Ethical Tastes

Ethical and sustainable production is at the heart of Cafédirect’s business. Its hot beverages have won many awards showing that ethics and a great tasting cup of coffee really do go hand in hand.


A pioneer in ethical business practice, Cafedirect began trading three years before the Fairtrade Foundation mark was first used in the UK and became the first coffee brand to carry the mark. In 2004, the company successfully executed the UK’s biggest ethical public share issue, raising £5 million from 4,500 investors and enabling its grower partners, consumers, employees and founders to own shares in the company.


Today, Cafédirect works with 40 grower organisations across 14 countries, encompassing over 280,000 farmers and directly improving the lives of more than 1.6 million people.


Cafédirect’s product range is 100% Fairtrade, recognising the importance of a guaranteed price and an ethos of behaviour that goes beyond the usual buyer- supplier relationship. As Impact and Sustainability manager, Whitney Kakos says, “We have two growers on the board and growers who own shares in the company, which gives them a voice in how the business is run. More than 50% of our profits have been re- invested into producer partners’ businesses, strengthening infrastructures and helping them to become more sustainable enterprises. For example, in Uganda we have funded quality improvement workshops as well as the purchase of digital weighing scales for the tea, which make the process much more transparent for farmers”.


The company has published a Gold Standard in which it promises to be grower focused. They work directly with smallholder growers through long-term partnerships which seek to reduce the disproportionately high risks they face in the global market, increase value at origin and strengthen their voice in the company’s operations. It also undertakes to pay a price that recognises the cost of sustainable production, supporting the positive impact smallholder growers have on the environment, and strengthening their ability to adapt to climate change. The latest strategy to be implemented by the company is for grower organisations themselves to decide how to spend the profit invested into their businesses. A three-year environmental strategy addresses impact along the entire supply chain, including those parts Cafédirect doesn’t control.


As Kakos says, “We never air freight, we always ship full containers, and we have bold plans in place to reduce our carbon footprint all the way from bean to cup and beyond. We have funded research with our partner the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) into the effects of climate change on smallholder farmers (280,000 make up the Cafédirect farming community), and have been able to implement activities which work with small farmers to help them adapt to the changes in climate they are facing.”


She went on to cite one example of these adaptation strategies where one group of Kenyan tea farmers were provided with fuel efficient stoves for their dwellings. Women no longer have to travel long distances on foot to collect wood for their home fires, saving time and energy. “There is a high demand for fuel wood and these new fuel efficient stoves use only three sticks where three bundles would have been used before, decreasing pressure on local forests. This project is an example of how we’re producing great tasting products with ethics built in,” she said.


Quality improvement of the product is of prime importance. “Cafédirect supports the training of cuppers ensuring consistent quality from bean to cup. Our procurement team tastes green coffee six times and the final product is tasted two to three times before dispatch to ensure that the customer always gets a great cup of coffee”.


“Our attention to detail has paid off – we have won 10 Great Taste Awards for our products in the last two years” she concludes.