WORKING AT ALTITUDE, ON A STEEP SLOPE, FOR LONG HOURS EACH DAY.
Cafédirect has never had a problem with delivering on social sustainability – it’s central to everything we do.
We were created to give the world’s coffee, cocoa and tea farmers a larger slice of the purchase price of their goods – and we give £1m of our annual turnover to improve the lives of cooperative farms in 14 countries around the world.
While people might consider us a forerunner for the modern-day B Corp, our work is in the supply chain of our business, so the challenge has always been to be more commercial and customer-driven, while keeping principles close to our heart.
Unlike a lot of companies, who may be moving from a focus solely on profit to one of purpose, the issue for us has always been the reverse: to make money and get the balance right.
Cafédirect was created in 1991 – after an international slump in the price of coffee – and we still have that same express purpose of working to improve the lives of small-holder farmers.
WE MAY HAVE VEERED TOO MUCH TOWARDS BEING EVANGELICAL
too much towards being evangelical about farmers lives and the importance of reducing poverty. It can become a bit preachy and make you sound like too much of a do-gooder, if you don’t remember the importance of providing an amazing offer for consumers.
Over time, we’ve achieved many tremendous things, including creating the Fairtrade movement, winning the 2018 Social Enterprise of the Year award, and joining B Corp; but particularly work that has been for the good of society and about creating the degree of change we want to see in the world, while never necessarily being known for commercial reasons.
Today, we’ve also learned to acknowledge that it’s just as important to be commercially strong, and that building your brand and working with your customers can often be a blind spot for some purpose-driven businesses.
It’s important to maintain the focus on delighting your customers – not only with your principles – but with your products.
AS A COMPANY, YOU ALWAYS NEED TO REMAIN DIFFERENTIATED, MOTIVATED AND RELEVANT.
JOHN STEEL CEO of Cafédirect
If we can continue to make the best coffees and teas available, that also allows us to improve the lives of cooperative farmers around the world.
ONE OF THE DOWNSIDES OF JOINING A MOVEMENT IS JUST BEING KNOWN FOR THAT
As a business, Cafédirect has been in growth for 14 continuous quarters, which we’re very proud of. But there was a period between 2008 and 2012 when the business struggled with recession and with a lot of new businesses becoming Fairtrade.
It’s one of the down sides of joining a movement that you can become known just for that, and not your own proposition. As a company, you always need to remain differentiated, motivated and relevant.
The coffee industry is exceptionally competitive, there are huge multi-nationals, speciality roasters and a very innovative market, so we recognise the importance of presenting ourselves with greater clarity.
Our relaunch in 2017 saw us brand ourselves as ‘A Ridiculously Good Business That Makes Ridiculously Good Coffee’.
Initially, there was some concern about the use of the word ‘ridiculous’, but it has resonated very well and it helps our customers to recognise that there’s a better way of doing things.
Today, our biggest customers are grocery clients: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado, as well as some major outlets in Singapore and Hong Kong. We also have a number of longstanding partners like the Royal Albert Hall who have been very supportive.
Many of the people who buy our products know what we stand for, but there’s a degree of discovery that is still possible. Communicating the benefits to farmers of paying a premium, or of changing the role of business and society, is often difficult to get across in a 30 second ad. But we’re also lucky many of our major retail customers take a serious interest in our work and they’re interested in how we add value to their stores. For us, the mission is to help farmers attain a higher standard of living and to manage the landscape in a sustainable way, which is increasingly important.
THE AVERAGE COFFEE FARMER TODAY IS 65
Today’s small-holder farmers provide 70% of the world’s food and drink, and together they make up a population bigger than America. Yet, they don’t have a strong voice and often live in poverty with insecure livelihoods that are remote from the developed world.
The average age of a coffee farmer is 65 and they’re working at altitude on a steep slope and enduring long hours each day. The current economic model is certainly not rewarding as it should be for them and the sustainability of the food supply chain is pretty fragile.
Across the world, the food system is also overly profit driven, so we also want people to continue to reflect on that.
B CORP CAN HOLD A MIRROR TO YOUR BUSINESS
When B Corp came to the UK from the United States in 2015, the honest truth was there were some people who felt it wasn’t as good as we would like it to be.
But we also saw its capability to become a movement and the fact it was clearly gaining momentum. Their assessments hold up a mirror to the business that can show you where you need to improve and correct. Being a B Corp also means you attract the kind of person who wants to do more than make money for the few.
B Corp has already helped us to see where we can improve our packaging and it has also given us a contemporary club, as well as a forum for sharing ideas. Our own model is quite unique, so, for us, it’s a great to have a community to be part of.