Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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93 www.baristamagazine.com Frank Dennis: I was born in Toronto in the 1960s, back when there were only six teams in the National Hockey League. As you can probably guess, I was a huge hockey fan, and in particular a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the very beginning. I also played hockey all the time—summer, winter, basement, or street, even outdoor ice practices at 6 a.m. So cold! My father worked for Kellogg's for many years; eventually he was promoted and our family relocated to the company's head office in Battle Creek, Mich. We moved there when I was in fifth grade, and living in a foreign country at that age helped give me a new perspective. We learned the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, and all 50 states with their capitals. We visited the oval office when Gerald Ford (from Michigan) was in office while on a trip to historic Williamsburg, Pa. We did our best to be good Americans, learning to play four-down football, baseball, tennis, and basketball. We only lived in Michigan for a few years before returning to Canada. But through that experience, I learned there are differ- ences between America and Canada, and that both countries have their own distinct character and attributes. I think having this experience at a young age helped me have a more open mind as I began traveling in coffee much later, particularly in learning to respect the cultural and business differences across the 30-some- odd countries I have visited. BMag: What was your relationship with coffee as a young person? FD: My French grandmother from Quebec City was the fi rst person to introduce coffee to us kids as a beverage to consume. She always had coffee available for us to go along with the cookies she baked. She used saccharine pills for sweetener, and we used a ton of sugar of course. But she expected that kids would drink coffee. My fi rst summer job at age 13 was in the service industry. I was a shoeshine boy at a high-end golf club in Toronto for three sum- mers—$2.15 per hour, no tips, and you better smile to the members. Luckily, free commercial-grade coffee was in abundance, since the speed of shoe shines was a factor in this business! I worked many jobs in my youth, from cleaning at a theme park to doing the graveyard shift at an industrial aluminum-beer-can-stamping plant. There was always coffee at these jobs, and it was all about volume rather than quality. I developed an appreciation for burnt, oxidized, or chicken- soup-fl avor-tinged coffee. BMag: What did you study in school, and what did you originally think you might pursue professionally? FD: I studied economics at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. I wanted to work for the Bank of Canada, but then I realized that you had to really understand macroeconomics to work for a national bank. That was a problem for me; I found it to be too challenging to grasp. Microeconomics suited me better, and that discipline is more relevant to consumer behavior. Understanding con- sumer behavior is the root of marketing, and so I began to craft a path toward a marketing career. When I fi nished my undergraduate degree, I went to Sydney, Australia, for a year to work as a sales rep for Tetra Pak—those little drinking boxes were huge in the 1980s. My job was selling equipment to dairy and juice plants throughout Australia. This experience pro- vided me with more insight into international cross-cultural business practices and approaches that allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. Logging the year in Australia also helped me get into an MBA program at the University of Toronto, where I started down the path of becoming a marketing professional. BMag: Can you talk about your early career and your time at Kraft? FD: After earning my MBA I spent a few years at Braun Canada, the small appliance maker, where my job was to market coffee makers and food processors. From there I went to Kraft Canada—originally I was an assistant product manager for Kraft Dinner (Macaroni & Cheese). It was a super-fun job marketing to kids and young adults, and I learned a lot about the methodology of a world-class packaged goods manufacturing business. That job felt a bit like working on my marketing Ph.D. After fi ve years working on various brands at Kraft I got moved to their newly acquired specialty-coffee brand: Nabob Coffee Company from Vancouver, Canada. This business was purchased by Kraft in 1993 and was in fact reasonably specialty at the time compared to all of the Kraft General Foods brands like Maxwell House. In fact, Na- bob was the fi rst grocery-coffee brand that had an organic product in Canada. BMag: Can you describe how you fi rst came to work with Swiss Wa- ter, and how the company eventually separated from Kraft?

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