Black-Owned Coffee Brand Uses Partnerships to Increase Profit While Promoting Social Justice

A Des Moines, Iowa-based coffee company is partnering with national brands to expand their profit margin while also promoting social justice initiatives.  

BLK & Bold offers specialty coffee — traditional light, medium and dark roast coffee blends, as well as single-origin coffees from Honduras. From blends such as BLK & Bold, the company’s signature blend that guarantees to make drinkers alert to Smoov Operator, the ultimate dessert coffee, BLK & Bold has a coffee blend for every time of day. The company has only been in business for four years, but founders Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson are using their expertise as marketing and fundraising professionals to build a brand focused on partnerships and social justice. 

BLK & Bold founders Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson (Photo: Facebook)

A recent survey by Statista found that 32 percent of African-Americans drank gourmet coffee beverages, followed by espresso-based beverages. While there are no concrete numbers on how many independent Black-owned coffee brands exist, there are at least 20 in operation throughout the U.S. 

“It’s ‘wild’ how few Black-owned coffee companies are nationally distributed,” Cezar said in a recent interview with CNBC. “Coffee’s been around since the Boston Tea Party.” Cezar attributes the limited number of black-owned coffee brands to a lack of resources or limited information. However, this is not stopping the co-founders from growing their business.

Change is Brewing: BLK & Bold Commits to Social Entrepreneurship with Ben & Jerry’s Deal

What makes BLK & Bold stand out amongst other Black-owned coffee brands is that it is the first nationally distributed African-American-owned coffee company. Also unique is the brand’s commitment to social justice. 

Both Cezar and Johnson grew up in Gary, Indiana, and they spent their free time at a local Boys and Girls Club, a national organization that offers after-school programs for young people. As a result of the experience with the Boys and Girls Club, Cezar and Johnson understand the importance of youth development and social justice initiatives.

Today, the founders donate 5 percent of their total profits to nonprofit organizations supporting youth in underserved communities throughout the U.S. And that’s not all. They actively partner with other brands with a mission of promoting social justice and youth development. 

In September, the company joined forces with the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand to launch a coffee ice cream named Change is Brewing. The partnership promotes the People’s Response Act, a bill proposed by Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri to end police brutality against people with mental illnesses. 

Cezar attributes BLK & Bold’s success to the conscientiousness of consumers who want to support equality in society. “I like to hope that dynamic doesn’t get lost,” Cezar said in an interview with CNBC. “Because it’s a bigger society issue, more so than it is a one-brand or one-product challenge.”

Humble Beginnings

The childhood friends established BLK & Bold after Cezar, a coffee enthusiast, asked Johnson to help him build the brand. Johnson, an avid tea drinker, was leery but decided to try the business venture. The friends began by producing a single roasting out of Cezar’s garage. Cezar took on the role of CEO while Johnson assumed the role of CMO. The company sold bags of their home-roasted beans to independent coffee shops and retailers throughout the Midwest. They also relied on their e-commerce website for sales. The co-founders used social media to market their business.

The co-founders describe their entrepreneurial journey as going “down the rabbit hole,” in a recent interview. The startup meant the two had to take professional and financial risks. They invested more than $20,000 of their personal savings into launching and growing the BLK & Bold brand. As the business grew, both took the ultimate leap: they resigned from their 9-to-5 jobs to run their BLK & Bold full-time.

Retail and E-Commerce Partnerships Accelerated Growth

By 2020, BLK & Bold products were sold in 200 Target locations throughout the United States. And a partnership with Whole Foods and Hy-Vee has allowed the brand to grow.

Then, in the summer of 2020, when BLK & Bold was featured prominently as part of Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator program, their online sales skyrocketed. 

Today, the co-founders are operating out of a 20,000-square-foot commercial facility. The co-founders expanded their offerings to include loose leaf tea and other beverage-related merchandise.

The company also became the first Black-owned food and beverage brand to sign a licensing agreement with the NBA. Developing a coffee flavor named The Warm Up, the company sees this as the beginning of a great working relationship.

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