You know what a fan of good coffee I am . . . today I’m excited to speak with Zach Pecha from Hikers Brew. Zach and I talk about Hikers Brew and how it came to life and he shares his and Addy’s mission to promote sustainability within the outdoor and food packaging industries.
Brought to you by Thrive Market
You’re based in Eau Claire Wisconsin, were you born and raised there?
Zach, as well as his business partner and girlfriend Addy, grew up in Eau Claire and “thought it’d be the perfect place to grow a business.” They’ve been together since high school and began their business while attending the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, where they both earned business degrees.
How were you introduced to the outdoors?
“I think everybody who grows up in Wisconsin is just born into the outdoors,” Zach says. He participated in Boy Scouts while growing up, which exposed him to hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. Zach also says that living in a state with so much forested area and lakes, “lake life is important,” and that regardless of the season, you can find Wisconsin residents recreating at lakes.
Where does your inspiration for entrepreneurship come from?
Zach’s uncle was an entrepreneur, so he grew up around that lifestyle, admitting that he recently realized that “seeing that probably sparked some interests in my mind.”
Boy Scouts was another experience that inspired his entrepreneurial spirit, due to their annual popcorn fundraiser. Zach notes that his parents encouraged him to become a top seller, a title which he achieved for three years in a row. “It was an enjoyable experience,” he says, “and I think that translates into later years, just having an idea that I could sell things and control my own time.”
“Coffee is not really about coffee,” Zach says, “it’s more coffee as the vehicle to support sustainability.”
He goes on to describe how he and Addy treat coffee as a ritual during their travels, a way to start every adventure that they go on. “We would have a cup of coffee and go walk the beach in Florida…and just being able to start the day like that, with the smell, it’s like this residual of actually brewing coffee and it was more of just an enjoyable thing on an adventure.” They realize that many people start their day with the same ritual, but also recognized that there are a lot of unsustainable practices involved in coffee production and wanted to be involved in changing those practices.
How was Hiker’s Brew born?
Zach says that he and Addy had a vision while scrolling outdoor accounts on Instagram in 2016, “it was a realization that came to me…how many people are still enjoying coffee? They’re sacrificing the weight [in their pack] or they’re bringing in instant coffee that doesn’t always taste the greatest with them.” Hiker’s Brew was born out of a desire to create a product that would allow people to have high-quality coffee that would be convenient and light, to reduce the impact on a hiker’s pack weight.
Zach adds that many hikers store their coffee in single-use Ziploc bags that end up being thrown away, so he and Addy wanted to design their product with compostable packaging as well.
What does a day in the life at Hiker’s Brew look like?
Zach says that although Hiker’s Brew doesn’t yet have a public storefront, they run a small roastery out of an old furniture store, where they roast, package, and ship orders. “We try to ship everything out within 24 to 48 hours…it’s roasted fresh and shipped to the customer,” he says, “we want to roast everything as fresh as possible and ship it to the customer so they can maximize the shelf life.”
Do you have any plans to offer other products in the future?
Zach says that there is a lot of room for growth for a coffee business like his, “we have a really great opportunity to be able to do cold brew, different product lines of coffee,…and right now we’re really focused on our venture pouches, which is a 36-gram pre-ground coffee pouch that you can bring with you.”
He goes on to say “we also have 12-ounce bags [of coffee], and right now we are looking at bringing in different blends, different roasts. We’re roasting everything in-house and we’ve only just started roasting everything ourselves in the last year to year and a half.”
Looking towards the future of Hiker’s Brew, Zach admits “we’re really just trying to learn as much as we possibly can about coffee, so it’s been really fun trying different origins out…we have six main flavors that we have had for the last for the last five years, so I think that we’ll probably focus on more gross.”
How did you land on your mission to promote sustainability within the outdoor and food packaging industry?
“It was more of a feeling, like it just felt like the right thing to do,” Zach says, “the outdoor industry…has been trying to go that way for a long time and there have been small changes in the past few years and I think the future is bright for that.”
He elaborates on Hiker’s Brew’s unique situation, saying “being a small company, we can make changes really fast and we can learn pretty quickly. We’re not doing everything completely sustainably by any means, we can make so many more changes and we can learn so much more, but we’re trying to do as best as we possibly can.”
I love your ambassador program. How many ambassadors do you have?
“We only have a few, I think five or so ambassadors at this time,” Zach says, “ the most that we’ve had at a time was maybe 20 to 25 and it’s a lot of smaller photographers we’re trying to work with.”
Describing the program, Zach says “our ambassador program is focused on bringing in small photographers who are looking to build a portfolio, and it’s people that have maybe 3,000 to 10,000 followers on Instagram. They’re really just trying to make it, get out there and get their photography out there. And so our goal is to partner with these people so we can get their photos and their name in front of bigger brands or just more followers and get their work out there.” He says that Hiker’s Brew trades products for photos and also tries to pay for extra content like blog posts, or at least offer discounts to their ambassadors.
Do you have plans to expand your territory nationally and internationally?
“We fell upon a platform called Faire Wholesale that has allowed us to sell in a lot of small, mom and pop gift shops, some outdoor retailers are on there too,” Zach says, “and that’s how we’ve gotten a lot of Canadian retailers.” “The main focus is definitely to grow the brand, locally and nationally distributing.”
Where do you get your beans?
Hiker’s Brew gets their beans from an importer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a lot of other local roasters source their beans if they are not buying directly from farms. “We can go in there and see the farms that they’re buying from, the information on the different ways they are growing their beans, and the different types of beans they’re offering,” Zach says, adding that they work with a rep who helps them pick beans that meet their standards for Fair Trade and sustainability practices. “We would love to buy direct from farms,” he says, “but right now our focus is just buying Fair Trade beans.”
How often do you get outdoors?
“We love hiking, obviously Hiker’s Brew has that name for a reason,” Zach says, “We spend a lot of time in Northern Wisconsin, Northern Minnesota, up on the North Shore, near the Boundary Waters, actually.” In addition to hiking, Zach says that he and Abby love kayaking when they’re traveling.
Do you have any advice for folks looking to get into the coffee business?
Zach says that bean prices are higher than ever, so it can be tough for a newcomer to break into the industry. “I think the best thing you can do would be to work with a local roastery,” he says, “ everyone’s looking for help right now.”
“If I would have done things differently, I would have tried roasting or learning from a roaster at the beginning,” Zach admits.
Do you have any favorite books or books you give as gifts?
Zach recommends Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Any favorite podcasts?
How I Built This from NPR
What’s your favorite outdoor gear purchase under $100?
“We have a really great relationship with Jetboil and we love their stoves, but they’re just barely over $100,” Zach says, “then there’s so much brewing gear out in the industry, whether it’s GSI or Stanley has a lot of really cool equipment. We just have a ton of fun testing out different brewing gear.” Landing on his favorite brewing method for use in the outdoors, Zach says, “I would say my favorite, though, is the Aeropress. When it comes to coffee brewing and the outdoors, I use the Aeropress every single morning and it makes cleanup super easy.”
Hiker’s Brew has a special offer for the listeners, right?
$5 off your order until the end of 2022 with code BIZ5 at hikersbrewcoffee.com
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners?
“We would really appreciate it if you just consider picking up a pouch at your local retailer and help support the local shops. We’re in about 200 stores nationwide. I think we’re in every state. Or you can also order online. If you’re working in the outdoor industry, you can find us on ExpertVoice and OutdoorProlink.”