“I consider working for the coffee industry a privilege. Having been part of the industry for as long as I have, it gives you such a deep appreciation for your colleagues, others in the business, and the business as a whole. You appreciate it more and more the longer you work in coffee.”– Rob Menos
Approaching 30 years in the coffee industry, Rob Menos, Director of Business Development at Sucafina, is no stranger to coffee and all that comes with it. In addition to his role at Sucafina, Rob is the current Chair of the National Coffee Association (NCA) Board of Directors.
Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager at MZB-USA and Next Gen Council Member, had the opportunity to chat with Rob about his background in the industry and his current outlook on the NCA. The statement quoted at the start of the article was made by Rob during his interview, and while it not only reflects Rob’s character and passion for the trade, it truly represents the extraordinary qualities of our industry and the many, many individuals behind it.
Tell us about your background and career development. How did you get your start in coffee?
In 1993, I started my coffee career working for Wechsler Coffee Corporation out of Moonachie, New Jersey in a green coffee procurement role. A very good friend of mine at the time was working for Wechsler in a sales role in the city, and he set me up for the interview. Initially, I interviewed for an accounts receivable job, but the HR manager felt that I was overqualified and suggested that I may be a better fit for a green coffee procurement role that they hadn’t even posted yet! After 7 years with Wechsler, I joined Rothfos Corporation as a trader, and after 7 years with Rothfos, I went to Coex where I spent 13 years. Now I am with Sucafina where I have been for 2 years.
Before this role in coffee, I was going to school and working in collections at a medical office, dealing with insurance companies. Talk about a way to develop thick skin in life! The amount of times that I have had people hang up on me…It prepared me very well to learn how to work with other people; it was truly a life lesson!
What did you think of working for a roaster versus a trade house?
Going from roaster to trade house worked well for me as I had a good appreciation of the challenges that roasters deal with because I lived through those challenges myself. I was able to communicate this internally when needed, and it provided me with a strong foundation.
However, making the transition over to importing opened up a totally different side of the world. Suddenly, you have this direct exposure to origin. Having the ability to connect those dots and developing relationships with exporters, cooperatives, and producers – it completes the picture in a way. Living and breathing manufacturing as a roaster and then working as an importer and in trading gave me an understanding of the whole spectrum, which I appreciated.
What made you want to stay working in coffee as opposed to moving to another commodity or industry?
For me, its two-fold. First off, it’s the complexity of the coffee business itself. Think about all of the work that goes into the supply chain from tree to cup; think about all of the players who are involved and all of the hands who touch it. Secondly, and this was important to me personally, it’s the comradery and the sense of community. I have many friends outside of coffee who have met many of my industry friends over the years, and the one comment that I have consistently heard is how amazing it is that you can have competitors in a room enjoying each other! You don’t see that anywhere else! Early on, I saw the relationships had by others in the industry, and I found it so impressive; it made me want to stay!
Tell us about your current role as Director of Business Development at Sucafina.
Aside from the trading aspect and the day-to-day roaster interaction, I am responsible for coordinating supply chains and trading opportunities for Sucafina’s global network and bringing them to the North American roaster community. For example, let’s say that a roaster has a new customer, and to service them, you will need to develop a new supply chain out of Papua New Guinea (PNG) that meets certain requirements. I will work with our team out of PNG to get the supply chain off the ground and to guarantee that it will fulfill the roaster’s needs as our customer. In doing this, we utilize Sucafina’s global network to see how we can incorporate it into our existing customer base organically or to potentially develop it with new customers.
What is your most memorable coffee experience?
It had to be my first origin trip which was to Guatemala. Once again, it really helped me to connect the dots and develop a better understanding. There is a big difference between what you hear versus what you experience for yourself and visualize. You take that personal experience and later apply it to other origin countries in comparison. It gave me such a high level of appreciation for what we do as an industry and as a business and of course, a great understanding for the high level of work that is done at origin. It really helped me in my career development.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you early on in your career? Is there anything that you would do differently if you went back and could do it over again?
I consider myself very fortunate because I had two mentors very early on in my career. Mentorship is such an important point to highlight. In this case, both of my mentors were in coffee, but they help me on so many different levels, not just related to coffee, but to life in general. To have people who are genuinely looking out for you, and who can provide you with that kind of guidance, is priceless.
Looking back, if I were to do it over again, I would spend some time working in origin on the export side to have exposure to that part of the supply chain. I certainly would have benefited from that experience.
What is your favorite origin for coffee-drinking purposes and for travel purposes?
For travel, Guatemala. Guatemala was my first origin trip, so I have always had this emotional connection to it, and I have lots of good relationships there. I also love Colombia – Colombia has so many different producers, yet it is amazing to see the consistency in the quality that they export as a country in addition to the different profiles that they can offer as well.
How did you first get involved in the NCA?
Apart from attending the conventions over the years, I really was more engaged once I joined the NCA Board around 7 years ago. Looking at it now, there are so many great opportunities that the NCA offers today. A perfect example is the Next Gen Council – I wish I had that in my day, to be honest with you! Talk about a great platform for younger professionals to not only meet and network, but to develop for a future role on the NCA Board down the road. It is a huge benefit for a young professional to have that opportunity. The NCA Annual Conventions also provided me with great opportunities in terms of networking and the chance to meet with customers, attend different sessions, and participate in the Day of Service, but my involvement level really changed when I joined the Board.
For anyone who might not know, what is the role of the NCA and can you share some of the benefits of NCA membership for both companies and individuals? Are there any “hidden gems” in terms of benefits?
For companies, the NCA acts as a leading voice for the industry in terms of regulatory and industry matters in addition to providing market research and a platform for coffee education. The NCA keeps the membership well informed of anything important that is occurring at the time and impacting the industry in any way. There is also tremendous work done by the Scientific Leadership Council. This is a group of very smart people – 100 times smarter than me! – but they do such great work to benefit the membership and us as an industry.
From an individual perspective, there are many opportunities on the education side, from webinars to other on demand resources, in addition to great networking. As far as “hidden gems,” I think that in many companies, not all employees have a good understanding of what is available as a member. From webinars to market research to other data, distribution of the availability of information to employees is critical.
If you had to describe the NCA in one word, what would it be and why?
In my mind, the NCA is an advocate in many different ways. The NCA highlights the many positive benefits of coffee, and it tackles all kinds of issues from labeling laws to tariffs and beyond. The NCA takes the lead role in that, acting as the leading voice for the industry and advocating for its members. Frankly, at this stage, because Bill Murray and his staff have done such a great job, they have set the level of expectation so high that the industry automatically looks to the NCA to deal with an issue or for guidance and education.
On behalf of the Next Gen Council, we extend our sincere thanks to Rob for his time and dedication to not only this interview, but to the NCA and the industry at large. Rob emphasized the importance of comradery and relationships in coffee several times throughout the interview, and this environment that we all cherish throughout the industry would not be the case without so many strong, established industry leaders such as himself and many others who are willing to support the industry and the “Next Gen” of coffee leaders.
If you are interested in learning more about the NCA Next Gen Council, check us out here!