Rwanda Bean Company (RBC) was founded Portland, Maine, by Mike Mwenedata, with a mission to support coffee farmers in Rwanda, Africa. A coffee retail and wholesale operation, RBC focuses on small batch, expertly roasted premium coffee directly sourced from Rwandan Coffee Farmers Cooperative. Picked, dried and sorted by hand in Rwanda, the coffee beans are imported and roasted by RBC, and sold in their retail stores and via wholesale accounts. RBC has also launched a subscription-based service to expand its customer base and mission impact.
Rwanda’s endless rolling hills are dotted with lush trees and home to mountain gorillas and small coffee farms. The country’s high altitude, nutrient rich volcanic soil and tropical climate are ideal for growing high-quality coffee. Rwandan farmers cultivate some of the finest, specialty Bourbon Arabica in the world, and yet they typically receive less than 1% of what consumers pay for a cappuccino. RBC was founded in 2013 with a commitment to profit sharing–providing 50% of profits to the farmers for healthcare, education, and infrastructure services. The company employs seven people in Maine and plans to add five full-time, year-round employees in the next 12 months.
One of the biggest challenges RBC faces as it grows is the capital needed to secure inventory in bulk from Rwanda. A down payment is required, with the remaining balance due at delivery. The vendor has to secure the inventory on credit—a high, upfront cost that is passed on to RBC, creating a strain on operating cash flow. Funds that would otherwise be available to expand the subscription model are tied up while the coffee is roasted and processed for retail. The COVID-19 pandemic has made logistical matters even harder and more expensive.
Given that the coffee shipping containers are imported from overseas, and the business has limited collateral, traditional banks were hesitant to provide working capital. Mwenedata, who immigrated to the U.S. from Rwanda in 2010, and his business partner, Ben Graffius, approached Maine-based community development financial institution Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) for business advice and financing to help solve their conundrum. In December 2021, RBC secured a $100,000 loan from CEI, providing the working capital that the business needed to cover inventory expenses. Additional funds will be used for marketing purposes to help RBC grow its subscription business and diversify its revenue stream. The company has committed to working with CEI’s workforce solutions team to attract and retain additional workers.
“CEI has been a great partner to understand what our needs and challenges are as a small business and help us come up with a solution to help directly solve it,” said Mwendedata. “This funding allowed us to secure our large inventory needed to supply our growing business as well as allow us to continue our mission to buy directly from the farmers cooperatives.”
In 2021, the RBC achieved a number of milestones. A growing number of Whole Foods and Hannaford stores in New England offer the coffee. Other major accounts include contracts with WEX and Canopy Hotel in Portland. RBC principals are exploring distribution opportunities in Singapore and Southeast Asia with Securefood and the business opened a café and distillery in Kigali, Rwanda.
Learn More About Rwanda Bean
- Website: https://rwandabean.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RwandaBeanCompany
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rwandabeancompany/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/rwandabean
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