Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Single-Origin Coffee Rewards Big Brands and Smallholder Farmers

The single-origin coffee bean market is booming due to demand for unique coffee tastes and interest in traceability, especially among millennials.

In the first six months of 2019, the single-origin coffee bean market has seen $182 million in grocery sales with 4 percent growth over last year, outpacing the total premium coffee segment, according to Nielsen data cited in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. And, based on a survey commissioned by Peet’s Coffee, 81 percent of coffee drinkers between the ages of 25 and 49 are willing to pay 10 percent more for single-origin coffees. This means financial rewards not only for company’s such as Peet’s, Starbucks and Lavazza, but also for many smallholder coffee farmers who provide 80 percent of the worlds’ coffee beans.

Let’s start with the basics. What is single-origin coffee? According to the specialty coffee news and information site Perfect Grind Daily, single origin is a small phrase with a big definition. The meaning is often simplified to a coffee that’s sourced from one single producer, crop, or region in one country. “Single farm” and “single estate” mean that the coffee is sourced from one farm, mill or co-operative. You can even go a step further and find coffee labels that tell you the exact estate name and the specific lot or paddock where the coffee was grown.

“The most important thing about single origin is its traceability, the fact that you know exactly where your coffee is from and that it’s a specific coffee, not a blend,” Andra Vlaicu from the Specialty Coffee Association told the Perfect Grind. “Usually of a higher quality, it’s the acknowledgment that the coffee is from a particular farm located in a unique setting, whilst its flavor depicts its origin, possessing characteristics of that specific area where the particular coffee was grown.”

Think medium-bodied and pungent, with tangy citrus flavors for a coffee from the highlands of Ethiopia and bright lemony notes, with a satisfyingly sweet finish for beans from Costa Rica. Thirsty for that cup of Joe yet?

Peet’s Coffee invests in single-origin coffee beans 

Peet’s Coffee, which started in 1966 in Berkley, California, is one of a number of coffee brands that is getting into the single-origin business. It offers single-origin coffees from Sumatra, Colombia (coffee cherries grown on an estate in the country’s Zona Cafetera are shown at the top of this page), as well as Brazil, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.

In the fall, the company will add Costa Rica to its single-origin line, describing the coffee as “a direct trade medium roast with black plum and brown sugar taste notes.” Peet’s will source the beans from Finca La Hilda, owned by the Vargas Family. It has sourced from Finca La Hilda for its blends for decades and also provides support for the families working at the farm, such as onsite daycare and mobile medical clinics during harvest season. The company says it is all part of its efforts to source its coffees in a socially responsible manner.

Included in its responsible sourcing approach are annual visits to the farms from which it sources to inspect their social, environmental and economic standards. The audits are conducted by the non-profit Enveritas, founded in 2016 to “overcome systemic barriers that prevent the application of proven solutions for ending poverty among smallholder coffee growers,” according to its website. Peet’s funds annual audits, which examine the treatment of workers and farming practices, among other indicators, and shares the results with the farmers.

Peet’s also collaborates with growers through its Farmer Assistance Program, which offers a specialized two-year training program to help farmers improve the quality and quantity of their beans. Working with TechnoServe, a nonprofit organization that was an early leader in leveraging coffee farming to raise incomes and improve quality of life, Peet’s provides not only agricultural training to improve coffee yields, but also business training in accounting, record keeping, and book-keeping to enable farmers to lead sustainable, profitable enterprises. The company also offers training in environmental and social best practices to help farmers make informed decisions throughout the coffee lifecycle, such as diverting pulp water from wet mills to wetlands instead of allowing it to re-enter waterways untreated.

All of this support, of course, also benefits Peet’s in the form of a sustainable, high-quality, single-origin coffee bean supply. And it helps the company position its products as being responsibly sourced—a factor that can be a key differentiator in the increasingly competitive consumer coffee market.

Sustainable benefits for farmers

With higher yields and higher-quality beans, smallholder farmers are often able to charge more for their beans, sell to more brands and, thus, increase their incomes over time.

Paul Stewart, global coffee director of TechnoServe, has seen incomes raise three- to even 10-fold for some farmers he has trained in Ethiopia over the past decade. With the raise in income, he says farmers are able to invest more in the education and health of their families, invest in their farms, and also build separate side businesses to further buttress their resources. For families like the Vargases in Costa Rica, that can mean a lot. 

It turns out that coffee can not only help us get through the day, but it can also be a powerful means of doing good.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Monday, July 22, 2019

Businesses, Cities Find Ways to Curb Single-Use Water Bottles

Originally published in Triple Pundit. 

A million single-use water bottles are bought around the world every minute and, astonishingly, it’s predicted that figure will rise by another 20 percent by 2021.

Consumption of water bottles is especially prevalent in the world’s cities, where pushcart vendors and bodega owners hawk ice-cold water to hot tourists and city dwellers in the sweltering summer heat.

What’s the alternative? Public drinking fountains are often decrepit, rusty or just don’t work. As part of the effort to reduce plastic waste, many cities are trying to make public drinking fountains chic again – some with a little help from the private sector and designers.

London announces 50 modern drinking fountains across the city

Just this week, London announced the locations of the first 50 of 100 promised public drinking water fountains around the capital. But these aren’t like the water fountains you remember from the school playground or local park, where you had to bend over to slurp a few drops inches from the metal spout.

The six-foot-plus structures are topped with a giant blue “waterdrop” to make them easy to spot. And rather than slurping, people can refill their water bottles. The fountains have been installed near the high-trafficked Tube (aka, subway) and mainline train stations, shopping centers, markets and parks. The goal: Ensure all 9 million Londoners and 30 million annual visitors have access to free drinking water while they are out and about.
The giant blue water drop - the new London icon?
(above: The giant blue water drop - the new London icon?)

The fountains are a result of a partnership between the city government and Thames Water – the United Kingdom’s largest water and wastewater services provider. Each party is contributing £2.5 million ($3.1 million) to fund the venture backed by a 25-year maintenance agreement. The partnership also involved MIW Water Cooler Experts in the initial pilot in 2018. As part of the  #OneLess campaign – which includes a network of policymakers, NGOs, businesses, communities and individuals set up to tackle London’s plastic problem, including the single-use plastic water bottle – MIW set up 28 pilot water stations that quickly saw thousands of Londoners filling up their water bottles each day.

The new round of 50 fountains announced this month will be at a range  of sites, from the iconic Natural History Museum and London Eye, to public parks and community spaces.

 “To get a grip on needless plastic waste, we need to provide simple ways of refilling and accessing free water, and water fountains are the much-needed solution,” the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told The Guardian.

Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for environment and energy, went further, telling Guardian reporter Nicola Davis, “We want to make sure that it becomes the norm that people cannot use single-use plastic bottles.”

New York, are you listening?

Some 3,400 miles southwest of London, millions of New Yorkers have their own problem when it comes to public drinking fountains: lead contamination.

Lead contamination is common for cities with aging, lead-based plumbing. As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s LeadFree NYC campaign to eliminate childhood lead exposure, the city will test every single drinking fountain in the city’s park system for lead – the first time such a test has been carried out in the city. Those found with high levels will be remediated.

Mayor de Blasio may want to chat with Mayor Khan about his efforts in London. In addition to remediation, what about a campaign to find creative ways to make public drinking fountains chic and accessible again? Certainly, there are enough artists and entrepreneurs in the five boroughs who would be eager to join forces with the city.

One company that is already involved is S’well, which last year partnered with New York City’s Office of Sustainability by donating more than 320,000 of its designer reusable water bottles to city high schools.

“The goal is really to extend our mission to rid the world of plastic bottles and we couldn’t help but think the best way to do that is to tap into the city’s future leaders,” S’well Vice President Kendra Peavy told CBS New York News.

S’well Founder Sarah Kauss, who launched the company in 2010, explains on the company’s website that she “believed that if we made a crave-worthy bottle that combined fashion with function, people would stop buying disposable bottles and we could reduce single-use plastic consumption worldwide.”  I think she’s on to something: Today, S’well is the fastest growing woman-owned company in the U.S.

Two other New York designers -- Agency-Agency and Chris Woebken – also want to help New Yorkers kick the single-use bottle habit. They have created a prototype drinking fountain of bright blue plumbing fixtures that could turn the city's fire hydrants into public drinking fountains. 

The conceptual project, as described in the online architecture, interiors and design magazine Dezene, was developed over summer 2018 in response to a brief from the Water Futures research program organized by Brooklyn creative space A/D/O. The initiative aims to find design responses to the world's increasingly pressing water scarcity issues.
"Water Futures aims to inspire the creative community to take action in reimagining our toxic drinking water culture," according to the website.

The hydrant turned fountain includes four shallow dishes at various heights that would allow adults, children, dogs and birds to drink the city water. The lowest basin is a dog bowl, the middle two are outfitted as drinking fountains for humans, and the top vessel forms a bird bath. A vertical pipe connects these basins and ensures they stay full. Next, the designers plan to work on a refill station for reusable water bottles. Again, Mayor de Blasio, are you listening?

Back in Europe

London isn’t the only city working to lure people to public water fountains. Many others are refurbishing old fountains and creating apps for people to easily locate them. 

Emanuele Pizzolorusso is hoping his newly designed reusable water bottles will help. His new bottles list the locations of public water fountains in 10 major cities -- Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Milan, New York, Paris, Rome and several time zones away in Tokyo. Made from PBA-free plastic resin, the half-liter water bottles were designed for Florence-based Palomar.

"In many countries, a lot of people still buy bottled water," the designer told Dezene. "Highlighting the drinking fountains in our cities was a way to bring to our attention the fact that we can use tap water. In most countries, the water supply is highly secure and often there is no real need to buy bottled water.”

From London to New York to Florence, great ideas are taking flight to help revitalize public water fountains. With luck, we will see even more examples of creative designers and businesses teaming up with city and state governments to make this movement a global trend.
Image credit: Thames Water/Corporate and Facebook

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Girlboss, a Professional Network for a New Era of Women

Originally published in Triple Pundit. 

A new social media site – as of press time named the Girlboss professional network -- is taking the LinkedIn networking concept and creating a space “where women support women” by asking, answering and finding advice as well as celebrating wins together.

The site, created by Girlboss CEO and Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, recently launched in beta. Signing up is free and gives you access to a community of “strong, curious and ambitious women” redefining success on their own terms. With a more millennial design and tone than LinkedIn, the website pledges to “inform, entertain, and inspire,” and is “unapologetic” in its beliefs and values of supporting girls and women who are chasing dreams both big and small.

Amoruso told Business Insider that Girlboss is “a place for someone who does or doesn't have a traditional career, who may not have this C-level title but may be on her way up. There are very few places for her to go to represent her resume or life today."

No topic at Girlboss is off limits

Signing up for me was easy and only took a few minutes. Unlike LinkedIn where you are prompted to add your resume and life story, Girlboss asks you to fill in the blanks to three questions: "I'm good at ____," "I'd like to learn ___," and "I'd like to meet ___."

Once registered, you can join in the discussion. The site’s FAQs explain that no topic is off limits. “The Girlboss platform is a place where you can ask and answer questions about all things life, career, and money, and share your vulnerabilities in a safe environment.” The community is diverse, including posts from women (and a few men) of various ages, backgrounds and professions. Some are asking for networking advice, others are looking to market their services. As the site explains, Girlboss is “a place for entrepreneurs, career pros, side-hustlers, freelancers and gig-economy workers.”

The site includes “fireside chats” with women icons such as fashion designer and blogger Aimee SongBeth Comstock, former vice chairman of GE and recent author of Imagine it Forward; and Bozoma Saint John, chief marketing officer at William Morris Endeavor. The site expects to launch new chats weekly.

There is also a “required reading” section that includes dozens of blogs such as “The Ultimate Reading List for Women in Media,” “How to Grow a Brand People Will Obsess Over,” and “Money Moves: A 12-Week Guide to Investing in Yourself.”

While sign-up to the platform is currently free, buried within the FAQ section the site mentions a subscription plan and payment option. It explains that “If you choose to continue your membership after your trial ends, you’ll be automatically charged one low annual fee for your all-access membership.” While the site says that “The length of your free trial period, if any, will be disclosed clearly on the enrollment page,” this did not happen when I joined, nor was I asked for a credit card or other payment options. Perhaps this will change when the platform emerges from the beta phase.

Phoenix rising from the ashes

The new site is the latest offering from 35-year-old Amoruso, who first became known in 2006 when she launched Nasty Gal, a popular women's online clothing store. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nasty Gal went from an eBay store to a thriving 200-employee company with stores in Los Angeles and Santa Monica that currently pull in in $100 million in revenue.

In 2014, Amoruso’s autobiography, “#Girlboss” spent 18 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and two years later was the inspiration for a short-lived Netflix series. That same year, Forbes called Amoruso one of America’s richest self-made women.

Nasty Gal’s success didn’t last forever, however, and in 2016 filed for bankruptcy amid turmoil. According to the LA Times, there were several rounds of layoffs and allegations by employees of discrimination and by designers claiming copyright infringement.

Despite the downfall of her inaugural start-up, Amoruso picked herself up, continuing the Girlboss brand with a podcast, website and an annual two-day conference. Billed “part conference, part experiential inspiration wonderland,” the Girlboss Rally, as it is known, has drawn speakers such as Arianna Huffington, Cynthia Rowley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Graham and Emily Weiss.

This year’s event, which took place last month at UCLA, attracted 1,800 women from 28 countries. The conference includes workshops, a job fair and a “transparency wall,” where women are encouraged to anonymously share their salaries in hopes of helping other women better understand their own value. Attendees can pick workshops clustered around various tracks: Start-Up Studio, Hustle Hall, Leadership Hall, Confidence Club, and Branding Bootcamp. In between, there are musical performances and poetry readings.

The new Girlboss social platform seems to be a virtual extension of the Girlboss rallies, including more than 65 hours of videos from past conferences.

Building a unique community in her own style

Girlboss has received funding from some highly visible backers such as Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit and husband of Serena Williams, who invested $3.5 million according to media reports.

“Sophia has built a remarkable, global community of professional women both offline at the rally and online through all these other social media platforms,” Ohanian told the LA Times. “She knows exactly what her audience wants and has already done the hardest part — built a community.

 “We see countless engineers who’ve built platforms and have never been able to figure out the community-building side of the equation. Her experience and emotional intelligence are an invaluable part of why this is so special.”

Girlboss isn’t the only social networking platform targeted to women – there is also Landit, Bumble Bizz, and Dreamers // Doers. But if the Girlboss platform is anything like Amorusa’s other ventures, it will blaze its own trail and create a unique sense of community.

Image credit: Pixabay