By Page Leggett
Tracy Ging loves coffee — both the beverage and the business.
Concord-based S&D Coffee & Tea recently promoted the 47-year-old Indiana native to executive vice president and chief business officer — her Twitter profile uses the title “chief officer of some stuff.” Ging joined the 92-year-old company in 2012, four years before Toronto-based Cott Corp. acquired the business for $355 million. Her previous roles at S&D have included vice president of strategic development, vice president of sustainability and chief commercial officer. In addition to her work at S&D, she is second vice president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based nonprofit. She worked as deputy executive director at the trade association before joining S&D. She also has served on boards of other coffee-industry groups.
Ging spoke with Business North Carolina about her job, her passion for sustainability and the coffee community she loves.
Your resume seems to point to a single-minded devotion to coffee.
I have been lucky in coffee. It’s a great industry. It’s a product I love and a community I love. Coffee people are passionate about the beverage. And on the consumer side, people love coffee. It’s daily happiness.
Sustainability is a big topic in our industry, and it’s something I’m personally passionate about. Our industry has moved aggressively to voluntarily adopt standards around sustainability. We were an early and enthusiastic adopter in the drive to get to know our farmers. We have a geographically diverse supply chain, so it can be tough to get to know people in the very rural areas where coffee is grown. But we’re making an effort. I don’t know of another industry that goes to the lengths our industry does. The sustainable coffee challenge — the commitment to make coffee the world’s first fully sustainable agricultural product — is something we aspire to.
How has your role changed since the promotion?
I have increased responsibility for marketing and product development, driving expansion of our offerings, and product launches. I’m supporting our CEO [Ron Hinson] as we expand into new channels, such as extracts and ingredients, and expand geographically. We have a customer in Asia now, so we’ve expanded our footprint there.
We’re the largest custom coffee roaster and tea blender in the U.S. for other people’s brands. You’ll find our products — but not our name — in convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, doughnut shops, diners. It’s what we call the “away-from-home” market. We don’t sell at grocery stores for at-home consumption. “Behind the brand” is how we operate.
Your products are in offices, too, right?
Yes, S&D is in office settings, but the biggest part of our business is selling to other brands.
How are millennials changing the coffee industry?
We always say they’re our best coffee consumers yet. They tend to drink more coffee away from home and tend to drink it at different times of the day. The general population is more likely to have a hot cup of coffee in the morning. Millennials are interested in unique ingredients and the craft aspect of coffee.
They also demand information. They want to know where their coffee came from, how it was sourced. Sustainability resonates with our millennial customers.
How do you convey your commitment to sustainability when you’re “behind the brand”?
We’re building assets to help our brands with their marketing. We’re creating collateral that tells a story.
How did you get started in the coffee business?
It was a volunteer gig that started me down this path. I was the director of marketing for [DaVinci Gourmet] syrup company — a different avenue of coffee — and I started a barista competition. That was 20 years ago.
Where is S&D’s coffee grown?
In about 20 countries in Central and South America and Indonesia. Coffee needs equatorial weather conditions. We have to know each region and what the coffee tastes like in that region. For every shipment of coffee beans we get, we get a sample before it ships. We taste and approve the sample, and then taste it again when the full order comes in. After roasting it, we taste it again. We have a coffee-tasting team that does nothing but taste. They’re trained in the sensory science of coffee. They’re able to smell one bad bean in a bag of coffee.
Will S&D ever open its own coffee shops?
Highly unlikely. We like our spot. We’re behind some of the biggest and best brands of coffee. We’re OK with not being in the spotlight; we like being in the supporting cast. Coffee’s the star.
What’s your favorite coffee drink?
I can’t pick just one! I like variety. I like trying all our customers’ products. I drink something different every day and generally have four or five cups in the morning.
How do you feel about decaf?
I’ll drink it, but I prefer fully loaded.