Spirit Bear Coffee: Respecting Tradition While Embracing Innovation

They say the art of conversation begins with a great cup of coffee, and Paul Biglin would surely agree. Biglin is the Co-Founder and Co-President of Spirit Bear Coffee, based in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Spirit Bear Coffee is Canada’s first National Indigenous coffee company, serving up certified organic and fair-trade coffee. Biglin says, “If you can sit down over a cup of coffee, whether it's at the boardroom table, the kitchen table, or the coffee table . . . People drop their shoulders and become human again.”

Spirit Bear Coffee has been a GS1 Canada subscriber since 2009. “We began roasting coffee back in 2006 and developed the Spirit Bear Coffee brand and launched it in 2008,” said Biglin, referencing himself and co-founder Sean Harding. Back then, the brand jumped into grocery but had a hard time getting traction in retail because they weren’t well-known. Instead, they decided to focus on the foodservice industry where people could sample their product and get to know the brand. Before long, they were the official coffee for Whistler Blackcomb and now they’re the brew of choice at more than 13 Canadian universities and over 50 resorts. Spirit Bear Coffee also sells through their own website and other First Nations websites. Harding says, “We’re always trying to expand our marketplace and work with other nations. Our goal is to work with every nation in the world." In the future, the company sees the business going beyond UPC codes and into more GS1 standards as they re-enter grocery and pursue specialty grocery and other market opportunities.

Biglin’s Advice for New Businesses

“Get a trademark! Unless you own your trademark, it’s not your brand.”

The ethos of Spirit Bear Coffee can be expressed through Biglin’s summary of how the company navigated a rocky start: “Once we pulled out of grocery, we took a step back and said okay, as an Indigenous company, what are the things that are important to us?” The company leaned into their Indigenous roots, producing blends that are a tribute to their heritage, including Raven espresso beans that are “full of life and strength”, Eagle medium roast with “soaring flavour” and Frog-Breakfast Blend light roast to “jump start your day”. Spirit Bear Coffee has also embraced the animals that symbolize tradition through social initiatives such as the bear cub program with the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter and a fundraiser for the Ocean Alliance. Says Biglin, “Our customers are telling our story just by buying our coffee. Because they believe in our products and causes.”

As a guest lecturer at UBC Sauder School of Business, Biglin works with a lot of small businesses and Indigenous-owned organizations in a mentorship capacity. He knows that exposure to new marketplaces can propel a brand forward. For GS1 Canada, standards ensure that companies can provide information to trading partners in a consistent, complete and interconnected way. Biglin says that working with GS1 for the issuing and registration of barcodes has allowed Spirit Bear Coffee to be recognized as a commercially viable brand, providing help with standardization and delivery (a former pain point). “I would like to see a system where GS1 Canada connects small businesses with retailers and helps support them working together and just getting those opportunities for an introduction and to connect,” said Biglin.

Helping small businesses succeed is exactly what GS1 Canada aims to do with a host of new initiatives and programs. As Spirit Bear Coffee looks to expand into the US and grow their ecommerce footprint, we’ll be there to support them with the tools and services they need to realize their potential.

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