Image courtesy of Colleen Popkin

The Many Lives of Laughing Man® Coffee: Colleen Popkin knows that sustainability is two-pronged effort

By Rachel Millman

Colleen Popkin has visited coffee farmers in 14 countries around the world and remembers those faces as she sips her coffee each morning. A Senior Manager in Supply Chain Sustainability, Popkin is responsible for investing in programs that improve the lives of farmers supplying beans for Laughing Man® Coffee, as well as other brands. Anyone who talks with Popkin for five minutes will note that her enthusiasm is contagious: whether talking about her duties with Keurig Dr Pepper – where she’s been since 2011 – or the collaborative opportunities she finds while working with the Laughing Man Foundation, Popkin prides herself on making connections between purpose-driven coffee brands and the real-life issues facing farmers responsible for their product.

Part of the brand mission for Laughing Man® Coffee is to improve the lives of farmers with every cup of coffee they sell. Popkin is inspired by this cause and puts her money where her mouth is regularly meeting with coffee suppliers, peer companies, and nonprofit organizations to develop relationships across global communities in pursuit of this mission. Since day one, Popkin has considered herself incredibly fortunate to be able to connect with those at the origin of her company’s products and is regularly wowed by their curiosity and compassion. “Over and over, I am moved by the hard work that [the farmers] do, their passion for their product, and their interest in our business,” Popkin says, adding “[Not to mention] their willingness to open [up] their homes and hearts to me.”

On a recent trip to a remote region of Colombia (3.5 hours up a rocky mountain road), Popkin visited a farm and met with youth leaders of a local coffee cooperative. “One young woman introduced herself saying ‘I was born under a coffee branch, and here I want to stay – working in coffee for the rest of my life,’” Colleen recalled. “In a region that was once plagued by armed conflict, this woman’s perseverance gave me hope that we can find ways to motivate the next generation of coffee farmers to stay in the trade. We then shared a meal, celebrated two birthdays, and hopped back onto our 4x4s to make the long journey back to town.”

While human connections inspire Popkin on an everyday basis, she also acknowledges that her specific role means creating a sustainable product. “We always talk about two sides of the coin when we talk about our work in coffee. On the one side, it involves compliance to social and environmental standards and making sure that we understand the conditions that are present on the ground in the places where we're buying coffee,” Popkin says, “for example, that there are responsible labor practices in place.” She goes on to say, “on the other side, it involves going beyond compliance to those standards and meaningfully engaging [with producers] to solve some of the intractable issues that impact coffee farmers every day – climate change, market volatility, [as well as] water and food security.”

Popkin says she came to coffee because of the fact that millions not only drink coffee, but depend on it for their livelihoods. She didn’t expect to become fascinated with the product itself, claiming, “I drank it, but I didn't really understand the magic.”

This article was sponsored by Laughing Man® Coffee.