Fairtrade coffee enters a new era with Cafédirect

How Cafédirect balanced social impact and environmental concerns to
launch the first 100% Fairtrade coffee pods, a sustainable alternative
in a growing market


Coffee drying in Colombia. Photograph: Fairtrade

Earlier this year one of the Fairtrade pioneers, Cafédirect, launched the UK’s first 100% Fairtrade range of Nespresso machine compatible pods, an exciting innovation for the coffee industry, Fairtrade and shoppers alike.

Innovation comes with many challenges, but the dynamic becomes complex when you’re trying to balance social, environmental and commercial considerations.

In the coffee industry, a new trend has been the move towards single serving coffee pods, with the category growing by 39% year on year. Consumers are supplementing their traditional coffee usage with pods, thereby growing the overall category. This trend is only set to continue and Cafédirect felt it was important that shoppers had a Fairtrade alternative.

When the Fairtrade mark launched in the UK in 1994, Cafédirect was one of the first brands to put a Fairtrade certified product on the shelves. It has always tried different ways of doing business, centred around the principles of shared wellbeing, and recognised the conundrum of entering the coffee pods market.

According to Violeta Stevens, Cafédirect’s procurement manager, “We thought long and hard about the pros and cons of coffee pods, well over a year in fact. In the end we felt the principles of increasing consumer choice and social impact gave us the agency to launch.”

Some of the benefits of introducing coffee pods that appealed to

Cafédirect were:

  • Increased consumer choice for single-serve coffee pods in line with
    its values: 100% Fairtrade; directly sourced from smallholder growers;
    at least 50% of profits reinvested back into growers.
  • Increased coffee purchase volumes for its grower partners helps to create more sustainable futures.
  • An increase in brand share, which would benefit its grower partners as shareholders in the business.
  • Brand image and legitimacy: showing that Cafédirect is not only the
    first Fairtrade hot beverage company in the UK, but a modern, positive
    business which innovates constantly to provide ethical alternatives to
    meet consumer demands.

There is undoubtedly an environmental challenge when it comes to
coffee pods, in particular packaging (both in terms of production and
the amount of packaging used) and the energy and water used to make the
coffee at home. Faced with this problem, Cafédirect had to try hard to
find the best available solution.

“We needed to find a partner who would enable us to set up a robust
and transparent supply chain, would be able to constantly innovate in a
rapidly developing product category, provide great quality products with
the best available packaging solution, and be flexible enough to work
with our coffees, which are sourced directly from our partners at
origin. It sounds like a big task, and it was a big task, but we were
successful and managed to find a like-minded business in Europe who was
happy to support us and work with us,” says Stevens.

Cafédirect launched a food-grade polypropylene pod, which is
recyclable anywhere that accepts mixed plastics, and works continuously
with the manufacturer to develop and reduce the pod packaging. Using its
existing sustainability networks, Cafédirect monitors material and
packaging developments and the transport after manufacture is carried
out in full truck loads to ensure efficient operations and minimise the
environmental impact.

Another big challenge for the brand was developing the taste profiles
of the pods. Because the products only work with Nespresso machines,
the product development was focused strongly on technology, unlike the
creation of a traditional coffee product.

“We invested significant resources (both financial and human) in
selecting the right coffee and developing taste profiles. In our
opinion, we achieved the best tasting Nespresso machine compatible
coffee pods currently available on the market. With the pods category
booming at the moment, it is important to reassure consumers that they
don’t have to compromise on quality nor ethics in order to get the best
home espresso experience possible,” says Stevens of the process.

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