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Ethical coffee

The ethical coffee market is booming – but how can we support authentic artisan brands?
Ethical coffee

This article first appeared in our Love issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 09 April 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

It’s estimated 92% of the UK’s coffee shops had to close temporarily during March and April 2020 – yet cafés and micro-roasters are expected to bounce back thanks to long-term consumer demand for high-quality coffee.

Following 20 years’ continuous growth, the UK is Europe’s largest coffee shop market; in addition to the focus on quality, we increasingly expect our coffee to be served with a healthy shot of social and environmental ethics.

‘Media channels are helping to educate consumers on the plight of coffee growers and the conditions they endure to produce the crops we demand’, explains Justin Cornelius, group director of the Coffee Hub Group. ‘With that comes the desire to do right and offer support where possible – and affordable.’

Our interest in ethical coffee is in turn influencing the small-scale coffee roasters who are looking to make a difference. They are encouraged to tell the growers’ stories and help to raise awareness of the issues they face.

Coffee greenwash

As coffee brands fight to enhance their ethical credentials – and also their share of the market – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify greenwash in the sector.

For Justin, a truly ethical coffee should be socially responsible, economically supportive and environmentally considerate. ‘In my opinion a truly ethical coffee should touch and have a positive impact on all three of these areas in a transparent and tangible manner – at origin and through the full cycle of its existence, including its end of life’, Justin tells us. ‘This is not easy to achieve, so many brands choose to focus on one or two of these points at a time.’

To assess a coffee’s true ethical position, Justin stresses the importance of considering best practice: whether the brand in question has made the best possible effort with the means and resources at its disposal, and whether all claims around ethics are tangible and transparent.

High street coffee chains

Those looking for ethical coffee might not naturally head to a high street coffee chain, but for Justin these coffee shops play an important role that shouldn’t be overlooked.

’As human beings we are naturally sociable’, Justin explains. ‘Our desire to meet up with friends, family and colleagues is facilitated by these businesses and the spaces they provide. Meeting up for a coffee will continue to be a part of everyday life for millions and these businesses will continue to service that market, drawing people onto the high street as they do. This in itself is a valuable lifeline for many other businesses on the high street.’

Due to their size and popularity, there is also huge potential for high street coffee chains to make a difference and to set trends in the market, so it is equally important for the consumer to keep the pressure on them to make sure they are trading responsibly. This in turn drives greater momentum in the independent sector.

Stronger together

The Coffee Hub Group will continue to grow and support innovative, smaller coffee brands that want to make a difference and offer consumers a chance to be part of a solution.

Firmly established in the South West, the group now has an office in Cheshire and is looking for new brands from across the UK to support and grow.

‘The benefits of this collaboration for each brand are numerous’, Justin explains. ‘Reduction in overheads and money saving through shared resources is an obvious benefit, as well as having a similar ethically focused client base to engage.’

Justin’s goal is to become a hub for numerous best practice coffee brands, each complementing the others and providing for different parts of the market.

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