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UNB alum Laura Richard (BSc'06) named one of Atlantic Canada’s 25 most powerful women in business

Author: Natasha Rego, UNB Alumni Office

Posted on Mar 8, 2024

Category: UNB Saint John , UNB Fredericton

In honour of International Women's Day, we acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary group of diverse women connected to the University of New Brunswick, like alum Laura Richard, who has been named one of Atlantic Canada’s 25 most powerful women in business. Here is Laura's story:

"A nice Maritime story, backed by science."

This is how co-founder Laura Richard (BSc’06) describes the journey of creating and growing Saltwinds Coffee Company, a Fredericton-based business that has earned her the title of one of Atlantic Canada’s 25 most powerful women in business in 2024.

As the first company to recreate ocean-infused coffee, the international award-winning business has grown from a side-hustle to a team of 10 working to produce and market its lineup of coffees online and in stores across the Maritimes, Ontario, and soon, the U.S.

“I consider myself a scientist, so my career trajectory to date has been finding the things that I can get passionate about, and that has somehow led me to starting my own company,” Richard said. “It’s an honour to be recognized for that and I’m excited to see what the next recognition might be in the next five to 10 years as I continue to follow the things that interest me.”

Approaching its second anniversary this month, Saltwinds was established after co-founder and fellow UNB alum, Brad Rideout (BScCS’94), heard the story of how coffee once arrived on shores and to ports in the Maritimes on wooden sailing ships. The effect of ocean and sea air during the voyage resulted in delicious coffee. Of course, this taste that was lost when more modern shipping methods were introduced.

With a degree in chemistry from UNB, Richard set out to recreate the conditions on the sailing ships to see what effect it had on coffee.

“After many failed attempts, we finally cracked a way to do our signature ocean air infusion and found it resulted in a coffee that was uniquely smooth and free of bitterness,” she said, “which makes perfect chemical sense, because of how salt and moisture interact with the raw coffee beans and change how they roast. This is a great, simple way to make coffee smoother, using the abundant natural resources we have in the Maritimes.”

Though Richard and Rideout have worked around world throughout their careers, they made the conscious choice to return to New Brunswick and launch their business in a place that Richard describes as having a wonderful quality of life, and talented and innovative people with experience to bring to the table. She says her biggest learning curve while running a business in Atlantic Canada is helping consumers understand how Saltwinds Coffee and the Maritimes can make coffee special.

With coffee having one of the highest carbon footprints of commonly consumed beverages in North America, Richard said one of their business priorities is reinventing the way it is roasted and making coffee better for the earth.

Richard is currently working with a team at UNB, as well as scientists at RPC Science & Engineering, to look at novel technologies that can reduce the emissions in coffee roasting.

While their coffee is freshly roasted daily in Douglas, N.B., Saltwinds’ beans are sourced from South and Central America. Richard said they visit the farms themselves to see how the farmers are treating their people and how they’re treating the planet – for example, observing the ecosystems surrounding the farms and understanding whether the farmers are limiting water and fertilizer-use.

In recent years, Richard has also looked at her own carbon footprint to see how she could reduce her impact on the planet. She sold her vehicle, downsized her home, cycles year-round and actively takes notes on where she’s spending her carbon.

“At Saltwinds, we have a vision to get to net zero – we’re not there today, but we’re working on developing the technologies that will hopefully get us there,” she said. “More and more consumers are expecting this from businesses too, as well as retailers who are under pressure to do something about their own environmental footprint, so they’re looking for suppliers who also share sustainability as an objective.”

Along with her commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing, Richard and the team at Saltwinds are also busy experimenting with how the ocean interacts with coffee, exploring new collaboration opportunities and refining and developing flavours.

In addition to their signature ‘Ocean Air’ coffee and classic blends, Saltwinds offers a variety of flavoured coffees – like banana, maple, and coconut, many of which mimic the flavours that might have been present in the original wooden sailing ships.

Satwinds’ website also shares recipes, including the 'Privateer's Last Drink,' a coffee cocktail that captures the delicious flavours of Atlantic Canada and won third place in the International Cold Brew Championships in 2023.

“We’ve played with a number of ways on how to do the ocean air infusion process,” Richard said. “We put green beans in an ocean air infusion box on the Bay of Fundy coast as part of our ongoing experimentation on how the ocean interacts with coffee and we’re listening to feedback from customers.”

Exciting growth is on the horizon for this popular Maritime business. With patents pending on their ‘Ocean Air Infusion Process,’ Richardis a leader in innovation.

“When I reflect on my UNB experience, I think that chance at critical thinking and questioning, interacting closely with the professors and the lab assistants, and playing around with things, has really given me an edge in terms of the innovative work I’ve accomplished throughout my career.”