Afro Coffee: Blending Good Design and Coffee

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The importance of good design and a strong brand in the success of a business cannot be emphasised enough. That extra effort and thought can take a business from local success to regional and even global success. As consultants KPMG make clear, “For many businesses, the strength of their brands is a key driver of profitability and cash flow “. Yet the majority of small businesses fail to think about their brand values or how design will improve their product or service.

The case of Afro Coffee from Cape Town, South Africa shows how a small and humble café can raise its ambitions and its profits. It re-vamped its modestly successful café into a brand with global ambitions. By undertaking a thorough and comprehensive brand development inspired by the colourful vibe of Africa, Afro Coffee has built a consistent image from the design of its café and shop to its wide range of branded teas, coffees and fashion wear – all sold in the café, on the web and through distribution deals with other shops.

“It started out as a café in downtown Cape Town,” said founder Grant Rushmere. “Our concept was to harness a Pan African view of contemporary urban Africa. The pop art nature of African design inspired us to create our own brand of coffee instead of the usual Italian coffee that most cafes use. Our goal was to refocus people to the origins of coffee – that it in fact originated in Africa before being discovered by the Arabs and from Yemen, exported around the world. Many people don’t know this, so we attempt to capture and celebrate this African spirit in our packaging and all we do.”

Afro Coffee had started out as a simple café. But after a major re-design and adoption of a new concept, the café has become a global brand and expanded into a branch in Europe. By infusing the spirit of Africa and its design aesthetics into all aspects of the café and its products – coffee, tea, fabrics, fashion – Afro Coffee has been able to develop a seamless image that is unforgettable.

Rushmere was joined by two Austrian partners to help with building the new brand and facilitating its global launch. “Design and branding have been a passion of mine,” said Rushmere. “and these are realized through the Afro Coffee brand and the fun merchandising we develop. One of my partners has an international network of advertising agencies and the other has developed and owns a world-leading brand. With their experience, I will continue to guide the development of Afro Coffee.”

Afro Coffee’s website includes a video tour of the café and introduction to the ‘Afro dude’ character and a short cartoon video adventure. To help develop customer loyalty, the café has live bands three times a week from across Africa.

“Our mission is to communicate the joys of Africa through our Afro Cafes and our Afro-branded products. The fact that the African people are so wonderfully not self-conscious at all, with their humour and freedom and their style and design. Hopefully we can convey this spirit and enhance the lives of people who consume our product and sip coffee listening to Afro Tunes at our cafes. For South Africa, we try to show just how cool Afro culture actually is and instil a sense of confidence into people to make them realize what they already are – lofty ideals but we’ll have a go!”

As the brand developed, a range of teas were produced using only African teas like Rooibos, a non-caffeine root. The next to come was fabrics based on West African religious clothing. They became table cloths and were so popular, they moved into combining them with leather to make Afro Bags – all part of expressing the lifestyle that inspires the brand.

Distribution deals have been done to distribute the teas and coffees throughout South Africa and in Europe. The clothing range is now available on their online store (www.afrocoffee.com).

Its African-infused design for its coffee stand won the Design Indaba 2007 Award, South Africa’s design magazine and exhibition. Also designed by Peet Pienaar, it is inspired by Ghanaian woodwork and Kenyan coffee. The stand is a giant stiletto shoe stacked with tins of teas and coffees and an over-sized radio that doubles as a counter top.

Afro Coffee is proof a small business can grasp a bigger concept and in turn become a bigger success. It has been so successful, it has opened a new branch in Austria, begging the question: maybe this once-humble café is on the road to being an African Starbucks?

Resources

  • Afro Coffee’s award-winning display stand can be viewed at http://www.designindaba.com/
  • Brandchannel: The world’s only online exchange about branding, packed with resources, debates and contacts to help businesses intelligently build their brand.
  • Small businesses looking to develop their brand can find plenty of free advice and resources here: www.brandingstrategyinsider.com
  • Dutch Design in Development: Dutch designers are able to offer free support to new and small businesses in developing countries looking to export products to Europe.

 

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