Coffee, Culture, and Connections: An Albertsons Companies Food Technologist Deepens Her Passion for Food During Visit to Colombia
When you stand in Jardín, Colombia, the closest Albertsons Companies store is about 2,000 miles away. But the relationship between this 17,000-person community nestled behind the Andes Mountains and Albertsons Cos. is much tighter than that vast distance implies.
Coffee is the foundation of the bond. It was strengthened recently when the Albertsons Cos. Own Brands team did something that’s in the company’s DNA—give back to a community where it does business.
More on that later.
You probably know about Colombia’s well-established reputation for quality coffee beans. Maybe you remember those Juan Valdez ads from years ago? They told us to look for coffee that was “100% Colombian.”
Since then, coffee culture has undergone a renaissance. For some, it’s no longer enough to know only the country of origin. They need to know the region, city, farm, or lot that yields their beans. Drinkers are more knowledgeable than ever.
Albertsons Cos. has responded with innovation and sourcing from some of the best producers in the world. Make no mistake, plenty of customers still reach for the traditional coffee can. But there’s a rising demand for coffees that are single-origin, sustainably farmed, or locally roasted. Or all three.
All of that puts a sharper focus on places like Jardín, Colombia—and people like Jenna Huynh.
Jenna is a Food Technologist on the Own Brands team at Albertsons Cos. She helps bring the company’s private label products from the recipe board all the way to the grocery shelf. Her work covers shelf-stable items: products like tea, olive oil, canned goods, baking mixes, rice, and crucially…coffee.
You see, food is Jenna’s jam. But coffee is her main squeeze. Every morning, she prepares for her day by brewing in her coffee corner at home. She even keeps a growing collection of spent coffee bags as framed artwork in her apartment.
“There are so many variables for coffee that affect the final cup. There are variabilities in the soil and fermentation process at each farm, roasting levels, and even the brewing technique,” said Jenna, who is a food science grad from the University of California, Davis. “Tasting these differences in coffees is fun for me. And when you find that coffee you really enjoy, it’s magic.”
In 2018, the Own Brands team at Albertsons Cos. introduced a new line of high-quality coffees as part of its exclusive top-shelf Signature RESERVE™ brand. One of them is the Signature RESERVE Antioquia Finca Orizaba—sourced from a Rainforest Alliance-certified farm near Jardín, Colombia.
So when it came time for Albertsons Cos. to send someone to Jardín to get to know the farmers and the community better, Jenna was an easy choice.
She visited four different farms and toured a local coffee mill during the trip. Speaking with the farmers and seeing the operation up close was something of a transformational experience.
“It tied a lot of things together,” Jenna said. “I’ve been reading and learning about coffee, yet it is totally different to see the magnitude of it all at the farm. In Colombia, all the coffee is hand-picked. It makes you appreciate every single coffee bean that we get from that region.”
The trip wasn’t entirely about the business of coffee.
Last year, the Own Brands team at Albertsons Cos. learned that the computer lab in the local K-12 school in Jardín was largely dormant. There were no funds for internet access.
With a long history of giving back, the company responded by doing what’s familiar—they took care of people who needed help.
The company made a financial donation to install Internet access, which connected the 64 students in the school to the larger world around them.
When Jenna toured the computer lab, city officials told her that the new capabilities have been a boon to the school. In fact, the community is considering using it for wider opportunities, such as university-level courses.
“It makes me proud to be part of a company that is willing to go beyond borders to give back to communities who need it,” Jenna said.
And the trip deepened Jenna’s passion for what she gets to do every day at Albertsons Cos.
“I don’t think I could ever see myself stepping away from the food industry. It’s always changing. There’s always innovation,” Jenna said. “And it’s something you can always share with other people. There’s lots of language and culture barriers out there.”
“Good food translates all around the world.”
Jenna’s coffee picks:
Signature RESERVE Ethiopian Suke Quto: It has a fruity and rounded character that makes it great served black and with a pastry.
Signature RESERVE Antioquia Finca Orizaba (Colombia): Its medium roast and balanced profile make it great enjoyed as black or with cream and sugar.
Both coffees are Rainforest Alliance-certified, which means they meet important sustainability standards. The coffees are exclusive to Albertsons Cos. stores.