Jim Townley’s journey in the coffee business started with a solo vacation to Costa Rica in 1992. Townley, who owned a fitness club in Victoria, B.C., did a tour of a family-run coffee plantation, where he got to see coffee being harvested, processed and roasted. Later, on the plane back to B.C., Townley’s idea for his next business venture started percolating.
“I thought I had pretty high standards for coffee and I found myself revisiting all of those standards,” says Townley, president of Fresh Cup Roastery Café. “The epiphany hit: to enjoy a truly fresh cup of coffee, there has to be a way to provide a higher level of freshness. And that’s why I got passionate about roasting.”
Townley ran his health club for another seven years before selling it, but also spent that time educating himself about the coffee industry and mapping out a vision. Townley realized he wanted to create a craft coffee-roasting business, similar to a microbrewery that makes beer on site. In 2000, Fresh Cup Roastery Café opened its doors in Saanichton, B.C., selling farmer-direct, organic coffee.
Fresh Cup uses a patented roasting system called Roastaire, developed by Townley and his business partners Jaromir Friedrich and Raymond Lemaire. The roaster is significantly more energy-efficient than traditional roasters and has near-zero emissions, which means urban cafés can roast beans on site with no complaints from neighbours about the emissions from roasting.
The compact nature of Fresh Cup’s roasting technology also allowed the company to expand into grocery retail. In 2013, Fresh Cup opened 250-sq.-ft. Roastery Cafés inside two Fresh St. Market locations in B.C. The coffee is roasted on site and sold alongside items like loose-leaf tea, cold draught coffee, bottled cold brew and Fresh Cup’s “guilt-free” recyclable K-cups, which launched late last year. Fresh Cup also supplies another Fresh St. Market location with freshly roasted beans, and has captured more than 80% market share of the premium roasted whole bean category within the stores.
For grocery stores, having an in-house roastery café gives shoppers the “theatre” of the roasting experience—being able to see the process and interact with the roaster, says Townley. But more importantly, it gives customers a fresher, higher-quality product.
According to Townley, roasted coffee should be consumed within 21 days after being roasted. Very few (if any) coffee roasters in Canada can get their coffee from the roaster into customers’ hands within that period of time, he says. “The Fresh Cup system gets the coffee from roaster to the shelf in one day, which lets customers enjoy the coffee at its peak of flavour.”
Townley believes the Fresh Cup concept is going to be next evolution of coffee in grocery. “In a grocery store, there’s an eight-month shelf life on a bag of coffee from one of the large national brands, and that’s just not what the freshness in coffee is all about,” he says. “I think customers are going to demand a higher quality and a fresher product. People demand fresh fish and they demand fresh bread… so it’s clear that customers are choosing freshness.”
Looking ahead, Fresh Cup is aiming to expand the Roastery Café model into grocery stores across Canada. The idea is to have the Roastaire in each location, along with a high-end coffee bar and tasting bar area. Says Townley: “We’re looking for partners that say, ‘we want coffee as a destination category. We want to be known for coffee.’”