Direct Action

Cafédirect has a relatively short history in the scheme of things but as a mover and shaker of sustainability its contribution has been emphatic. Footprint finds out how Cafédirect goes about its marketing and finds, surprisingly for such a well known brand, it has quite a softly, softly approach.


It seems light years ago but it was only in 1991 that Cafédirect first burst into life. The collapse of the International Coffee Agreement sent market prices plunging, putting the lives of millions of smallholder farmers around the world in jeopardy. Three coffee growing communities (in Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico) each shipped a single container of coffee, loaned on trust, to the UK where the beans were roasted and sold through church halls, charity shops and at local events. Such was the beginning of Cafédirect.


As 2011 dawns, the Cafédirect brand has grown to be one of the most popular in the hot beverage market in and out of home. It started off in 1991 with just one Cafédirect coffee – Medium Roast Fresh Ground. Since then it has added lots more: a rich roast, an espresso, specialist fresh ground and beans for the coffee connoisseur, decaffeinated coffees and a range of instant coffees. Some are single origin, some are organic but all of them are Fairtrade.


The business is now working with 40 growers in 14 countries and 260,000 farmers and is actively improving the lives of more than 1.6 million people. In the past five years alone, Cafédirect has invested more than £3 million of its profits directly into the businesses and communities of its growers, and paid more than £7.5 million over and above market prices for its raw materials.


According to Cafédirect’s Head of Marketing and Communications, Nicola Pearson: “We have found that our customers and consumers want quality from a sustainable and ethical business and that is what we provide. They are also interested in food integrity and provenance and we are perfectly placed through our cooperative of farmers to deliver high quality product which includes single origin tea, coffee and chocolate,” she says.


At the start of Cafédirect’s life marketing was, Pearson admits, fairly amateur, but she believes that was not a bad thing as it demonstrably worked. “At first it was mostly word of mouth and that word got around from people meeting in church halls and Oxfam outlets. And it is basically what we are still doing – although in 2011 we are using digital methods, utilising the social media to get the message across.


“We have always believed it is important to be creative about our marketing. Obviously there has to be a certain amount of traditional advertising but we don’t throw a big budget at it as we would rather spend it on our growers. We tend to do lots of small things to get the Cafédirect message across – for example in retail, instead of discounting we added value by having an on-pack promotion for free seeds. Take-up on that was phenomenal. And it ties into our ethos of sustainability.


“We also get out and about and engage with people face to face. At last year’s Café Culture show in London we set up Cafédirect World, a coffee shop where all sectors – and their customers – could come and see what we are about. We engaged with them and told stories about our farmers and their lives. Festivals were a target last year, too – we were at the Hay book festival, WOMAD, Brighton Food Festival and various county shows. People were invited to sample our single origin Machu Picchu tea and Kilimanjaro coffee.”


Kilimanjaro roast and ground single origin coffee has proved so popular the company has just launched a new variety – Kilimanjaro wholebeans.


These beans are grown on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro where the rich volcanic soils and altitude give the coffee a lively, aromatic and intense flavour.


“Now, this is where traditional word of mouth becomes modern. We can use digital space to access people who share our beliefs and have a shared interest in what we are doing. Blogging is another valuable marketing tool for Cafédirect. We use Facebook, Flickr and Youtube and have 2,000 people following us on Twitter. We have also built up a database of 121,000 ‘friends’ – customers, consumers and shareholders. Friends of Cafédirect enjoy our coffee, tea and cocoa, like to try our recipes and believe in what we stand for and the difference this can make to farmers around the world. The Friends receive a monthly newsletter containing special offers, new products, competitions and recipes and we can carry out our research through the database.

“I believe digital networking is the way we will change people’s outlook. The strength of the brand lies in the way it mobilizes communities – small actions add up to big results,” concludes Pearson.


Cafédirect is the result of Oxfam, Equal Exchange, Traidcraft, and Twin Trading’s decision to bypass the conventional market and buy coffee direct from disadvantaged growers in developing countries. Cafédirect has developed and works to its own Gold Standard, consistently setting the bar for ethical business leadership. In 2009, Cafédirect won the coveted Ethical Business of the Year Award at the Triodos Bank ‘Women in Ethical Business Awards’.


Cafédirect began trading three years before the Fairtrade Foundation mark was first used in the UK, and the business was the first coffee brand to carry the mark. In 2004, Cafédirect successfully executed the UK’s biggest ethical public share issue to become a publicly listed company, raising £5 million from 4,500 investors. The opportunity enabled its grower partners, consumers, employees and founders to own a share in the company and to be directly connected to one another.