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A Coffee Conundrum

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three-avocados-coffeeA couple days ago, I noticed that there wasn’t much coffee left in the airtight container sitting on my kitchen counter.  I quickly made a mental note to “add coffee to the grocery list.”  A few days later, I happened to see an ad from my favorite Christian radio station, offering a “Free Bag of Monastery Blend Coffee” to anyone who would begin a new monthly donation to their ministry.

Finding the idea of “Monastery Blend” coffee intriguing, I set out on an investigation.  It turns out that the coffee is produced by a small monastery located on Vashon Island in Washington State.  Many years ago, this monastery received quite a bit of publicity when Starbucks threatened them for selling a coffee named “Christmas Blend”.  (I know very little about trademark law, but apparently the United States Patent & Tradmark Office granted Starbucks federal protection for the term “Christmas Blend” many years ago.)

I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea to support the monk’s vocation of prayer by simply re-directing my regular coffee purchase into their operational budget.  I proceeded to add a bag of “Abbot’s Choice” Ground Coffee to my shopping cart.  The price was $9.50.  That seemed reasonable to me;  I’ve probably paid that much for a bag of coffee before, so I proceeded to check out.

In the world of e-commerce, there’s a term called “shopping cart abandonment”.  That’s when someone adds items to their virtual shopping cart, and then abruptly stops in the middle of the checkout process, before paying for their purchase.  My visit to the monastery’s online store turned into an example of this phenomenon very quickly.  Why?  After I entered my shipping address, I discovered that there would be an $11.25 charge for “shipping & handling”, bringing the total cost for one 12 oz bag of coffee to $20.75.  I had set out to re-direct the money I would normally spend on coffee to a higher cause, but in this scenario I would end up paying twice as much for one bag of coffee.  That’s just not what I had initially set out to accomplish.

I decided to see if there was any other alternative for putting my coffee dollars to work.  After a quick Google search for “non-profit coffee”, I discovered a company called “Three Avocados”.  This company was started in Missouri, with the explicit purpose of donating all of their profits to clean-water projects.  (There are 1 BILLION people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water, leading to unnecessary disease and death.)  It’s all too easy to forget these people, since we’ve never met them;  especially when most of us shun our convenient kitchen tap in favor of plastic bottles with a brand name.

According to the Three Avocados website, $3 goes directly into clean water projects for each bag of coffee you buy directly from their website.  So what’s the problem, you say?  That sounds like a wonderful proposition!

Well, maybe I’m cursed with a mind that tends to sees things from a business or economic viewpoint.  Or, maybe it’s a blessing.  I’m not sure at this point in my life.  But let’s do some simple math and see if you can figure out the conundrum that I faced last night:

– Cost of a 12 oz name-brand bag of ground, Arabica coffee from a local retailer
$0.00 – Shipping is negligible;  I’m already making the trip to buy other items anyway
$9.99 – TOTAL COST

$11.99 – Cost of their 12 oz Uganda Bugisu bag of Arabica coffee
$2.95  –  Shipping
$14.94 – TOTAL COST

Can you see the conundrum?  I’ll let you know what I decided to do – if anyone takes a guess at why I found this particular purchase decision to be a “conundrum”.



  1. Stephen Branch Stephen Branch January 16, 2014

    They are making profits above and beyond the $3 donation? It would be like me selling $10 gift cards to Starbucks for $15 and donating $3 to a worthy cause and pocketing $2 off of each sale.

  2. Michael Lee Mason Michael Lee Mason January 16, 2014

    I see your point Stephen. Perhaps they don’t really need to charge $11.99 for the bag of coffee? Why not come down to the $9.99 price point? Are they just gouging a couple extra bucks out of the transaction?

    I don’t think that they they are charging more, just for the sake of charging more. I also don’t think they padding someone’s pockets. I believe that they would probably go out of business if they lowered their prices; their “cost of goods sold”, along with all of their other day-to-day operational expenses are much higher than all of the large competitors (it’s impossible for them to have the same economies of scale as the marketers of Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts packaged coffees).

    When they say that they are able to donate $3 in profit for each bag of coffee sold directly through their website, I take them at their word. To me, that $3 number says, “Hey, when you buy our bag of coffee, we purchase the beans in Uganda, pay to ship them to our roaster in the U.S., have them processed and packaged, pay our CEO a small salary, pay our overhead (website, advertising, utilities, etc.), and then pay for shipping it to you. Then we use what’s left over ($3) to dig a well.”

    So, if that’s true, I pay them a total $14.94. When it’s all said and done, they have $3 to put toward a clean-water project.

    My conundrum was this: If I bought a comparable bag of coffee at Target or Wal-Mart, I could have donated almost $5 to their cause, instead of the $3 that they received when I bought their coffee.

    However, there’s one unknown factor I haven’t mentioned. Three Avocados claims that their coffee is “organic” and sourced using “Fair Trade” principles. I’m not sure that any of the 12 oz bags priced at $9.99 or less stake these same claims.

    Theoretically, if I could find a 12 oz bag of ground “organic” Arabica coffee that was sourced using “Fair Trade” principles at Wal-Mart for less than $11.94 ($14.94 – $3.00), it would be better to buy the Wal-Mart brand and send more than $3.00 to “Three Avocados” for their philanthropic work.

    • Stephen Branch Stephen Branch January 16, 2014

      I just wanted to hear the conundrum.

      • Michael Lee Mason Michael Lee Mason January 16, 2014

        I was afraid no one was going to comment – so thanks for participating! I think I know what’d Stephen Branch would do – he’d grow his own coffee, and it would cost 77 cents for a 12 oz bag!

  3. Michael Lee Mason Michael Lee Mason January 16, 2014

    I forgot to say: I decided to try out a bag of their coffee. Maybe I’ll post a review after I’ve had a chance to try it!

  4. Stephen Branch Stephen Branch January 16, 2014

    Lol or just not drink coffee.

  5. Anna Esther Anna Esther January 27, 2014

    Was it because they’re only donating 3 of the 4 in excess cost beyond what other coffee makers will profit? I have NO IDEA!!!!! But the UCC church I used to work for was big into drinking politically correct coffee.

    • Anna Esther Anna Esther January 27, 2014

      I promise I didn’t read Stephen’s comment first. 😉 And hey, that would be cool to grow your own coffee. I thought about planting apple trees from my apple seeds but then I read that it will take years for that fruit tree to bear fruit and then it may not even be edible. Guess I’ll never be an avid gardener!

    • Michael Lee Mason Michael Lee Mason January 28, 2014

      I spent almost $15 total for the non-profit bag of coffee. I could have bought a $10 bag of coffee at Target and donated the remaining $5 to their clean-water cause. Instead, I bought their bag of coffee, and only $3 went toward clean water.

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