The Biz Fix

De Niro's wife brews up fair-trade coffee business

The Biz Fix

Grace Hightower De Niro started her business, Coffees of Rwanda, two years ago. Her goal was to help increase the sustainable farming system of that formerly war-torn country, and toward that end, it buys coffee beans directly from Rwandan farmers at above fair-trade market price. She was inspired by a speech she had heard by the country’s president, Paul Kagame.

“One of the things that resonated with me was when he said he wanted for his country, his people, ‘trade, not aid,’” she said. “I had not heard of a so-called Third World country being this progressive-thinking. So I went there … saw the people and met the people and met the farmers, and they just have this amazing sincerity and gratitude and a desire to create, a desire to work.”

Marcus Lemonis of CNBC’s “The Profit” met with her at New York City’s Tribeca Grill Screening Room in May 2014. He gave her succinct and actionable advice—change the name.

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“I went back and I played with the packaging,” De Niro said. “My team and I came up with ‘Coffee of Grace.’ And I love that. I love the idea that ‘grace’ has many meanings. And because, for those who know Rwanda and the people, it is a very graceful country. Especially after the atrocities, it’s a wonderful, graceful country, filled with graceful people.”

Lemonis also suggested changing the packaging to emphasize the relationship between the product and the people who produce it.

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“Consumers are funny,” he said. “People think that they buy from people who market the best. ... But people typically buy from people. They buy relationships. … In a product like this that's got love and care and meaning, you have to be able to tell that story.”

After meeting with Lemonis, De Niro went back to the drawing board, and she and her team are in the process of changing the packaging. If all goes according to plan, Coffee of Grace should be on store shelves within a few months.

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“I think it’s very important that the people part, that people understand where this coffee comes from, what goes into the actual making of it from seed to the table,” she said. “I’m hoping that people will be interested in knowing this whole process.”

Follow The Profit's Marcus Lemonis on Twitter: @marcuslemonis

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