Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee Continues to Innovate


Paul and Michael Higgins weren’t just raised in the coffee industry, they lived and breathed it. The third-generation executives of Mississauga, Ont.-based Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee are deeply passionate about the beverages and point to their late father as the source of this inspiration. “Our introduction into the business was very early in our lives, and [our father] certainly made it look like it was a lot of fun,” recalls co-CEO and COO Michael. “The passion and enthusiasm our dad had for the business was somewhat infectious,” adds Paul. “He had a great way of getting us very excited about it just through his examples and actions.”

The key to Mother Parkers’ long-standing success, they say, is its willingness to embrace change. As a company steeped in more than a century of history, Mother Parkers has had ample opportunity to demonstrate its flexible nature. The family-run private company was founded as a wholesale grocery distributor in 1912 by Stafford Higgins and E. Burke, under the name Higgins & Burke Ltd., selling bulk commodities including tea and coffee. In the 1930s, Higgins, with his son, Paul, started a second company called Mother Parkers Tea and the popularity of the brand, especially in Ontario, prompted the name change to Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee. In the decades since, the company has kept its fingers on the pulse of the industry, not to mention spurring industry innovations such as introducing instant coffee to the Canadian market and becoming a pioneer in private-label branding.

Today, the company is amongst the top five roasters in North America — a group that includes Folgers, Maxwell House and Starbucks — and produces Martinson, Brown Gold and, of course, Mother Parkers coffee brands, as well as Higgins & Burke teas. It also develops private-label products for some of North America’s leading retailers. Beyond coffee and tea, the company produces hot chocolate, iced teas and pre-mixes for supplementing iced and blended beverages. In fact, Mother Parkers currently supplies many of North America’s top foodservice companies and grocery/retailers and is one of the largest suppliers to the convenience store market (particularly in the U.S.). It also promotes several partner/affiliate brands such as Marley Coffee and Numi Organic Tea. The company produces and distributes these products from its three facilities in Ontario and one in Fort Worth, Texas; a dual presence (and combined 765,000 square feet), which the Higgins’ credit with playing a significant role in their company’s growth.

To mark its 100th anniversary and to confirm its continued commitment to innovation, in 2012 Mother Parkers introduced RealCup™ single serve-capsules. The EcoCup™ — its recyclable format — followed in 2014. At the heart of these designs is the company’s proprietary filter made with non-woven fibres, which allows for a richer brew and can expand or contract, allowing it to be easily manipulated for a variety of brewing conditions. “This is an unbelievable benefit,” explains Paul. “As a result [of the filter], the taste profile that we get out of our products, both Michael and I would agree, is as good as any product you can brew in any other method, probably even better.”

“Because [single-serve brewing] was so new to the industry here in North America, all of us raced into it, but we realized that the environment was going to suffer,” says Michael. This realization fuelled a challenge to the company’s research and development team to design a capsule that would deliver on consumer experience while targeting the least amount of resources per serving. The resulting capsules can be easily disassembled into three separate parts: the lid, outer cup and filter. The outer cup can be recycled and the used coffee or tea placed in the compost while only the filter and lid end up in the trash.

“We are currently working on a lid that will be recyclable too,” shares Michael, an item it plans to release next year. “We see the vessel of the cup as being a great opportunity to sell many other types of beverages, so we are [also] exploring product development along those lines,” continues Paul. “Whatever you can drink, hot or cold, at some point we will be able to figure out how to put it into a single-serve format to make it convenient for people.”

The Higgins brothers aren’t the only ones to recognize the attributes of RealCup products. Beyond Mother Parkers’ own brands, several operators — including Balzac’s Coffee Roasters — have selected RealCup products for their single-serve capsules. Balzac’s, which holds a strong commitment to sustainability, was wooed by RealCup’s ability to deliver the full-bodied taste of their roasts in an environmentally conscious format. “When entering the single-serve market, our goal was to find a more environmentally friendly option that also delivered to our customers the same quality and consistency they have come to rely on with our whole beans,” says Diana Olsen, president and founder of Balzac’s. “Mother Parkers worked diligently and respectfully with us to meet these goals, never compromising our shared values. It is a partnership we are very proud of.” Already the RealCup brand has received multiple awards, including Best New Product — Sustainability and People’s Choice Award — Sustainability from the California-based Specialty Coffee Association for the EcoCup capsule.

Mother Parkers respects the environment, as well as the people who contribute to all steps of the production process. To recognize the industry’s growing regions, the company launched the Water Wise Coffee program in partnership with TechnoServe, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. The program works with coffee-growing communities in Ethiopia — the birthplace of coffee — to reduce the impact of the local coffee industry on its waterways. Organic byproducts of the coffee milling and cleaning process can cause deteriorated water quality in local rivers during the harvest season; Water Wise Coffee works with the mills to reduce their water use, compost coffee waste and naturally filter wastewater through planting and redirecting it to vetiver grass wetlands.
Mother Parkers has already helped install more than 26 wetlands in Ethiopia’s Sidama coffee region and is well on its way to achieving its goal of converting 220 wet mills by 2020. “Now that we have a working solution, our hope is that we can take this program and move it to many different parts of the world and many different coffee growing areas,” Paul explains. “It’s not a complicated approach; you don’t need a lot of science, you just need hard work to create the environment with which to filter and clean the water.”

Closer to home, Mother Parkers partners with Alzheimer Society of Canada (ASC) and in 2012, in memory of Paul Higgins Sr. who died of the disease, launched the Mother Parkers Remembers Campaign — raising $1 million for Alzheimers research. Today that relationship continues, with ASC and Mother Parkers routinely communicating on developments in research.

Looking forward, and with the fourth generation of the Higgins family — Paul’s children Shannon, Colleen and Paul — already working within the company, Michael and Paul have been planning for succession. “We have a whole host of initiatives that we’re working on to ensure this is done in a professional way to protect the livelihoods of our over 800 employees,” Paul explains. One such initiative will mark a first for Mother Parkers, as the company plans to bring on an outside president to act as a mentor to the next generation as they grow within the company. “Succession isn’t just about us,” Paul continues, “it’s about looking at how the business is going to carry on into the future and the next generation.”

Volume 48, Number 9

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