Equilibrium: Game changer in the coffee industry shares milestones, outlook for 2020

Reaching a state of equilibrium means that two opposing forces become balanced, stable, to be poised for better outcomes. 

For coffee distributor Equilibrium Intertrade Corporation founder and CEO Cherry Cruz, having this balance is, has been, and always will be a way of life — even over two decades, and many experiences and achievements later.

Milestones and miles of coffee beans

One of the most impactful milestones brought about by striking a certain balance was that of Equilibrium’s expansion. Fueled by a burning desire to deliver the best possible products to their clients in the shortest possible time to help them meet customer demands, Cruz decided to bite the bullet and expand outside of the metro.

“We were investing in areas very few others were minding at that time,” she shares, on boldly expanding first in Cagayan de Oro nearly a decade and a half ago; Davao, Cebu, and Puerto Princesa branches opened thereafter. “[But] opening our branches [in the provinces] made our clients feel like they could come to us anytime. And we loved having them in our offices! They would have drinks with us, and our trained colleagues would show them how to create amazing coffee drinks.” 

Balancing risk with opportunity proved beneficial for the enterprise time and time again, as constant expansion paved the way for the specialty coffee trade to reach the awareness of more provinces. This then created for them a wider distribution network coupled with seemingly infinite opportunities to touch more coffee-loving lives.

Cruz took hold of all of them.

From 2004 to 2014, Equilibrium consecutively broke milestone after milestone: they opened more provincial branches and a school (The Barista & Coffee Academy of Asia [BCAA]), added more cafe-business-related products to their portfolio, partnered with numerous coffee-loving groups like the Curve Coffee Collaborators, and more. Cruz even became the first Filipina certified Q & R Grader, and became the country’s first Q-Processing Level-2 professional.

By 2018, Equilibrium had the most number of certified Q-graders in the country.

And with 2020 posing as a year of new opportunity, the Equilibrium CEO doesn’t mind balancing more things on her plate if it equates to a better local coffee culture.

The future smells freshly caffeinated

“Our coffee industry has awakened,” Cruz says excitedly.

Seeing the rise and fall of the coffee scene has taught the founder of the 20-plus-year-old company to be as fluid as a smooth cup of joe; to keep learning and keep growing in an ever-changing coffee landscape.

Amidst the newly awakened local coffee scene, Cruz wants Equilibrium to now focus on one particular facet: their contribution to sustainability. The company places environmental sustainability at its core and uses it to strike balance in a market that is shifting in favor of coffees that are more than the sum of all their flavour profiles. This decision comes not only at a time of greater environmental consciousness among consumers, but also at a time of greater opportunity for locally grown coffees.

Third wave coffee, although still young in its local tenure and appreciation, has made waves in the coffee scene for daring to look past the finished product. Third wave supporters source beans ethically, sustainably, and directly from fairly-compensated local farmers, making it something consumers, especially the youth, feel good about buying.

Confident in their decision to go full-blast with their local farmer collaborations and go back to their coffee roots, Cruz knows that her company is supporting a relevant movement. “Personally, it gives me the chance to immerse myself in farming activities, in locations where you would not expect,” she says of the new learning experience.

“It [also] provides an opportunity to listen to the many stories of our farming communities.” In this way, Cruz keeps herself relevant, up-to-date, and ‘sustainable’ in the industry as well.

From a company perspective, Cruz acknowledged that, to understand the trend and the market, they themselves had to step back and trace the origins of the coffees they produced. “Many of our colleagues in the company, myself included, started retraining ourselves on coffee,” she humbly admits.

Cruz and her team dove headfirst into learning about post-process harvesting, microclimates, alternative fermentation processes, and even genetic coffee composition.

“We also get to share knowledge and talk more about sustainability, equitable sharing, shareholder collaboration, farm economics, and actually going down to the basics of math in pricing coffees from the farm,” she explains.

“It is a very different time and it is exciting!”

Cruz especially sings her praises to the millennial market — the prime movers of third wave coffee. “It is heart-warming to see many passionate, young people who are leading the current trends. If there is anything I can credit this generation for, it’s their sense of social responsibility.  It inspires us all!”

Of green, unroasted beans, and so on

Environmentally-related initiatives have also made its debut in Equilibrium. “Our company has started to convert to sustainable compostable packaging,” Cruz shares. “We are slowly eliminating plastic in our company operations. We reuse and recycle, and we focus on natural processed coffees especially in areas where farms are challenged on water sources.”

“There is so much more that we would like to do!” Cherry Cruz enthuses, speaking of moving forward into a new business year. “We want to be part of all the other forces that push the industry forward. We want to participate in being a mover in the industry –” and this is the most interesting of them all “– just like everybody else does.”

In a world where competition is constantly fueled by one-upping industry players, Equilibrium’s Cruz believes that working together is the key in achieving a beautifully coffee-fueled Philippines. “There are many groups who are working hand in hand to boost coffee production. I am confident that all of [our] efforts will bear fruits soon.”

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