where proceeds from purchases go towards building wells in parts of the world that don't have access to clean water. Wells in nine communities have been completed in South Sudan, Uganda and India changing the lives of over 12,000 people,” said Wooten.

2 cents go a long way

Another company with a brilliant cause marketing strategy is making a big impact on world water supply issues.

Royal Cup Coffee, a Southeastern operator with a national presence, is giving 2 cents per serving from their premium ROAR coffee and tea line (about 40 SKU’s) to Neverthirst, a non-profit that makes clean water available to underserved communities around the world – particularly Africa and Asia. 

Jim Smith, SVP of Sustainability at Royal Cup, manages their partnership with Neverthirst. “We do market the program to our customers, we sometimes get new business from it, but it's really an easy way for us to partner with our customers  to work together with them to make a difference and to give something back,” said Smith. 

The program has been a huge success. Royal Cup has donated $900,000 to Neverthirst since 2016.

Smith said that Neverthirst provides great stories and great metrics showing exactly how the funding is being used. “We are sharing those stories with our clients. Our customers want to give back, especially millennials, but they also want to know how the collection of money is being impactful,” said Smith. “We are making a significant impact with Neverthirst and our people feel good about it  so do our clients."

Here is the brilliant part

In 2020Royal Cup will be entering into two more giving partnerships, adding two more organizations to support with 2 cent per serving donations from the ROAR Product line.

Why is this a brilliant strategy? Royal Cup Clients will be able to choose the direction of the donations. They will not only be aware of the giveback program, they will be involved and directing it personally. The Royal Cup plan fosters a genuine partnership with customers and offers a humble approach to giving.

 Some Advice for Cause Marketing Newcomers

Like everyone else I spoke to who has been successful with a cause marketing program, Smith said that first and foremost, giving back must be the priority. Do it because you want to give back,” he said. Smith’s advice echo the words of C. J. Recher, VP of Marketing at Five Star Food Service and co-founder of Feeding the Future: “Be intentional about the giving part and the benefits will come to you."


Industry consultant Bob Tullio ( is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry how to build a successful business from the ground up.
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