The most important brand is yours

What does it take to be a private label roaster? Does it make sense for your business? S&D Coffee & Tea looks at three areas and explores the pros and cons of each. By Helen Griffith

With nearly a hundred years of beverage innovation to our name, S&D Coffee & Tea, based in Concord, North Carolina is the largest custom coffee roaster and iced tea blender to restaurants and convenience stores across the United States. As a private label supplier, we adopted the phrase, “the most important brand is yours” more than 20 years ago. That mantra still holds true today and continues to influence every aspect of our business.

Industry Expertise

To be a successful custom roaster, you must position yourself as an expert in both your and your customers’ fields. This means demonstrating you understand their needs, the needs of their consumers and are fully invested in helping them grow their business. Your experience with a variety of distribution models and a diverse customer base – from national distributors to commercial and non-commercial foodservice – will be the foundation of your success.

Once you have won the business, you will have to be vigilant to keep it. Building equity in the new brand will help you cement your relationship with your customer. It is critical as their private label roaster you help them build brand loyalty with their consumer base. Their consumers enjoy the best coffee, your customer enjoys increased profits as they see cup sales increase. Success begets success and is the best way to defend against any competitive pressure you may get from big national brands as well as other private label manufacturers.

While nationally branded manufacturers likely find it difficult to compete in the private label arena, other private label roasters may try simply by undercutting your price. This is a common disadvantage of being a private label roaster. Being vigilant with delivering value-added services is one way to protect the business from other private label roasters.

Understanding the marketplace and forecasting trends is essential when you’re a private label supplier. You need to be able to demonstrate your expertise and predict what will drive your customers’ business. At S&D, our product development team helps our customers develop differentiated and profitable menu items. This can be a huge asset for customers looking for extra support.


Customised blends and innovative beverages are also key to helping your customers build their beverage programs. We work closely with our customers to develop proprietary blends that are then white-labeled and offered as our customer’s own product. This is a great benefit for brands looking to set themselves apart in the beverage space.

It is important to make sure you have the resources and flexibility to deal with the operational challenges that can often arise when offering custom blends. From procuring the right bean and developing the perfect blend to being able to roast, grind, pack and ship to the exact specifications required for each distinct customer can be a challenge. Not to mention having to do this for large scale customers. You must examine your ability – both that of your team and your technology – to be able to meet the demands. For us, we learned and refined over our 90-plus year history and continue to adjust to the ever-changing demands of the customer and the consumer.


If you want your own brand to have national recognition, being a private label supplier probably isn’t the direction to go. You need to be comfortable sitting back and letting your customers take credit for your product. With that said, part of being a private label supplier is working with your customers to create mutually beneficial success. For example, when a customer pushes a proprietary product, they may own it, but you benefit from the innovation process and potential variations of the product that can then be sold to other customers.

At S&D, we help develop everything from the packaging to the marketing materials for a brand’s new beverage program. It’s a major differentiating factor for us and it’s a huge help for our customers. It can also present challenges for your team if you’re not equipped with the right resources. When offering custom blends for every client, marketing, merchandising and even managing inventory can start to get complicated. Cost is also a factor to keep in mind. Whether you need to source special materials or hire more people to manage different audience segments (eg, national restaurant chains versus healthcare foodservice), these things can lead to additional costs. It’s all dependent on the services you want to offer and how you want to set yourself apart in this industry.

Should You Be a PL Supplier?

Our company’s vertically integrated partnerships, starting at point of origin, ensure a mutual respect and deep understanding of our products from end to end — delivering quality every time, no matter where in the world the end consumer is located. By investing in sustainable practices at origin, a transparent, ethical supply chain and customized marketing program, we are committed to helping our customers meet their own business and sustainability goals. As a private label supplier, our success comes from our customers’ success, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Helen Griffith is vice president of marketing at Concord, North Carolina-based S&D Coffee & Tea. Under Griffith’s leadership, the marketing team develops strategies by channel and product. She also leads oversight of the Sustainable Sourcing team — and S&D’s signature Raiz Sustainable Sourcing platform.

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