Darcy Willson-Rymer is managing director of Starbucks UK & Ireland which recently switched all espresso-based drinks to Fairtrade-certified coffee. He spoke to Diane Lane about the move, which makes Starbucks the biggest buyer of Fairtrade coffee in the world.
Caterer Why did you decide to go Fairtrade?
Darcy Willson-Rymer In 2008, we made the commitment to double the amount of Fairtrade coffee we buy to £40m as part of a long-term commitment to Fairtrade. We've been buying Fairtrade coffee for more than 10 years and have ramped it up in the last five to six years. We are responding to what customers demand - in this market consumers want to know that companies they do business with stick to their values, even when times are hard.
Caterer How do the farmers benefit?
DWR We're buying from the same coffee farmers we've always worked with and we've worked with the cooperatives to get them Fairtrade-certified. As we buy more and more coffee, more producers can take advantage of the premium, which means that 10 US cents for every pound in weight goes to the growers. How the money is spent is up to the co-operatives. One group of farmers has bought bikes which can carry 50lb of cherries which they used to carry themselves for eight miles. Many will upgrade machinery or provide training.
Caterer Why have you partnered with the Fairtrade Foundation and made this move in the UK and not in the USA?
DWR Fairtrade certification gives assurance to customers. There are high levels of awareness among British and Irish consumers whereas Fairtrade certification is not nearly as well known in the USA.
Caterer Some roasters have complained that the foundation's guidelines put a heavy paperwork burden on them. How will you cope?
DWR Starbucks has always used some Fairtrade coffee so we have a robust system in place for the paperwork. And we're working to simplify the verification system so that the same person can do the verification for both Starbucks and Fairtrade rather than it having to be done twice.
Caterer Fairtrade coffee hasn't had a reputation for high quality. How do you address this?
DWR Quite often the farmers have never tasted our coffee. In Rwanda there's now a Starbucks Farmer Support Centre where they're cupping it and advising farmers on what they need to do to improve it. The farmers know that if they want to sell more coffee they must improve the quality and it's up to us to show them how to do it by taking care of the cherries.
Caterer How has the launch of your soluble coffee been going?
DWR Our Via instant coffee is selling in 35 locations in London and the product is just rolling out in the USA. We have a patented technology using the same beans as used in our stores. It's pretty close to filter coffee and it's about broadening the reach of Starbucks to places where you couldn't ordinarily get it.