Westrock Coffee Chases ‘Social Impact' in Rwanda

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

When Scott Ford, former CEO of Little Rock’s Alltel Corp., founded Rwanda Trading Co. in 2009, he was still a telecom guy. Now he oversees a growing African coffee business.

Ford created Westrock Coffee Holdings, owner of his current African coffee companies, after negotiating the $27 billion sale of telecommunications company Alltel Corp. to Verizon.

Ford was involved with a school for orphans in Rwanda for several years prior to going into business there, according to Todd Brogdon, CEO of Westrock Coffee Holdings.

When Ford looked to invest in Rwanda, he had already developed relationships with the country’s president and other leaders. Westrock Coffee Holdings owns:

Rwanda Trading Co., which buys coffee from Rwandan farmers and sells it to roasters;

Westrock Coffee, a coffee roasting and packaging company in North Little Rock that is one of Rwanda Trading Co.’s customers; and Tembo Coffee Co., a new coffee-exporting venture in Tanzania.

About 15 percent of Westrock’s roasting business involves delivering its product to offices and industries.

Scott Ford, who was not available for an interview, and his father, Joe, own Westrock Coffee Holdings. Scott Ford knew a lot about duopolies and noticed there were only two major coffee traders in Rwanda’s immature coffee market.

“A third player is what you need to keep everyone on their toes,” Brogdon said.

Ford started Rwanda Trading Co. with goals to work closely with and improve the lives of Rwandan coffee farmers in an economy still recovering from the 1990s genocide.

“We wanted to be a part of a business that would have a tangible impact on the poorest of the poor,” Brogdon said. “A lot of people are good at charity. We were about setting up a sustainable for-profit that gets access to the farmers.”

The roasting company, Westrock Coffee, was a natural fruit of the trading company. Westrock Coffee also buys coffee from traders in Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and Vietnam.



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