#78 | East African Quality Innovation | Expo Lectures 2019

#78 | East African Quality Innovation | Expo Lectures 2019

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In today’s lecture, a panel delves into the challenges faced by East African processors of high-quality coffee and shares solutions to these challenges, found by three organizations in Ethiopia, Burundi, and Rwanda. These organizations have been working on the cutting edge of methods to improve both the farmgate price and workers’ pay while increasing cup quality. Representing one cooperative and two private companies, their discussion addresses working with large numbers of smallholders, the impacts of government regulation, and the considerations of certification. 

President of Artisan Coffee Imports, Ruth Ann Church, leads the panel, featuring Lauren Rosenberg, Managing Director of Long Miles Coffee in Burundi; Rachel Samuel, Co-Owner and Director of Marketing at Gesha Village Coffee Estate in Ethiopia; and Sara Yirga, Founder and General Manager of YA Coffee Roasters in Rwanda. 

Special Thanks to Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP 

This episode of the Expo 2019 Lectures podcast is supported by Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP.  Built upon SAP’s business-leading Enterprise Resource Planning solution, Softengine Coffee One is designed specifically to quickly and easily take your small-to-medium coffee company working at any point along the coffee chain to the next level of success. Learn more about Softengine Coffee One at softengine.com, with special pricing available for SCA Members. Softengine: the most intelligent way to grow your business.

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Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction
2:20 How Gesha Village used visual marketing to bring value to the Gesha Village community
14:00 Long Miles’ journey developing long term relationships with producers in Burundi and how that’s marketed
24:30 How the Kopakama Collective approaches marketing and quality control

Audience Questions
35:00 What is Lean, the management strategy, and what effect did it have on Kopakama’s growth?
38:45 Why did Gesha Village decide to have auctions for their coffees?
40:50 How do you share the marketing strategies you’ve developed with other players in East Africa?
47:15 What is your experience as women in leadership in this region?
49:20 Who are you targeting with your marketing efforts – buyers or drinkers? And what messages are you trying to get across?
55:30 Outro

Full Episode Transcript

0:00 Introduction

Heather Ward: Hello everyone! I’m Heather Ward, the SCA’s Senior Director of Content Strategy, and you’re listening to the SCA Podcast. Today’s episode is part of our Expo Lecture Series, dedicated to showcasing a curated selection of the extensive live lectures offered at our Specialty Coffee Expo. Check out the show notes for relevant links and a full transcript of today’s lecture.

This episode of the Expo 2019 Lectures podcast is supported by Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP.  Built upon SAP’s business-leading Enterprise Resource Planning solution, Softengine Coffee One is designed to quickly and easily take your small-to-medium coffee company working at any point along the coffee chain to the next level of success. Learn more about Softengine Coffee One at softengine.com, with special pricing available for SCA Members. Softengine: the most intelligent way to grow your business.

The episode you’re about to hear was recorded live at the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. Don’t miss next year’s lecture series in Portland – find us on social media or sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our announcements, including ways to get involved in next year’s Expo and early-bird ticket release!

In today’s lecture, a panel delves into the challenges faced by East African processors of high-quality coffee and shares solutions to these challenges, found by three organizations in Ethiopia, Burundi, and Rwanda. These organizations have been working on the cutting edge of methods to improve both the farmgate price and workers’ pay while increasing cup quality. Representing one cooperative and two private companies, they address working with large numbers of smallholders, the impacts of government regulation, and the considerations of certification.

President of Artisan Coffee Imports, Ruth Ann Church, leads the panel, featuring Lauren Rosenberg, Managing Director of Long Miles Coffee in Burundi; Rachel Samuel, Co-Owner and Director of Marketing at Gesha Village Coffee Estate in Ethiopia; and Sara Yirga, Founder and General Manager of YA Coffee Roasters in Rwanda.

And – as usual – I will jump in occasionally to help you follow along.


2:20 How Gesha Village used visual marketing to bring value to the Gesha Village community

Sara Yirga: Welcome to the session. I’m Sara from Ethiopia and my panelists are Ruth Ann Church, Rachel, and Lauren representing three amazing and dynamic organizations that are working in a wonderful job in the coffee industry. The topic we’re going to have today. The lecture topic is East African Quality Innovation that’s going to address three major areas that are marketing, price of cherry and quality control. These three are key in our coffee universe. Everybody should be really interested in what this amazing woman are going to say.  One of the key points were going to talk about in this session is marketing. How do you convince your buyers to pay the price for the quality of producing which is directly related to the quality of produce and what’s the cost of producing that quality. Again, we’re going to talk about farm gate prices and how they influence the cherry quality and the coffee we’ll produce. So, I’m going to directly take you to Rachel was going to tell us about her experience in the pricing, marketing, and convincing buyers and customers to pay the price. The coffee, the quality and the standard deserves. Thank you for joining us on this session.

Rachel Samuel: Hi, guys. I’m Rachel Samuel.  I’m going to refer to my notes because I get to be passionate when talking about coffee. So, who am I? I am Rachel, and I’m a co-founder. My husband and I have found Gesha Village Coffee Estate and I’m also the Marketing Director for Gesha Village. Gesha Village was founded in 2011 and why Gesha Village? Because in our past lives we did documentary film and photography. I traveled different parts of the world doing photography and filmmaking and in 2008we got commissioned with the Ethiopian government to do an intellectual property film about issues that were going on at that time in Ethiopia and we had a chance to really travel different parts of Ethiopia to look at different farms and we got excited. We thought coffee farming seemed cool, seemed interesting, beautiful and we met some really incredible people in different parts of the country.

So, I said, Hey, why don’t we become farmers? Now, that is easier said than done obviously because coffees requires a lot of knowledge and we had to put artistry that we did in our film making in our documentary detail-oriented artists that we are in our coffee. So, we really had to learn about what it is that we wanted to tell our stories to be. So, of course, we had to go to learn further and we went to Panama. I learned to with Willem Boot and, of course, after we got whatever we learned, we came back, took us a couple of years to find the perfect land and we found in southern southwestern region of Ethiopia Gesha Village and its inventor, Margie. I mean we’re going away and further and further and further and Gesha Village is 40 kilometers from the border of South Sudan. It’s really far. It takes us about 13 hours to get there if driving but once you get there, it’s this paradise really and it’s overwhelming with beauty.

So, Gesha Village fun facts. So, they go we have about 60 permanent workers, about 800 seasonal employees. It’s about 320 hectares. As you can see 30% is forest preservation. We have a washing station, holding station, our own dry mill, and some fun facts. So, we’ve been doing auction for the last three years. Okay, so now what makes Gesha Village special? You want to know that. Okay, so the interesting about Gesha village, we wanted to put artistry into our farm, of course and, that meant what? Getting to know the farm really, really well.

So, we divided our farms by blocks, lots, variety, micro-climate to create differentiation.  As you can see, we’ve named them differently. We have Shewa-Jibabu, Surma, Oma, Shaya, Bangi, Gaylee, and they all have micro-climate and that’s detailed. I only have 10 minutes, so I’m going to zip sit through this. Okay. So, we were able to create a system of tracking and tracing all the coffee all the way through the warehouse. So, meaning we picked on specific blocks, we targeted, processed it, milled separately through a system and it’s all the way through exports we tracked the system so we would know if a coffee is picked from Shewa-Jibabu, what date it’s picked. All the way to export were able to track it and it’s process. Our processing styles are washed, natural, honey experimentals. This year we have so many experimentals; carbonic maceration, aerobic fermentation, anaerobic fermentation, combined processes fermentation. We have some good stuff for the auction this year.

So, we then also within the different blocks we have various types of tiers we offer as well.  We have the auction as I mentioned. We have Gold Label, we have Red Label, Green Label, and couple of various types of Chakas and the differences are it’s detailed, but it goes from high intensity to lower intensity and higher price to lower price. We wanted to give options to our customers. Our auction is about 4% of our coffee, but generates about 15% of sales overall. Our Gold is about 10% of our coffee and generates about 20% of sales and Red, 23% and Green Label, and Chaka are 20% of our sales. So, it goes on like that.

We know how to get optimum in our coffee. We know how to keep it clean and we know what our coffee is worth because we put a lot of quality and care in our coffee in every single process. We felt that that’s important in creating and getting to know our products and getting to know our farm. We know what our clients wanted. This labels what a client wants, and they described the flavors that they want, types of coffee they want. We tell them “Hey, maybe we will recommend for competition the Gold Label for you or the Red Label for you or the Green Label.” So, we are able and also understand the flavors. Because the interesting part about the labels we understand what each blocks tastes like. If you want fruit, if you want jasmine and bergamot we know what to pick for you. If you want natural process and wash we also can do that. So, this variation has helped us identifying and relate what clients want in different parts of the world.

Price of labor. Yes, we paid the highest in the area of the farm. About 200 Birr a day. We do pay skilled laborers’ premium wage but that means that we even if we cannot, we have to make a perfect balance because even if you pay so much, we might get too many employees and the quality can suffer. So, it’s a perfect balance that you have to make. We try to take care of our employees. We give loans to our employees. We do transfer services. We do healthcare management training etcetera. So, the idea is we want people to work for us and stay with us and be happy working for us. Long term employees are important to us.

So, I know I don’t have that much time. So, marketing. Marketing that’s what we’re here for. For me, marketing is very, very important. Knowing who we are our story, our narrative, owning our narrative is very important to us, our storytelling. My background is advertising for making photography so for me visual elements very, very important and consistency is important. Not only quality in the product that we create, but also in the image that we create, who are we and what we are as a brand, who we are consistently and continuously. We stand up for something, we are who we are throughout and then people identify us all over the world for the quality we stand up, for the visual we give, who we are, and I think owning our narrative is very, very important as coffee farmers.

So, on that note, I want to show you a cool video. Now the video always comes or the visual comes from the coffee. The coffee creates the visual element meaning after the season’s over, cupping comes in. We taste the coffee and then what happens is a birth is giving of creativity. This time we felt like dancing when we tasted this new harvest. So, go for it.

[Video plays]

Rachel Samuel: Okay, that’s it. Thank you so much.


14:00 Long Miles’ journey developing long-term relationships with producers in Burundi and how that’s marketed.

Ruth Ann Church: So, thank you so much. Rachel, we really appreciate you bringing your marketing message and the way your marketing coffee maybe not everyone can market coffee that way, but we can get some good ideas.

Sara Yirga: Lauren from Long Miles will be following now.

Lauren Rosenberg: Hey, good morning, everybody. Before I start, I’d just like to get a sense of who’s in the room. Who is a coffee buyer? Who knows where East Africa is? Who knows that Burundi’s in East Africa? Okay, we’re off to a really, really great start. My name is Loren Rosenberg. I’m the managing director of Long Miles Coffee Burundi and I’m just here to share with you a little bit about our story and what we’re doing in the heart of Africa. Really Long Miles Coffee, before there was any coffee it was a story. A story of a family moving to East Africa, and  that is what connected us to a world of coffee buyers and then the coffee came and I think it’s really important to remember that because I think there if we lose sight of the fact that this is about living out your dreams and moving and risking it, you’re not understanding what we’re trying to do in East Africa.

So, some brief facts about us are up on the screen. I knew Ben and Christy from South Africa. I’m South African myself and first visited Burundi in 2012 and I basically came. As I said, there was a story. There was a blog before there was any coffee, and I came to see if Burundi was as crazy and as beautiful as they said it was, and it really was both of those things. Started working with Long Miles in 2013 and what I want to focus on today is the challenge, actually that we face in producing coffee in Burundi, producing high-quality coffee and just share a bit of our story. So especially for those of you who are buying in the room and just so you know what we’re trying to do and how we hope to effect change amongst rural communities and Burundi. So, the story of producing quality coffee in Burundi is really a story of changing mindsets.

So, we’re coming from a legacy of a state-owned crop where really an urban elite would extract coffee and just export it, kind of just continuing the colonial legacy. 2009 the sector gets privatized. A flurry of sort of capital comes into the country and there’s a handful of entrepreneurs is trying to do something. What we have to realize in Burundi we’re not working with coffee farmers. We’re working with farmers who happen to have coffee on their land, and my goal as managing director of Long Miles Coffees is to try and get our farmers to think entrepreneurially. I just want to just kind of do a dictionary definition of what the producer is in Burundi. The producer is not the smallholder farmer, neither is it the washing station. The producer is this really messy relationship between a washing station and the thousands of farms it works with. So, we work with close to five and a half thousand farmers across our two sites. Any good relationship is based on trust. Who knows that trust-building takes time. It’s messy, It’s complicated. So, when you think of the producer in Burundi, I want you to think of a relationship and I want you to think of a long term change process.

So, we started doing this in 2013 and we started focusing on selective hand picking. Wow! I remember the arguments that used to go down at the cherry selection table. Why are you rejecting our coffee? The other washing station will take this. Why are you so strict? Why are you so strict it? It just kept on and on and on. Then I realized some points like wait a minute, if we’re just waging this battle at the washing station, this is just inefficient. We need to start it at farm level. Those of you buyers also know about the potato taste defect. We started what we call a coffee scout program in 2014 trying to tackle the potato taste defect and we used the Antestia bug as a way to start building a training program and a farmer support program to focus on selective handpicking and quality. What we then realize is like okay, we can’t actually just focus around harvest time. We have to focus on how does the tree grow throughout a year.

So, as soon as the season was over at the end of June, which took, you know, two to three weeks break and then we came back at the end of July 2014 and started a pruning campaign because we said if we want to get rid of Antestia, we have to prune, and we have to mulch. Farmers said what are you doing here? All of the other coffee companies have gone. Coffee season’s done. Why are you here? And we said, we’re preparing for the next season. Three months later, I saw farmers actively working on their plantation. My colleague, who’s an agronomist came up and he said Lauren, I want to introduce you to someone who had, before we started working here, abandoned coffee and focused on beans but because he saw that we were investing, he decided too to rejuvenate his plantation. I said, wow, something’s happening here. Things are changing. So, if there’s one key take away I want you to go away with is that quality control and producing quality coffee in Burundi is about changing mindsets. It is about a long term community engagement. That is not a washing station coming in for three months saying we’re going to buy coffee we’re going to pay you high prices and then that’s it. We would fail in Burundi if we did that. We would also fail you as buyers if we did that because you would get a great crop the next year and then if someone else paid a high price the next year, they would go there. Those of you who are buying from Rwanda might know that this is a part of the story there.

I want to speak a little bit about our current challenge in Burundi. Last year, the government made it law that the coffee that we would normally pick out into that sack and send a farmer home with, like, a really tough lesson. If you bring in 100 kilos and 40 kilos of those are rejected because they’re floaters or they are under-ripe or overripe. You would literally feel the weight of that walking home that you’ve not, that you’ve not selected the best quality. As of last year, the government of Burundi has made it law that we have to buy that cherry at half the minimum floor price for a supposedly free market. I don’t think that’s the greatest strategy. I see the policy thinking. They want to remove semi-washed in the country, but I shouldn’t be obliged to buy that. So, this is a difficult, difficult place for us to be in because it’s effectively nullified five years of farmer training, but those of you have ever been to Burundi know that you can’t dwell on the problems forever because you will become overwhelmed. So, we’re working even harder now too. We’re legally not allowed to reject that coffee. I’m also not legally allowed to invite another trader onto our site to buy that coffee, so I have to buy that coffee. So, we’re working our best. We’re talking about…can we give farmers bonuses?

Heather Ward: Lauren has a photo of two coffee cherries, one red, titled Cherry A, and one green under-ripe, titled Cherry B.

Lauren Rosenberg: That coffee there is called Cherry B. The second quality in the first one is Cherry A. Can we give farmers a bonus if they bring the lowest percentage of Cherry B? My colleague said, wait a minute, no. But then we’ll get accused by the government that we don’t want Cherry B. I said okay, how do we do this strategically? And they said, okay, we’re going to start again. It’s almost like starting at the beginning except now we’ve got five years’ experience on our side. We’re going to start again in the fields talking to farmers about why it’s actually really not worth putting your money in that sack because you only get half the price. If you just waited a few more days, did selective handpicking. Also, if you found some semi-wash trader. That’s great. You know, I have no problem encouraging that for a farmer and only bring the best you’re going to get full price. Also, we do a transport bonus because we realize people are walking in far. That’s something else the Government of Burundi took away was collection sites. That was also another interesting policy decision. So, a transport bonus, a cherry bonus, and we’re trying to show farmers that if you focus on this and you follow our agricultural program, you’re going to see your productivity increase by more than three times.

I want to wrap up a little bit on marketing. We call its story in Long Miles and so when we’ doing team meetings, we say every time we just run through what’s our vision? Our vision is to transform communities using coffee is a tool. We looked through everything with two lenses, quality and story. I’ve spoken a little bit about quality. I want to speak finally about story in my last minute. Story is not what we put on Instagram, although I too love making Instagram stories and it’s really fun. Story is in 100 years’ time when they open up the book of Long Miles Coffee in East Africa. What are they going to read? What do we do? What are we doing with our time there? We’ve decided to do this. Some people say, oh, you’re on such a great adventure producing coffee. This is our lives. We’ve chosen this.

So, that’s how we view story. We’re building up a team to make that a bit more multifaceted to have a monitoring and evaluation component of that. So, we actually have hard data to show that hey, we are pioneering change in rural Burundi and here’s the hard data for it and if you’re not interested in the hard data, here’s our Instagram stories. So, that’s part of what we’re doing. All of this is our story, and I think you’re welcome to come and visit. I’d love it if all of you come and visit and I think when you think about coffee in Burundi, please do not think about the horror stories you read online. I want you to think about the two lenses, quality because it’s amazing quality coffee in Burundi and story because our story in Burundi is just getting started. Thank you very much.


24:30 How the Kopakama Collective approaches marketing and quality control

Sara Yirga: Last but not least, we’re going to hear from Ruth Ann and I’m looking forward to this presentation and I know you do too.

Ruth Ann Church: Okay. My name’s Ruth Ann Church. I’m president of Artisan Coffee Imports and we import specialty grade green coffee from Rwanda, and we do some consulting at Origin and when this lecture was designed, it was supposed to be Martha Uwiherewenimana up here to speak to you. She is the president of Kopakama Cooperative in Rwanda. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for her to be here to join these other women who are leading impressive organizations in East Africa. So, I am here as her stand-in. I do import and sell the coffee of Kopakama, and this will be my fourth year. But keep that in mind, I can’t give the same firsthand insights that Martha could or that our colleagues on the panel have. So, I do appreciate you guys bringing us the words straight from Central Africa. I do visit the co-op at least once or twice a year. So, let me tell you what I know.

Kopakama is a wonderful Rwandan cooperative, notably older than the other organizations you’ve just heard from. They are 15 years old now, 33 permanent employees and 600 seasonal and notably also, this is a cooperative business model, which is also intentional for this panel. I wanted to show that the innovations that we see in coffee can happen with co-ops as well as private companies and then the other highlight here is the small size of the farms. 449 trees is the average size of the farm. That’s like 0.18 hectare for their members. Another very cool thing the Kopakama did is create a women’s group called Ejo Heza, and the highlight about them is they have three community plots. So, the 300/400 women are farming three community plots together.

So, first I’m going to address some marketing points and then go on to price and quality control. The first three points are probably not innovative, but I wanted to give you a sense of what the marketing mix is at this cooperative. They’re pursuing multiyear relationships, fixed-price contracts. So, that would be fixed-price instead of being based on the C price. They have three certifications that they offer fair trade, rainforest and organic, and they offer micro lots but the fourth one is the one that’s probably innovative. They are pursuing culture change to Lean, and Lean is something that allows management to focus on sales to the right customers. So, I have this next slide to kind of drill in a little bit on these triangles.

Heather Ward: Ruth Ann has a graphic of two pyramids side by side. Each is split into three sections, and each section is entitled ‘grow’, ‘improve’ and ‘run’. The pyramid on the left shows the ‘run’ segment taking up the majority of the pyramid, whereas the pyramid on the right shows replaces ‘run’ with ‘grow’, so now ‘grow’ is taking up the majority of the pyramid and ‘run’ shrinks to a small segment. The third segment ‘improve’, also becomes bigger in the new pyramid compared to the old pyramid.

Ruth Ann Church: Lean does many things, but the one thing I’ll try to share with you today is this focus on growth and the triangle embodies all of the time of the people in that organization and then what you see with Lean is you’re shifting towards a new culture, where more of the company’s time is spent on growth and less of it is spent on the run. The run being the operations, and you notice that the way we get from the left to the right, the old way to the new way is by focusing on improvement. Early on when we start, there’s not a lot of time in the organization spent on improvement but some and then gradually, as you go along, more and more people are spending time on improving the operations. So, I know a bit about this because it was in 2016 that I started that I was allowed to begin the Lean training at Kopakama and so they’ve been moving this direction since that time and one example is Frederique, the CEO, the hired CEO employee was here was in Seattle last year for SCA. I think that was one of the first times that they had made the time and the money available for one of their leaders to be at SCA and that’s kind of an example of growing into having more time spent on marketing. So, the other thing that Kopakama is working on and this is somewhat related to Lean is to get the kind of pricing that allows growth. So, here’s a glimpse of average cherry prices paid by Kopakama.

Heather Ward: Ruth Ann has a table showing the average farmer price per pound of green beans. The price in 2016 was 0.70 cents per pound and two years later it rose to US$1.07 but, in 2019, the chart says the price per pound is projected to fall to US$0.80 cents per pound.

The second point to note is that the average sales price for green coffee per pound was US$2.22 in 2016, and then it fell to US$2.17 cents by 2018.

Ruth Ann Church: So, 2016 was a very low price and then, since that time they’ve been able to increase the pricing.  What they accomplished with that is that whereas in 2016 over half their members were dis-incentivized to grow coffee and then as the cherry pricing you can. I’m sorry, I’ve got a little box there to help you. So, you can see 0.7 and 2016 goes up to 1.2 to 1.7 in 2018. We’ve got some issues, and this gets to some of the things that Lauren was talking about that are not market imposed that are dragging down the price this year. So, the cooperative is going to have to deal with the aftermath of lower Cherry price this year and more farmers being demotivated to pursue coffee. Ideally, what we would want to see in this marketing trajectory is that as the farmer price goes up, the average export price of all of the cooperatives’ coffee is going up. So, while 2018 went up over 2017 neither of those years with higher than 2016. So, that’s a big area for focus, let’s just put it that way and one thing that very much helps with improving that average export price is quality control. So, here’s what Kopakama is doing as quality control.

Heather Ward: Ruth Ann’s diagram shows a virtuous quality control circle. Farmer investments lead to higher productivity. But, at the quality control stage, defects are removed, lowering the overall harvest available for higher margins. But the coffees that make it through are sold in the specialty market, thereby enabling farmers to earn more and make investments. The virtuous cycles then continues.

Ruth Ann Church: This diagram shows the important point that Kopakama has found. We have to put quality control before the farmer gets paid, which unfortunately is often overlooked in Rwanda. With quality control function here, you can get the virtuous cycle going of farmer is investing, bringing more cherry and getting paid more.

So, 2019 is the first year that Kopakama required floating before paying the farmer. So, what does floating look like?

Heather Ward: Ruth Ann is showing three pictures.

Ruth Ann Church: With floating we have the farmer bringing her cherry, and first she has to hand sort and there’s a waste. You see, kind of the yellow cherries. Those get pulled out with the hand sorting then the good cherry goes into a bucket with water and the bad cherries air floated. So, again we have a second tier of bringing the waste out and getting into the waste stream and the waste is weighed by the collector. So, what he weighs is as waste cherry is subtracted from the total amount of cherry that the farmer brought. So, now the farmers is getting paid two prices, and this is new and Rwanda, Burundians have known this for a long time. So finally, this year, the cooperative is paying to 2.22 for sinkers, the really good cherry and 50 for the floaters, the light cherry and what they’re finding and what they believe internally they themselves is that this is going to help them pay farmers more. The farmers who consistently bring 90% good, dense cherry are going to get paid more than they did. Maybe in the past and cup scores will increase and customers will be willing to pay more for good quality coffee.

So, that’s my story from Kopakama. I believe they’re innovating in marketing, pricing and quality control.

Audience Questions

35:00 What is Lean, the management strategy, and what effect did it have on Kopakama’s growth?

Sara Yirga: One more round. Thank you so much. Thank you Raquel, Lauren, and Ruth. I’m going to just give the floor the opportunity to ask any questions you might have comments and feedback.

Audience member – Ben Carlson: I’ll jump in. Ruth Ann, you talked a little bit about Lean. You didn’t really have the time to go into that too much. Would you be willing to unpack that a little bit and specifically, speaking of how using Lean, it showed on your slide at a direct correlation to growth. I would like if you could have an example of that and just a little tidbit for us of what that is.

Sara Yirga: Can you introduce yourself.

Audience member – Ben Carlson: I’m sorry, I’m Ben Carlson.

Ruth Ann Church: So, Kopakama had this openness to changing to a lean culture and that’s a key thing. There was openness in the management team to changing culture. They were willing to try. They probably wouldn’t have gone too far if they didn’t like it. So, the Lean is an adjective that means fit and healthy. So, it’s not an acronym and it also defines an operations management system that some of you have been in business school may have heard about from time to time. So “grow” is the activities that somebody in the organization spends growing current or new customers. “Improve,” and the example I gave there was Frederique taking the time during peak season, by the way, to go to Seattle last year. “Improve” would be an example, what we do, one thing we do very concretely is create improvement projects of workers who are thinking about a certain problem and figuring out an answer. So, one of the examples was the guy who runs the machine understood that the machine sometimes cuts the green beans and that’s basically money going down the drain because every time a good being gets cut, it’s now in the waste drain. So, he and one of our first Kaizen projects was to devise a way for them to more immediately adjust the disks on the de-pulping machine to reduce cut beans. So, that’s an example of “improve”. Now, the real reason it leads to growth, I think this might be the answer to your question is normally everybody, including the management, is spending almost all of every day doing what we call putting out fires. “Oh my gosh, this has to get done today. We’re all going to work on this. Nobody’s doing anything else.” That kind of madness and as you work on your improvements, you’re going to work on reducing the time needed and thinking about what’s the most efficient way to do each process. So, there’s a lot of focus on time. Reducing the time, it takes to do any single operation or process. So, that’s how we get the operations down and more capacity to work on finding customers and the right customers for your product and being able to do all of that more efficiently. It’s a little abstract because we don’t have time for an entire MBA course right here. Does that help? Does that help a little bit?

Sara Yirga: Thank you, Ruth. I think I got her so I can summarize it like this. “Grow” is in terms of production. It’s the value, chain activities, marketing and finding customers and leadership. “Improve” is in thinking, upgrading, and efficiency so that you run to the next thing, questions of type I think if I had got it right.


38:45 Why did Gesha Village decide to have auctions for their coffees?

Audience member 2: At Gesha Village, I thought the way you presented just that you’re coming from a storytelling background  is a very interesting way of, of showcasing Gesha Village and I’m just wondering how that played into making an auction viable or if that was just like, an added benefit or if that was like a direct driver to how you could even start that because, I mean, also having the connection with Panama. I’m assuming that’s where you got some of ideas and how that drove sales but would be interested to know that connection.

Rachel Samuel: The auction for us is very important because it allows us to… First of all, the auction is about 4% of our sales. and so, it’s very important that it helps us market are our coffee and share our coffee to different consumers, different parts of the world. We do cupping sessions with roasters, ultimately reaching consumers and it’s a great way of meeting other people that would be interested in our coffee and sharing our stories and who we are and what we’re trying to do with Gesha Village. So, that’s exciting for us. The auctions are really, really fun. Of course, yes, I would definitely agree that Panama’s influence is there. With the first auction to do in Africa as well as in Ethiopia. So, it’s very exciting. It definitely took a lot of guts and it was a single estate that did auction. So, we had to be brave and you had to, you know, and listen, you know, it’s really fun. Auction, tasting auction, cuppings are just one of the best things to do because you get to have so much fun tasting amazing coffees.


40:50 How do you share the marketing strategies you’ve developed with other players in East Africa?

Audience member – Lisa Artuso: Thank you so much for your presentation. I’ve been here all week at Re:co and at Expo and I’m just happy that there’s representation from Africa. We’ve heard a lot from our colleagues across Central America and their two conflicting Africa panels. So, that’s my feedback for SCA next year.  Yes, as someone kind of craving that content. So, thank you for your leadership. I was wondering if you could talk as innovators, these are clearly very advanced marketing and sales channels how you’re sharing those strengths and that knowledge across East Africa with either smaller-scale cooperatives or others who are really looking to carve out a broader global understanding of specialty East African coffee.

Sara Yirga: Can we get your name?

Audience member – Lisa Artuso: Sorry, I’m Lisa Artuso. I’m with the University, California Davis.

Rachel Samuel: Sharing knowledge is very important to us. In fact,  in 2017 we wanted to share what we were doing in Gesha Village without the farmers in Bench Maji and in different parts of Ethiopia but first we did it in 2017 in Bench Maji and we actually took a bus full off farmers from neighboring areas and said, hey, we can show you what we’re doing in Gesha Village so you could do that to your farm because sharing knowledge is very important to us. We have an opportunity to travel to different parts of the world a meet different knowledgeable people but some of the farmers, they don’t have that. So, we said, hey, what about you Come to Gesha and we tell you, we show you our processes during harvest, what you can do, and we had a big cow and party for all sorts of people, about 40 people. It was really, really fun but, hey, we took them through all the processes. This is how we pick cherries. This is what quality means. This is how we’re doing it and it was just really an overwhelming experience for a lot of farmers. But of course, as Lauren was saying people get overwhelmed with so much sharing of knowledge. They’re like, uh, uh you know. So, it is a work in progress. We’re definitely going to try to continue this program, but yeah, I believe sharing and when they ask us any questions about where’d you get this, how do you do that, what to do, we wanted to create that channel, and we want Gesha Village to be that farm that shares the knowledge anytime, people want and have a question and that was important to us and that continuously will be important to us.

Sara Yirga: Do you have any plans? A part of the sharing experience and knowledge to institutionalize and make it a regular endeavor for Gesha Village to have farmers from all over, at least Ethiopia come to your farm and learn and take back experience to their own farm and produce good quality coffee?

Rachel Samuel: That’s the idea. I mean, our dream, really my dream, if you ask me, is really Ethiopia to claim that, hey we gave coffee to the world and guess what I think Ethiopia should own that and I think we can do it and I think it’s important and I think we can. We have amazing coffee, and there’s no reason why if we take care of quality in every aspect, every step we couldn’t. It’s important and last year we didn’t do it because of the economy and the political situation. People didn’t want to travel. I didn’t want to travel, safety number one. So, next year there, we’re going to continue. So, we’re going to do further. We saw Bench Maji, then now we’re going to go, and we actually have clients that are interested, and they were so excited about this project. They said, hey, how about we bring farmers from Kenya and Rwanda and let that sharing be and we’ll sponsor? We already had some sponsors last 2017. We continue to have this think tank group where East Africa and then further Africans share knowledge. I think it’s important.

Sara Yirga: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah, Okay Ruth, yeah.

Ruth Ann Church: Follow up on the sharing idea. Nice question from UC Davis there. Yes, I’ve also felt that there needs to be more spreading of even some basic lessons of marketing that are not well understood or widely understood in a lot of East African coffee producing organizations. So, I had this daydream in my head of executive education offered in East Africa marketing for coffee exporters. So, if anybody, sponsors, and people that can fund that kind of thing, sounds like maybe you’ve tapped into them. Let’s work on it.

Sara Yirga: Thank you, Ruth.

Loren Rosenberg: And then the last one was about how are we sharing some of our innovations in East Africa? I think this is something quite dear to my heart because I haven’t gone to too many trade shows, but when I do go, I realize my privilege and being able to speak English as a first language and for the majority of African producers, this is not the case and I get frustrated when NGOs pump a bunch of money into producer organizations and no one has showed someone how to walk across the room and have a conversation with someone in a language that is not their first language and say, hey, I’d love to give you a sample of my coffee. So, personally I’m trying to do a bit about that. As a company, we are looking at expansion in East Africa. We have a vision to be in several East African nations over the coming years and we want to share what we’ve learned because I really believe if you can make it in Burundi, you can make it anywhere. So, this is part of our story too. It’s how do we help others come with us? Yeah. Thank you.


47:15 What is your experience as women in leadership in this region?

Audience member – Ben Carlson: I’m sorry. I’m just going to keep throwing then out there. But I want to know for each of you specifically, maybe Ruth Ann is not going to be able to speak to this as much, about being a woman as a leader. I know in Burundi that has posed challenges in the past. I just would like to hear your perspective on that, so maybe some highs and lows on having gender as an issue or non-issue.

Loren Rosenberg: Women in leadership in Burundi’s in coffee is really interesting. I think it’s always going to be an interesting battle of diplomacy to not get angry because you know our story. I mean, this is my boss right here, Ben Carlson and in East Africa, when there is a white guy around, he is the boss and it has been a really interesting almost two years now of still people saying, “Well, yeah, but you know, sort of what does Ben think?” And then they’re going to Ben and Ben says, “No, you need to ask Lauren. This is her”. So, I think there’s that which is actually both in Burundi and out of Burundi and then in Burundi, I think I think I’m really lucky that I’m a South African. So, I’m from the continent. That really helps and to be really real I just play that card that I’m not Burundian and I can be very direct. Burundians are really indirect, and I am kind of like, well, you know what I’m not from this culture and if I’ve offended you, but I am, you know, just calling you out on the fact that you’re not taking me seriously as a woman and then I think the last thing around that is just surrounding myself with cultural guides. So, colleagues who are so much more culturally experienced than I am because they’re Burundian and because they’ve been in the coffee sector longer than I am and I just defer to their wisdom as much as I can because I just know that, yeah I’m going to make a lot of mistakes.

49:20 Who are you targeting with your marketing efforts – buyers or drinkers? And what messages are you trying to get across?

Audience member – Kathy: Hello. My name is Kathy and my question is regarding marketing efforts. Is your audience specifically the buyer, or do you sometimes think about beyond the buyer who is your audience for marketing?

Lauren Rosenberg: In terms of who’s the audience that is something we’re trying to figure out. It is mostly roaster but what we’re realizing, what we’re seeing is that we want to connect with the end consumer and the end consumers is actually connecting with us via Instagram and now there’s almost another sort of audience going. We started an environmental program called Trees for Kibira where we saw by listening to our farmers. We did a survey, we said, Hey, how can we as Long Miles Coffee serve you? As I said, we’re looking at how do we use coffee’s a tool for community transformation and the number one resounding response that came back was that climate change is messing up our farms. So, as a company, we said, okay, we need to respond to this, and we started an initiative called Trees for Kibira. So, there’s a new audience emerging there and because it’s so new and because we’re so used to doing coffee and we’re learning how to do the tree planting thing and the reforestation thing. There’s a new audience coming out that we actually need help in terms of how do we engage and so we’re getting a lot of outside input. Just really informal discussions of how do we do this. How do we share what we’re doing in an area that we’re actually not experienced in.

Heather Ward: A member of the audience is saying that there are many messages you’re trying to get across. Which is the one you want roasters to focus on?

Lauren Rosenberg: That’s a really great question and it’s something that we wrestle with a lot of the team. How do you convey context and I think the first one is come and visit yourself. So, please come and visit and I think that is being the most useful tool in terms of helping craft a message because we really want you to walk away with hey, this is what Burundi coffee is for us.  We put a lot of effort and time into making hill guides to our coffee and I think if there’s anything that you could sort of convey, is that I think the first one is that this is not a project, even though it’s in our title. We are not an NGO. We are a for-profit coffee producer that is working to affect long term change in Burundi through high-quality coffee. That’s what I would like the takeaway to be and then, if you want to speak about our efforts to reduce the potato taste that’s amazing. If you want to talk about the rolling green, beautiful hills of Burundi, that’s amazing. If you want to talk about how Burundi coffee just crushes Rwanda coffee… I really do think visiting is key and I know it’s not possible for everyone to visit, which is why we do our best with Instagram stories, and that’s something if you don’t know how to explain, we’re putting in a lot of effort to help, to serve you and be like, hey, if you don’t know what to say just say go look at their Instagram story. Every day there should be an Instagram story up and that can help convey a bit of what we’re doing.

I have a question for roasters and cafe owners in the room. Something we struggle with a lot of what is more effective in conveying context, video, text, photography. What are some of the things that work or don’t work?

Audience member – Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: I am Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka founder and CEO of Gorilla Conservation Coffee which basically we support coffee farmers living around habitats where gorillas have found and stop them poaching, collecting firewood and give them a good price for good coffee. It has to be good Arabica coffee which we train them to do and then we sell it to tourists, expatriates, affluent Ugandans and now we’ve started selling it abroad as well as there is a donation for every bag sold. It goes back to support the community in the same areas. Gorilla health, gorilla conservation and we also have a cafe in Entebbe, Gorilla Conversation Cafe. We found that video works quite well for promoting our cause. It’s a for-profit social enterprise where we got a small loan. So, we have a very small budget, but we’ve managed to really do a lot of marketing through social media. Video has really helped photographs. Everyone who comes to the coffee it’s nicely branded with Kanyonyi my favorite gorilla.  He’s over there plus showing how by buying the coffee, you’re helping the gorillas and helping the farmers and so that’s really helped. Just social media, video, taking photographs all of that has really helped. Facebook so people, everyone knows about it. Just with a tiny budget.

Heather Ward: A member of the audience is saying they like video content because it can be playing while they’re doing something else in the cafe. They also mention that they have producer partner profiles in the shop, with photographs and a little story behind the producer.

Sara Yirga: Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you, ladies. That was an awesome presentation. I would love to wrap it up as these three major topics. My main points were our focus from the beginning, and we heard a top-notch marketing strategy with a video from our Gesha Village panelist and despite the policy challenges what Long Miles is doing to improve the cherry quality so that they get a good price on their cherries and the Lean model, that is a new lesson for me as well. I think we’re going to have a conversation on the one with Root. But it is an interesting new adventure as well. So, thank you. I hope you got some more information about how innovative and creative we are in the Eastern part of Africa, about our coffee and to make the cup of Joe you enjoy really worth it. Thank you so much.

55:30 Outro

Heather Ward: That was Ruth Ann church, Lauren Rosenberg, Rachel Samuel, and Sara Yirga at Specialty Coffee Expo in April 2019. Remember to check our show notes for a full episode transcript of this lecture and a link to coffeeexpo.org for more information about this year’s event.

This has been an episode of the SCA Podcast’s Expo Lecture Series, brought to you by the members of the Specialty Coffee Association, and supported by SAP’s Softengine Coffee One. Thanks for listening!


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