“You may not know, but the roots of Westrock Coffee are in Faulkner County,” Westrock Coffee CEO and co-founder Scott Ford said Dec. 16, 2021, when the company announced Westrock would open the nation’s largest roasting to ready-to-drink packaging facility in Conway.
While in Rwanda completing charity work with his wife, Ford discovered smallholder coffee farmers struggling to provide for their families under the artificially low prices set by mill operators. Further investigation showed the farmers were selling their product for half the price accepted in neighboring countries.
The story struck a personal chord with Ford, whose father, Joe T. Ford, a Faulkner County native and co-founder of Westrock Coffee, was the only of three siblings to survive the Great Depression. Joe Ford grew up to become an Arkansas state senator and co-founder and executive of Alltel, a global communications behemoth that had more than 15 million customers worldwide and $10 billion annual revenue before its sale to Verizon Wireless in 2008.
“I thought that family story had ceased to exist in most parts of the world,” Ford said of the struggle he discovered for Rwandan coffee farmers.
Ford immediately stepped in to help, and Westrock Coffee was born in 2009.
“I had no idea I would spend the rest of my life in coffee,” he said. “I thought I would make one investment and help these women get their livelihood together.”
The early days were tough, as Ford recalls. There was no money to pay the handful of employees, which included his wife. It was the help of his father and co-founder, Joe, that saw the company through.
Today, Westrock Coffee is a leading private label coffee, tea, and extracts beverage solutions provider in the United States, with the goal to become the world’s largest provider in the next few years. The company, known as the brand behind the brands, supplies customer storefronts in 53 countries and has a network of 1.5 million farmer partners in 35 sourcing countries.
This past August, Westrock Coffee became a public company after a merger with Special Purpose Acquisition Company Riverview Acquisition Corporation.
“Going public supports our mission to build and efficiently operate the preeminent integrated coffee, tea, flavors, extracts, and ingredients supply chain in the world,” Ford said. “Becoming a public company helps fuel our organic growth plans, and the acceleration of growth in existing and international markets including Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East.”
The Conway Story
The Ford family stood before family, friends, dignitaries, and fellow businesses on Dec. 16, 2021, to announce Conway’s largest capital investment project in the purchase of the former Kimberly-Clark plant.
The 524,000-square-foot facility will serve as Westrock’s hub for development, production and distribution of its coffee, tea, and ready-to-drink products. To date, more than $275 million is scheduled for investment with more than 1,000 new jobs announced.
“I don’t think we could have been more fortunate to find a match for Conway,” said Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation. “The Fords know how to scale a company and Westrock’s growth potential and its impact on Conway is something that we probably haven’t seen since the initial development of the Fayetteville Shale back in 2005-2010. From there primary job creation to their impact on vendors and suppliers to the number of guests coming to the community, Conway will know Westrock Coffee is here.”
Just 13 months after the first announcement, Tempus Realty Partners made public its plans to build a $70 million, 530,000-square-foot distribution center in Conway that will serve Westrock Coffee exclusively and is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
“Westrock Coffee continues to invest in our operations, and the announcement of our new state-of-the-art distribution center is further proof of our commitment to our customers to help them continue to innovate in the beverage space. Our distribution center along with the announcement of the packaging facility, further cements Westrock Coffee’s connection to the Conway community and Faulkner County,” said Joe T. Ford, co-founder and chairman.