Starting out as a single coffee cart in 1993, Balzac’s Coffee Roasters has scaled to 16 stores across Ontario and has a growing retail distribution network. CEO Christine Cruz-Clarke speaks to World Coffee Portal about the specialty coffee roaster and café chain’s sustainability mindset, navigating the pandemic and coffee as an affordable luxury
Christine Cruz-Clarke, CEO, Balzac's Coffee Roasters
You have been CEO of Balzac's Coffee Roasters for just over a year, what have been some of your key successes so far?
The CEO role at Balzac’s has been an incredible learning experience that has filled me with purpose through impact. While it’s still early days, we’ve managed to move the needle on several initiatives. Sustainability is high on our agenda and an area that I have been able to amplify drawing on experience from past roles.
Balzac’s has been dedicated to sustainability as a pillar for decades. It is part of the culture and the mindset that we cultivate and forms the foundation for the choices we make across all parts of the business. Like with anything, it starts with intentionality.
A desire to make the sustainable choice has influenced how we source coffee, be it through Fairtrade or direct trade practices to ensure fair wages are part of the equation. It also influences how we roast which is why we use the eco-friendly Loring Smart Roaster which is known for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional coffee roasting equipment.
We also operate our cafés with zero waste in mind which is made possible through partnerships with organisations like Second Harvest, Canada's largest food rescue charity.
“The pandemic spurred us to consider e-commerce solutions and online ordering apps as ways to expand our reach”
How did the pandemic influence Balzac's strategy?
With cafés urged shut in the initial months, we noticed there was a large shift for consumers looking to create a café experience at-home. We pivoted towards channels, such as social media, to connect with our followers on this angle, showing more recipes and sharing tips on making your lattes or espressos at-home.
We have seen interest in specialty coffee grow across the country, which has created increased demand for our whole bean, ground and compostable K-cup compatible pods which can now be found in retailers across Canada.
Consumer preferences and behaviours are also constantly changing. As we approach a post-pandemic world, we are cognisant of how the rise of inflation and the increased cost of daily necessities are impacting everyone’s willingness to spend. These shifts have necessitated us to re-examine all parts of our business and determine what steps we need to take to ensure we can continue to provide the café experience as an affordable luxury.
While we’re pleased to see our customers come back to our brick-and-mortar retail locations, the pandemic spurred us to consider e-commerce solutions and online ordering apps as ways to expand our reach. Identifying what comes next for our 16 café locations and any potential new ones continues to be an area of focus and source of future growth.
How has increased at-home coffee consumption impacted the roastery side of the business?
This increase in at-home coffee consumption has led to a significant increase throughout all parts of our roasting operations. As consumers have adopted new at-home coffee rituals and invested in new equipment, we have seen a heightened demand for the whole bean format. As the business has grown exponentially, ensuring consistency of quality and the reliability of green coffee supply has been critical to supporting our roastery operations.
Balzac's Coffee Roasters, Port Dalhousie, Ontario
How would you describe Canadian coffee culture?
Canada is a coffee-loving nation — the coffee market is valued at approximately CAD $6.2bn ($4.5bn). Canada is the only country outside of Europe to rank in the top 10 in terms of daily coffee consumption with Canadians consuming an average of 2.7 cups per day. In Canada, coffee is enjoyed throughout the day, playing a major role in the daily lives of Canadians and their social activities.
Though many may associate drive-thru coffee culture with Canada, many urban-minded, younger demographics have demonstrated a growing preference for supporting local cafés over mass chains and look to brands they hold dear to be aligned with sustainable business practices. We are seeing a confluence of what younger consumers are looking for and what we’ve practiced since the beginning.
What are the key elements of Balzac’s focus on sustainability?
Balzac’s is committed to reducing the environmental impact of our operations, both in our cafés and through all forms of coffee production. We are a proudly certified green restaurant and were the first coffee company in Canada to become certified with LEAF. Many of our coffees are Fairtrade and Organic certified, and we strive to use as many locally sourced, organic products as possible within our cafés.
Our disposable products, such as our double-walled coffee cups, straws and cutlery, are made with biodegradable or recycled materials. We aim to be as zero waste as possible.
We are also committed to providing support to environmental causes. Our partnership with renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood in creating The Atwood Blend is a Smithsonian Institute certified Bird Friendly blend. Partial proceeds from each bag sold are donated to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PIBO), a non-profit organisation devoted to the study and conservation of migratory birds.
It is important as a brand committed to sustainability that we actively listen to our customers and our communities to know what they expect from us and to reflect those values through action and results.
What does 2023 have in store for Balzac’s Coffee Roasters?
As we expand, we would love to see Canadians across Canada enjoy the Balzac's café experience. We are proudly celebrating our 30th anniversary in 2023, making it a celebratory time for all at Balzac's Coffee Roasters. We will be continuing to expand our retailers across Canada so more Canadians have access to our much beloved coffee and products to enjoy.
We have several initiatives and partnerships planned with various charitable organisations and like-minded businesses which will be announced in the coming months also. When we do open our first location outside of our home province, Ontario, World Coffee Portal readers will be among the first to hear!
Christine Cruz-Clarke was appointed CEO of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters in December 2021, overseeing all company operations with a focus on building the brand and driving commercial success.
The former Mars Inc. Marketing Director also sits on the Member Board of Directors at the Coffee Association of Canada.