A new dawn is arriving for Seattle-based Atlas Coffee Importers as longtime Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Roberts is taking over the leadership position held by Atlas Co-Founder and CEO Craig Holt, who will be leaving the company after assisting the transition.
Holt, who is also a published fiction writer, launched Atlas Coffee Importers in 1998 with business partner Patrick Perkins, who ultimately left to launch coffee logistics and warehousing company The Green Room. Aside from the founders, Roberts was Atlas’ first employee.
“In 1998, I was working for a local grocery store chain for their in-store roasting program when I met Craig and started buying green coffee from Atlas,” Roberts told DCN. “I knew I didn’t want to be in roasting forever and importing seemed like the next logical step. About six months after Atlas opened, I asked Craig if they might have any job openings, and lucky for me, they needed someone to do sample roasting and take orders.”
In 2018, German multinational coffee trading company Neumann Kaffee Gruppe (NKG) made a deal for a majority investment in Atlas. In an announcement of the leadership transfer, NKG said Holt will stay with the company through March in a non-operational role. The company said he is leaving his role as CEO effective Dec 31, 2020.
Said NKG, “He does this very much by his own wish and to pursue different interests — with which we wish him the very best.”
Roberts said she doesn’t expect the change will result in any immediate shakeups to the company’s operations or philosophies. Atlas currently has 22 employees, with a focus squarely on the North American specialty coffee market. [Disclosure: Atlas Coffee Importers is a current DCN advertiser.]
“Joining the NKG family has helped us a lot with access to resources we never had as an independent company, and we have been able to focus on our core competencies of sourcing great coffee, developing markets for emerging origins, and facilitating long-term sustainable relationships between coffee producers and roasters,” Roberts told DCN. “Over the coming years, I expect that the relationship-based sourcing model segment of the market will continue to grow as roasters and consumers look to make positive economic, social, and environmental impacts with their coffee purchasing, and Atlas can be a leader in that area.”
Roberts noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened some operational aspirations for the trading company, including buying larger portions of some producers’ total production in order to maximize prices to producers while also connecting them directly to roasters seeking less pricey but still traceable coffees.
“Things looked really bleak back in April and we really had no idea what was going to happen,” Roberts said. “We worked really hard with all of our clients to find solutions on payment and delivery schedules to help them navigate whatever was going on for them. It was a good reminder for me of the importance of relationships and how we see the work we do as a partnership that should benefit us all. I’m happy that, even though volumes were down, we still did manage to do a lot of direct-trade business and that roasters remained committed to those relationships.”