Newspaper article International New York Times

Celebrities Board Coffee Bandwagon ; Combining Philanthropy with Name Recognition Forms Basis for Brands

Newspaper article International New York Times

Celebrities Board Coffee Bandwagon ; Combining Philanthropy with Name Recognition Forms Basis for Brands

Article excerpt

Coffee companies and blends with some sort of celebrity attached to them started appearing around 2010, and their numbers are growing full steam.

If celebrities can design a dress (Gwen Stefani), create perfume (Jennifer Lopez), open a hotel (Giorgio Armani) and crush grapes (Francis Ford Coppola), why not brew a cup of coffee?

Coffee companies and blends with some sort of celebrity attached to them started appearing around 2010, and their numbers are growing full steam. Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey Kramer of Aerosmith, Bob Marley's son Rohan, the philanthropist and performer Grace Hightower and Ralph Lauren have all introduced their own coffee.

For some, investing in coffee is a way of doing good. Ms. Hightower started Coffees of Rwanda after learning that trade, not aid, was sought to help the country rebound after a civil war and genocide.

"I researched what their resources were and found that coffee is its biggest cash crop," she said. "I didn't even know Rwanda had coffee."

An exploratory trip in 2011 proved "eye opening," Ms. Hightower said, adding: "I visited the farms. I did some cupping and found that the coffee was incredible."

She was determined to support small farmers, buying beans directly from them and eliminating any middleman. Part of her motivation was personal.

"My parents were farmers in Mississippi," said Ms. Hightower, who is married to Robert DeNiro, the actor.

In 2012, she started her coffee brand, with 4,500 Rwanda farmers having benefited so far, she said.

"I'm in talks with coffee farmers in Costa Rica, in Panama," Ms. Hightower said. "My vision is to source coffee from around the world."

Rohan Marley started his coffee business with a similar vision, inspired by his late father. After buying "50 acres of luscious green in Jamaica," the younger Marley discovered that the surrounding community used to sustain itself on the coffee that once had grown there.

"I'm Bob's son," Rohan Marley said. "He's my inspiration. What can I give back to the community?"

After years of stops and starts, Marley Coffee was born to "bring jobs back to the community," he said. …

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