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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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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

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Haitian Coffee Becoming a Hit with American Connoisseurs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The Caribbean country of Haiti has had to deal with the twin challenges of recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010 while also pulling itself out of the economic and social chaos that has resulted in its status as the poorest place in the Western hemisphere.

Violence has also led to a number of UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti over the years, and there is now a substantial international presence in the country to aid in stabilization and economic recovery (http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/minustah/).

Haiti has a lot of potential when it comes to agriculture, but this would require substantial changes in the way land and agriculture are managed.

Haiti is ranked 77 out of 79 countries in the 2012 Global Hunger Index. Access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food remains an issue for millions of Haitians. An estimated 3.8 million Haitians, or 38 per cent of the population, is food insecure (WFP 2012). Despite its fertile potential, Haiti is dependent on food aid and imports to meet its food security needs.

Fifty per cent of the country’s food requirements are imported, and food prices have been rising since the end of 2010, the year of Haiti’s devastating earthquake. This increase has led to an overall loss of purchasing power for the majority of Haitians. Low agricultural productivity and urban encroachment on arable land provide additional challenges for Haiti’s rural populations. Eighty per cent of farms fail to produce enough to feed their households (http://www.foodsecurityportal.org/haiti/resources).

But some are trying to create a new market for Haiti’s agricultural products to help boost farmers and farming as an occupation and an industry.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Haiti was once the world’s largest producer of coffee in the 18th century when it was a French colony. Today Haiti produces less than 1 per cent of the world’s coffee.

The targeting of niche coffee drinkers in the United States has introduced a new market to the special taste of the Haitian brew. While the market at present is small, some are hoping, with the right measures, it could be grown significantly, boosting both the country’s revenue from agricultural exports and incomes for coffee farmers.

Several US-based companies are carving out a market for Haitian coffee and boosting awareness about the country’s unique coffee beans. La Colombe Coffee Roasters (http://lacolombe.com/), based in the city of Philadelphia, has already been able to export four shipping containers of Haitian coffee to the United States since 2010. The company supplies high-end chefs such as Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud.

In Florida, Kafe Pa Nou (kafepanou.com) – “our coffee” in Haitian Creole – is owned by Haitian-American Jean René Faustin and sells online coffee from Haitian suppliers Rebo and Cafe Selecto.

So far, Haitian coffee has not been able to gain wider distribution through mass buyers such as Starbucks because it has not been possible to supply the quantities required to fulfill such a contract.

Haiti would need to boost its current average coffee yield of 250 kilograms per hectare to double or triple that yield to gain large-scale contracts.

“Haiti was for a brief moment in time the biggest producer of coffee for export in the world,” Gilbert Gonzales, Vice President of coffee exporter Rebo (http://rebo.ht/The%20Technics.htm), told Medium for Haiti (https://medium.com/medium-for-haiti). But “right now, most people would say it’s impossible” for Haiti’s coffee sector to return to international prominence.

“We’re not saying that it’s possible in the next two years, maybe not even in the next 12 years,” he said. “But it is possible.”

The coffee cherries used to make the popular beverage are processed in one of two ways: a dry process and a wet process. In Haiti, the dry process is more commonly used to form a hard cocoon on the outside of the coffee cherries to help preserve them for a year or more.

This enables farmers to preserve the coffee cherries so they can keep a portion of the crop back as a safety reserve.

The wet processed beans are first immersed in water and then the pulp is washed away before the beans are dried (http://coffee.wikia.com/wiki/Wet_process). The superior flavor this creates has attracted fans in the United States, especially in the trendy neighbourhoods of Brooklyn, New York and San Francisco, California. By bucking the traditional Haitian dry processing method for the beans, it is possible to earn three times the market price by selling wet-processed beans.

Haiti’s history of coffee growing goes back to the 1700s. At the time, the country grew half the world’s coffee. This helped to make the French colony highly profitable.

This long heritage has left the country with a unique asset: original Arabica typica coffee trees first imported by Europeans to Haiti. These coffee trees are considered to be heirloom because they are so old and untainted by modern breeding methods. According to Douglas Weiner in Medium for Haiti, “when you drink coffee from Haiti, it’s like drinking coffee from 200 years ago.”

Weiner is part of a family business, Geo Weiner (http://selectohaiti.com/home/), which has been selling Haitian coffee for four generations and is one of the few surviving coffee exporters in the country.

The country has an estimated 200,000 coffee farmers. Because their methods have not changed much, they are effectively organic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food). Most farmers can not afford chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The coffee farms are located in mountain areas with a rich biodiversity of plants and trees. This stands in stark contrast with much of the rest of the country, where deforestation has left the country with just 2 per cent of virgin forest left. Coffee-producing areas are lush and green because coffee is one of the few cash crops that makes enough money to keep it worthwhile to preserve the trees and foliage. In other parts of the country, many are making money from turning trees into charcoal for cooking fuel, the most common fuel for most of the country’s population.

Haiti’s coffee growers have had a hard time coping with the rise and fall of world coffee prices. The world market price for coffee dropped in the early 2000s as the markets were flooded with coffee from Brazil and Vietnam. In response, farmers then cut down the coffee trees and replaced them with subsistence crops such as corn and beans.

With the amount of coffee grown in Haiti dropping quickly, the number of exporters in the country plummeted from 20 companies to two companies today, Geo Weiner and Rebo.

Jobert Angrand, Executive Coordinator of the National Institute of Coffee (http://www.icefda.org/), believes coffee production declined in Haiti because of a wide range of problems, from diseases and pests to aging trees, too-small plots and inefficient production methods. Per-hectare coffee yields are as low as one-tenth of production in Latin America.

The Vice President of coffee exporter Rebo says these problems are holding things back. “I don’t think today we’re looking into going mainstream,” said Gilbert Gonzales. “We can’t. There is not enough volume for that.”

Because production will be small, Gonzales believes Haiti would be wise to target the higher end of the marketplace with American grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods: “It’s looking into the higher-end gourmet shops, things like that,” he said, “so that we could really share with the rest of that world the quality available from Haiti.”

Significant purchases of Haitian coffee have been made by various overseas companies, which does give hope that this plan could work. Irish coffee company Java Republic bought 97 tonnes of Haitian coffee from the Rebo exporter in 2010.

Resources

1) National Coffee Association: Ten Steps to Coffee. Website: http://www.ncausa.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=69

2) International Coffee Organization: The International Coffee Organization (ICO) is the main intergovernmental organization for coffee, bringing together exporting and importing governments to tackle the challenges facing the world coffee sector through international cooperation. Its member governments represent 97 per cent of world coffee production and over 80 per cent of world consumption. Website: http://www.ico.org/

3) Coffee Research: Growing Coffee Beans at Home. Website: http://www.coffeeresearch.org/coffee/homegrowing.htm

4) Puro Fairtrade Coffee: Puro is a leading brand of Fairtrade and Fair Trade Organic coffee that works in partnership with the World Land Trust to purchase and protect areas of precious rainforest in South America. Website: http://www.purocoffee.com/


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

More on Haiti here: State Of Decay: Haiti Turns To Free-Market Economics And The UN To Save Itself