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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.

Published: July 2007

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Each issue of Southern Innovator shows the role design has played in the success of the innovators profiled.

Baker Cookstoves – Designing for the African Customer

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Southern Innovator Impact Summaries | 2012 – 2014

“The e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions proved to be a timely and prescient resource on the fast-changing global South, tracking the rise of an innovator culture driven by the rapid adoption of mobile phones and information technology …

“In 2010, work began on the development of the world’s first magazine dedicated to the 21st-century innovator culture of the global South. My goal was to create a magazine that would reach across countries and cultures, meet the UN’s standards, and inspire action. Southern Innovator was the result. Mr. [David] South played a vital role in the magazine’s development from its early conception, through its various design prototypes, to its final global launch and distribution.

“Both the e-newsletter and magazine raised the profile of South-South cooperation and have been cited by readers for inspiring innovators, academics, policy makers and development practitioners in the United Nations and beyond.

“I highly recommend Mr. [David] South as a thoughtful, insightful, analytical, creative and very amicable person who has the unique ability to not only grasp complex problems but also to formulate a vision and strategy that gets things done. … ” Cosmas Gitta, Former Assistant Director, Policy and United Nations Affairs at United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in UNDP

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

Team | Southern Innovator Phase 1 Development (2010 – 2015)

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Baker Cookstoves – Designing for the African Customer

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

An innovative social enterprise is using design to create an energy-efficient cookstove for Kenya. By turning to an experienced Swedish architecture and design firm, the people behind the Baker cookstove wanted to make sure the stove’s design was as efficient as possible and relevant to the customers’ needs, while also making sure it is visually appealing and something a person would proudly want in their home.

The Baker cookstove (bakerproduct.com) has been designed to be a high-quality and desirable product that also accomplishes the goal of saving money for the user. This unique product is being developed and made at the company’s factory in Nairobi, Kenya.

Baker’s owner is Top Third Ventures Global (topthirdventures.com), a social-impact company registered in Kenya and founded in 2011 by American Lucas Belenky and Björn Hammar, a Swedish/Finnish entrepreneur. Their goal is to make sure that everyone in the developing world has access to an affordable, high-quality efficient cookstove.

While cooking is a daily necessity for billions of people, it is also costly and polluting. By switching to energy-efficient cookstoves, families can reduce the cost of cooking daily meals and, if the stove is designed right, cut the amount of pollution generated. One of the great obstacles to the take-up of energy-efficient cookstoves to date has been the absence of sustainable business models to sell and distribute them.

The Baker cookstove, designed as an aspirational product and backed up with a seven-year guarantee, hopes to change this dynamic. If things go to plan, the company hopes to significantly scale up its production based on customers wanting to have a Baker cookstove proudly on display in their home.

The Baker cookstove is the product of a deliberate attempt to use design and a well-thought-out production life cycle to create an item that is eye-catching, effective, and manufactured consistently to a high standard.

Designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune (http://www.ckr.se/), a Swedish architecture and design firm, the Baker cookstove is a sleek, round, modern stove and comes in eye-catching colors such as orange. It could easily fit in with other kitchen products in a high-end design shop. And that is the point: they want people to want the Baker cookstove.

Quality is key, and engineering and design teams constantly monitor the product and make adjustments to the cookstove as they receive feedback from customers.

The Baker cookstove is benefiting from new financing being made available through carbon credits, which its founders believe will bring big changes to the energy-efficient cookstove market over the next 10 years.

Baker’s chief executive, Lucas Belenky, told Southern Innovator magazine – this newsletter’s sister publication – about the thinking behind the Baker cookstove.

SI: What role does design play in the Baker cookstove social enterprise? At what stage did Top Third Ventures start to think through the production life cycle for the Baker cookstove? What did you feel was missing in the other cookstove models currently available on the market?

The Baker cookstove is the cornerstone of the social enterprise. Top Third Ventures is at its core a product company. There are different aspects to the business model to make it work (i.e. carbon credits and big data) but everything depends on the success of the Baker product. We started thinking through the production life cycle from the day the company was founded in late 2011. The Baker is designed for usability, aspirational value, and performance, prioritized in that order. The most important thing is that the Baker is easy to use and does not require its users to change their daily routines or cooking habits. Cooking cultures vary greatly across the developing world so it is important to understand exactly who your customer is and focus on meeting their requirements. When you have a product that is easy to use it needs to be desirable as well. Beyond the service provided, the product should make the customer feel good about themselves. Finally, the Baker cooks the same food with half the fuel and much less smoke.

The priorities seem reversed for other cookstove models on the market. Efficiency comes first, then the aesthetic design, and cultural conformity is last. Hyper-efficient cookstoves are great for health and the environment on paper but the benefits are not realized because widespread adoption isn’t achieved. Most products are imposed through a top-down approach instead of starting with the customer and designing the stove around them.

SI: Why did you choose to have the Baker cookstove designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune, a Swedish architecture and design firm? What were some of the challenges encountered when designing the product and the production life cycle? What advice do you have for other social enterprises looking to offer an appealing product to low-income households?

We wanted the Baker cookstove to be an aspirational product that you use as much because of the performance (less fuel and less smoke) as because it is beautiful. Claesson Koivisto Rune believed in our vision at a very early stage and I doubt we could have gotten where we are today without them. Challenges around the design mainly involve keeping the costs down. Our customers do not have a lot of disposable income so balancing affordability with performance and world-class design is tough.

For other entrepreneurs selling to low-income households my advice is identify your customer, listen to them, and never stop listening. This is obvious to most businesses but for social enterprises sometimes the grant organizations or other dispersers of donor funding become the customer without you noticing.

Finally, often just because the consumer is in a developing country, enterprises neglect aesthetic appeal and branding. Do not do this. Your consumer behaves for the most part like their counterpart in the developed world. They want products that look nice and make them feel good.

SI: What role is information technology playing in the Baker cookstove’s development? How do mobile phones help with reaching customers in Africa? How does offering software products such as Top3Tracker help Baker cookstoves?

Information technology has a huge impact in decentralized areas because it enables cheap flow of information. For Top Third Ventures it allows us to track our sales in real-time, communicate with current and future customers instantly, and gain valuable insights about how to improve the sales pitch and marketing strategy. The Baker cookstoves also depends on carbon finance, which requires a dialogue with current customers to ensure the usage of the cookstove is accurately measured. Information technology such as our Top3 Tracker significantly reduces the cost of accessing carbon finance.

SI: It is said an innovator is somebody who disrupts existing products and ways of doing things. How is Top Third Ventures innovating and disrupting the current approach to energy-efficient cookstove distribution?

We hope to change the way products for low-income households are designed, marketed, and sold. Top Third Ventures’ Baker cookstove embodies our conviction that these products should be customer-centric, have aspirational value, and conform to local cultures. The success of our product will show that consumers in the developing world want the same thing as their counterparts in developed countries.

Top Third is a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (cleancookstoves.org).

Resources

1) Baker cookstove: The website details how the cookstove was developed. Website: bakerproduct.com

2) Top Third Ventures: The company designs, manufactures, and sells its own unique efficient cookstoves made to fit the local cultures and traditions of their customers, supported by a strong brand and world-class customer communication. In addition, Top Third Ventures works with existing manufacturers and distributors to secure carbon financing for their activities through their programmatic CDM activity and electronic data management system. Website: topthirdventures.com

3) Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. Website: cleancookstoves.org

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Designed in China to Rival ‘Made in China’

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Harnessing the power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is a critical component of successful economic development. And the high export value of designing and making “computer equipment, office equipment, telecommunication equipment, electric circuit equipment, and valves and transistors” was flagged up as a priority for developing nations back in 2005 at a meeting looking for “New and Dynamic Sectors of World Trade” (UNCTAD).

One country taking up this challenge is China. It now boasts twice as many Internet users as the United States, and is the main global maker of computers and consumer electronics, from toys to games consoles to digital everything.

China is also on course to become the world’s largest market for Internet commerce and computing.

The centre of gravity is very much moving China’s way: One study of 769 firms investing in 2,203 Chinese companies by Stanford University in California, found “the same firms that were successful in Silicon Valley … have transplanted their expertise to China,” according to Marguerite Gong Hancock in The New York Times.

But the country wants to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China’. This is critical because the majority of the profits to be made are actually in the designing, patenting and marketing of products. Manufacturing, as has been shown in the recent media controversy over the products made by Apple (apple.com), is not the main profit centre.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas. But through its network of sub-contractors,the number employed overseas in Asia, Europe and elsewhere is around 700,000 (The New York Times). This includes around 200,000 assembly jobs in China. These workers can make US $17 a day or less.

Apple makes hundreds of dollars in profit for each of its iPhones. Apple can do this because it is the designer of the phones and holds the copyright, and it is the branded company that has built up its reputation and developed a highly sophisticated marketing and distribution network around the world. Through clever use of design, Apple created products that look distinctive in the marketplace. And those are the factors that determine the ability to make this profit. As has been noted, it isn’t just cheap wages that keep Apple’s profits high.

Getting consumers to desire and buy your products is a challenge for any company. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design and is produced efficiently will generate a good profit.

The classic example from the past is Japan. Devastated during World War II, Japan set about re-building its manufacturing prowess from scratch. It brought in American innovators to introduce new concepts in manufacturing.

Japan’s openness to the new ways enabled it to re-fashion its manufacturing industries to exporting to the developed Western nations, in particular the United States. At first, quality control was an issue and Japan was mocked for making cheap quality trinkets, toys, automobiles and motorcycles. But it quickly changed from this to a reputation for making quality, affordable products and moving quickly into the burgeoning micro-electronics and consumer products markets. It also was a pioneer in computer gaming and entertainment.

The recent achievements in supercomputing in China are pointing to where things can go. China has developed the Sunway Bluelight MPP supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShenWei). It is able to do a quadrillion calculations per second: making the Sunway Bluelight one of the 20 fastest supercomputers in the world. It was built with a Chinese-made microprocessor, and importantly, uses lower amounts of power than other supercomputers.

The clever bit is the ratio of computing power to wattage used. Energy-efficient computing is critical if computers are to make the jump to the next level in processing power.

All these trends coming together hint at big changes in the coming years.

In the past two decades, the electronics sector has enabled a number of developing countries to improve trade performance, in particular East and Southeast Asian nations.

Improving education is critical to the growth strategy. Improving education, like encouraging the pursuit of engineering as a profession, as China has done – it now has more than half a million estimated graduates, the most in the world – means new skills and ideas are coming to the industry (engineeringinchina.net).

But this is not enough. New ideas are essentially a creative process and this needs connections to business and the ability to experiment and play with ideas. Start-up incubators have proven a successful way to do this.

Thailand is a good example: Around US $4.5 billion was invested in the country’s electronics industry between 1986 and 2001. This created 300,000 jobs. The sector became so important it made up a third of the country’s exports.

Realizing that much of the work was assembly manufacturing, the government set up the Thailand IC Design Incubator (http://www.nectec.or.th/rd/electronics/be204-45/be204-45.php) to work on hard disk drive development and move up the value chain.

“In 1978, I saw workers stringing together computer memories with sewing needles,” Patrick J. McGovern explained to The New York Times. McGovern is the founder of the International Data Group, which invests in Chinese enterprises.

“Now innovation is accelerating, and in the future, patents on smartphones and tablets will be originated by the Chinese people.”

In the past, China was not able to make significant progress on this development for two main reasons. The first is copyright piracy and theft of intellectual property rights. During China’s economic rise, this theft was rampant and the country developed a reputation for being home to a vast marketplace of knock-offs of major Western brands. And the second reason was the heavy hand of the government, which scared off many entrepreneurs.

But China is re-structuring its industries to focus on innovation. In 2011, China surpassed South Korea and Europe in total patents and was in a neck and neck race with Japan and the United States. As fuel for the innovation rocket,venture capital is critical. And China is now the world’s second largest venture capital market, with the total jumping from US $2.2 billion in 2005 to US $7.6 billion in 2011.

It is this journey up the manufacturing ‘value chain’ that many countries look to with admiration and jealousy. And the secret to being able to move up this value chain is design – savvy product design combined with savvy design of manufacturing methods to continually drive down costs and drive up quality. How long until China has its own Apple and not just an Apple knock-off (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14503724)?

Resources 

1) Red Dot: The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognised quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design.Website: http://www.red-dot.de

2) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. They work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html

3) C3: C3 offers product design and product engineering services in Shanghai, China. Their strong point is managing innovative design processes from scratch (market research) until production: a one shop service: Website: chinacreativecompany.com

4) Dahua: Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. is a partially state-owned publicly traded company based in Hangzhou which sells video surveillance products and services.  Leading video surveillance product and solution provider in IP camera, NVR, HD cctv camera, Analog, PTZ and other vertical solutions. Website: https://www.dahuasecurity.com/uk

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The NEEMIC brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China. 

Read more here: Creating Green Fashion in China

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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A Local Drink Beats Global Competition

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

For many decades, strong American and multinational food brands have penetrated markets in the South. This is a global business success story for those companies, but the downside has been the marginalizing of local alternatives. This not only reduces wealth-creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, but also leads to products like sugary soda pops (http://tinyurl.com/yzwal98) pushing aside healthier, local alternatives like tea.

But one company in Indonesia has been pioneering a healthy local drinks empire while also seeing off aggressive foreign rivals. Teh Botol Sosro, a tea drink in Indonesia bottled by family-owned business Sosro, was not only the first bottled tea brand in the country, but also in the world, it claims. The company started bottling the jasmine-flavoured black tea drink in the 1970s.

The Indonesian company has shown that it is possible for local flavours to beat powerful international brands like Coca Cola in the battle for drinkers’ palates. While Coca Cola has tried to sell many bottled tea drinks in the Indonesian market, they have not been able to push aside the local product, The Teh Botol Sosro. Brewed by the Sinar Sosro company, it has captured 70 percent of the non-carbonated drinks market.

It is a drink of cool, black, sweetened tea with a hint of jasmine. Invented by the Indonesian family of Sosrodjojos, Sosro (http://www.sosro.com/) was founded in central Java in the 1940s.

Culturally, Indonesians have either coffee or tea with their meals. The brand’s marketing slogan plays on this: “Whatever you eat, you drink Teh Sosro.”

The company has aggressively fought off competition not only from local rivals, but also from Coca Cola’s Frestea brand and Pepsi Cola’s Tekita. The company stayed sharp in its business strategy, never letting a rival product take hold. Just as a rival would introduce a new product, Sosro would reply with a new drink attuned to Indonesian tastes. This ability to not be complacent about the company’s success, and to use its knowledge of local tastes to always outsmart foreign competition, has kept the company where it is today.

Sosro pioneered bottled drinking tea with its launch in 1970 and started with a dried tea only distributed in Central Java.

The journey to cold, bottled tea is an amusing one. The company first wanted to promote its tea in Jakarta, the capital, by having public tastings. But by brewing the tea on the spot, the too-hot tea took too long to drink for impatient Jakartens. The solution was to not brew the tea on the spot, but instead to brew it off-site and deliver to markets in big pans on trucks. But the bad roads made this a bit of a mistake as well: the tea would spill on the journey.

The ‘aha’ moment came when the idea arose to store the brewed tea in bottles. The bottles were eye-catching and have evolved in design over the years.

The drink now comes in various packages, from a returnable glass bottle (220 ml) to a Tetra Pak (1 litre, 250 ml, and 200 ml) and a 230 ml pouch.

The Botol Sosro (http://www.sosro.com/teh-botol-sosro.php) is not the company’s only product: it also brews Fruit Tea, The Botol Kotak and S-Tee. The economic benefits of these popular brands stay local, as Sosro gets the tea from PT Gunung Slamet, which operates three tea estates covering 1,587 hectares in Indonesia.

Resources

1) Just Food is a web portal packed with the latest news on the global food industry and packed with events and special briefings to fill entrepreneurs in on the difficult issues and constantly shifting market demands. Website:http://www.just-food.com

2) Brandchannel: The world’s only online exchange about branding, packed with resources, debates and contacts to help businesses intelligently build their brand. Website:http://www.brandchannel.com

3) Small businesses looking to develop their brand can find plenty of free advice and resources here. Website: http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com

4) Growing Inclusive Markets, a web portal from UNDP packed with case studies, heat maps and strategies on how to use markets to help the poor. Website:http://www.growinginclusivemarkets.org

5) Tea Genius: A website from Taiwan packed with information on tea, its health benefits and rituals. Website: http://www.teagenius.com/

As cited in Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets by Frank Lavin and Peter Cohan (Wiley).

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