[INTERVIEW] COO of Black Owned Holland Valley Coffee Brand, Details Entering Competitive Market

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While the trendy hashtags and social media posts may have died down, supporting Black businesses is still more important than ever. It can be challenging to find black owned companies for all your favorite products, but we’re here to help! We’ve all heard of Starbucks and Dunkin’; coffee fans know Peet’s and even Lavazza, but let us introduce you to the Black owned brand, Holland Valley Coffee!

The Atlanta based company is known for their 100% authentic Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Yes, you read that correctly- authentic. After the beans are roasted, they must be formally approved by the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board (JCIB) and Holland Valley proudly sports their seal of approval!

We recently sat down with Holland Valley’s Chief Operating Officer Tony Hansen to hear more about their story. Check it out below!

Parlé Mag: Thanks so much for sitting down with us! Can you tell us the history of Holland Valley Coffee and how you got started?
Tony Hansen: We got started probably, I would say 4 years ago. Our founder Sean Holland, that’s where the name Holland Valley comes from, he’d been doing research on coffee and doing cuppings for some time before we partnered together. We were working together on another endeavor and he told me about his passion and his project relating to Holland Valley Coffee and said, ‘Hey, I need your help with this!’. I have a background in marketing [and] branding, so he saw what I was able to do in another venture and brought me along. We became partners; we started getting some branding ideas together, packaging, just to differentiate us from what’s out there now and help us really stand out and encroach on the luxury space of coffee. We’re trying to compete with the big boys, like the Green Mountains and Peet’s. I think Peet’s is probably one of our closest competitors. 


Sean Holland Holland Valley Coffee CEO
Sean Holland, Holland Valley Coffee Founder & CEO

Parlé Mag: So you touched on it a bit, but why coffee? Where did the passion come from for coffee specifically?
Tony Hansen: Well Sean was doing some research on different commodities and he said behind oil, coffee is the second most traded commodity on the globe. He just started to get inspired from the Starbucks story [and] another brand’s story. I forgot the gentleman, [but] he was doing a lot of homework with him and this guy was just out on a mission trying to find the best bean, source the best product, he would go to these far out regions and third-world countries and find the best beans. That’s what Sean is mimicking with those stories; he wants us to have the best quality and fortunately we’ve been able to source some real high quality, limited coffee beans. 

Parlé Mag: So for people who are coffee novices, or tea drinkers like myself, what do you look for in the coffee bean? What makes the best, premium, high quality coffee?
Tony Hansen: So one of our direct trade partners is in Jamaica. There’s a bean that they grow in Jamaica and it’s only in four parishes in Jamaica. It’s [the] Jamaican blue mountain coffee bean. So the elevation, the environment, the climate can really determine the chemical makeup of the bean. The Jamaican blue mountain coffee is grown at 7500 feet altitude, so it really gives a sweetness in the fermentation of the bean and it has cocoa notes so it tastes a little bit like chocolate milk- really sweet! So it’s not what you’re used to. I know [for] a lot of people if they like their coffee black, it has a bitter taste but this coffee will remind you of a hot chocolate. 

Just having those qualities of beans and trying to figure out the best way to get different flavors out of the chemical makeup- and then the roasting process is another process! We can determine the flavor of a bean from their roast profiles, that’s when you start getting into light roast, medium roast and dark roast. That determines also the caffeination of the bean. A lot of people like that high power kick; they need that to jumpstart the day.

Parlé Mag: Whenever I meet coffee drinkers, I always ask ‘How many cups a day are you on?’ Haha!
Tony Hansen: Haha! Yeah I’m on my second cup. I’m probably gonna have a refill. 

Parlé Mag: I had no idea it was such a science! The elevation it’s grown at, the environment. I guess that makes sense why you often hear of coffee coming from South America or pretty much warmer climates.
Tony Hansen: Yeah and the altitude really is a factor when it comes to fermentation, the levels that it’s grown on. Sean and I attended a cupping not too long ago and there was a coffee farmer from Colombia and that was their issue. They really were losing market share because everybody was looking for that higher altitude grown bean, so they came up with a device where they could determine the fermentation of the beans and knew exactly when to pick them. Yeah, it’s crazy! The space is really getting interesting because people are figuring out how to compete even from that level, from the coffee farmers who are really struggling to get people to procure beans from their farm. So, to keep up with the times and really gain market share and gain traction, these farmers in South America and Africa are really figuring out how to compete. 

Parlé Mag: You brought up a really good point- competition. So there’s Peet’s and other similar businesses. How do you break through the clutter?
Tony Hansen: I think what was really important for us early on was trying to make not a huge splash, but a big enough splash in the market. That’s how we met Meredith Lancaster through her Jade Umbrella Public Relations firm. We signed up with her PR firm and we did our launch out in Los Angeles during CoffeeFest. 

So we did the CoffeeFest and we did a big launch party in Beverly Hills and had a lot of media outlets come. We made a big splash and now we’re Google-able, haha! And it’s still paying dividends til today. 

That was about two years ago and I think that really helped us launch our brand- and also the packaging! Our packaging is really unique; we have metallic highlights, there’s not a lot of coffee brands doing that. If they do it, it kinda looks like more aluminum. Ours is a little bit more muted with the new, trendy matte color packaging. It’s kind of fresh, new. We have colors that pop to make us stand out; that’s something that we had to learn along the way. 

We were in discussions with a supermarket chain here in the southeast region and we spoke to one of the regional managers and he just said ‘Hey put the packaging next to the coffee and let’s just walk down the aisle and see if it stands out.’ It kind of blended in the back of Peet’s, Green Mountain, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks. Our color palette was kind of similar, so what we decided is to make these really colorful changes, depending on our roast. 

So we have three coffee blends in our product line now; we have the Jamaican Blue Mountain- which has a kind of blue highlight color in the packaging, then we have Colombian Supremo and that has a purple, almost neon color to it and then we have our Signature blend, which is the Solar. Solar is a mix of the Brazilian and Indian bean, and it’s really highly caffeinated so it has the neon, orange glow to the packaging. So that’s something we did to stand out and we get a lot of positive feedback from it. Now we’re going into our ‘C’ round of funding with some of the VCs, and the VCs are like, ‘Hey, this packaging is really cool.’ So, we really appreciate that feedback from some of the bumps in the road we experienced early on. 

Parlé Mag: That’s so interesting! When you think about starting a business, of course you think about your logo and website. But even down to the packaging, the colors that you use and fonts–I’m sure that made such a difference!
Tony Hansen: It does! You’d be surprised [at] some of the questions we get–‘what does this mean?’, ‘What does this represent?’ Haha! People will really get that intricate when it comes to branding and packaging. 

Holland Valley Coffee Logo

Parlé Mag: On a similar note, what were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome when you were starting out?
Tony Hansen: I think we’ve been pretty lucky; we didn’t have many because I believe Sean did a really great job before he decided to launch the brand, he knew what to look out for. But we did have a couple of challenges. Like when we partnered with a farmer in Jamaica, we didn’t know anything about having an import/export broker, so when we imported our first packages of beans from Jamaica we didn’t know you can’t just go to the airport and go to customs and go to pick them up. We had to have a broker sign on, we had some paperwork…so it was a little bump in the road–not much. 

Then we were going to explore the CBD industry; we had CBD-infused nitro cold brew. We went along, we sourced some of that, we got some sample product runs and then the laws changed up on us a bit. We couldn’t say it was CBD-infused because that implied cannabinoids, so now they want you to say it’s ‘hemp-derived’. So with all of the challenges from one moment to the next, it was like a white hot space and then it went totally cold because of so many roadblocks. So we decided to just not go down that road with the CBD and went with some other flavors that will be easier to be accepted in some of the bigger retail chain stores. That was a challenge we had to overcome; kind of retrenching and regrouping and figuring things out along the journey. It helped us really think on our feet and react in a timely manner. 

Parlé Mag: Starting a business is not for the faint of heart! It sounds like persistence is key.
Tony Hansen: Yeah persistence is key and then using the people in your network. You want to use all of your resources; it’s not always about funding, it’s not always about trying to get ahead using somebody else’s resources. It’s about looking [at] who’s around you and who can help and picking people’s brains, brainstorming, going out and talking to the people, talking to people who like coffee. So when we launched and did coffee fest, we were an exhibitor, and we learned a lot from people who’ve been in this space for decades. We learned some of the stuff we were doing wrong with the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans! 

There was a guy, they call him Mr. Bean in the industry, he’s from Los Angeles. He was saying when you serve the coffee, make sure it’s at a certain temperature, it has to be brewed with distilled water, you don’t put any creamer or sugars in anything–they like to drink it straight! So we learned that at the exhibit. Then people were like, ‘There’s so many knock-offs of Jamaican Blue Mountain, do you guys have the real thing?’. Some of the coffee snobs came by, they tasted and they were like, ‘Wow! This is it!’ 

It gets really deep because we have a competitor and we thought we priced around what they price their product at, but we learned at the exhibit that this company–it’s not 100% Jamaican Blue Mountain bean. They blend it! It’s a blended bean, so they promote that it’s 100% Jamaican Blue Mountain, but it’s actually not.

Parlé Mag: That’s not surprising from a big company!
Tony Hansen: With Jamaican Blue Mountain specifically, it’s one of the most expensive beans because it’s so limited. 80% of it is exported to Japan and that’s been a relationship between Jamaica and Japan for over 100 years! So it’s really limited and like I said, it’s a small region of Jamaica. But it’s a great coffee.

Parlé Mag: Nice! So you touched on networking; when you meet with new business owners, what advice do you give them?
Tony Hansen: Be persistent, use your network, do your research, start small, fail early, don’t be afraid to fail, take risks–but calculated risks. Get feedback, know what your core competencies are, figure that out and just grow from there!

Parlé Mag: You were prepared haha! Thank you for that! Finally, what’s the vision for Holland Valley? Do you want a store on every corner or do you have something a little different in mind?
Tony Hansen: Um, something a little different. I don’t think we’d do the brick and mortar, [trying] to compete with Starbucks. Coffee is just one part of their business, they sell food, they sell tea. They have the experience in the stores, but to me now you’re getting into the real estate business. Haha! So we want to stay in our lane, focus on digital sales, focus on supermarket chains across the US. Maybe with the higher end coffee we’ll do boutique hotels… resorts. We’re having those conversations now. 

After our C round, I think once we have a larger marketing budget we’ll do some really cool things to get more attention and gain market share. So look out, we have some cool things in the works!

Parlé Mag: Anything specific we should look out for coming soon?
Tony Hansen: Yeah! We’re gonna do some really cool commercial segments with some brand influencers and ambassadors that you may be familiar with. 


Check out Holland Valley and their coffee here:


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