Title : Rising Star: Bryan Unkles of Cafeology
Date : 9 December 2016
Each month, The LOWdown sits down with one of the rising stars of the European startup and entrepreneur community. This month, we catch up with Bryan Unkles, Co-Founder of Cafeology; a UK-based ethical company specialising in the supply of the very finest fairtrade and bird-friendly ethical coffee.
LOW: Why did you set up your company?
I wanted to bring ethically sourced hot beverages to the out-of-home market, in particular Fairtrade certified products. Although there was limited availability in retail, at the time, the Foodservice market was not promoting Fairtrade and the benefits of purchasing sustainably.
LOW: When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?
I registered the company in November 2003 and commenced trading in April 2004.
LOW: Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ (i.e. which led to you starting your business, or which triggered a change in the way you did things)?
During a roastery trip to Groningen, Northern Holland, I noticed coffee being packed with the Max Havelaar (Fairtrade Netherlands) logo being present. The quality was excellent and something which I believed we could market in the UK.
LOW: What education or training did you have?
I spent a lot of time with the Fairtrade Foundation in London, learning more about the importance of Fairtrade and how the minimum price and social premiums really do make a difference to farmers in the developing world.
I gained a lot of coffee knowledge through my previous roles, which have assisted in the development of Cafeology, and over recent years, I have been lucky enough to visit our producers throughout Latin America, including countries like Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. This has helped expand my knowledge whilst also assisting in direct social initiatives with some of our producers.
LOW: Where did you source funding to set up your business?
Myself and my business partner Andy McClatchey personally self-funded the initial set up of the business to allow us to purchase stock, stationery and all other essentials required to kick start the company.
LOW: Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?
Not particularly. We had assistance from the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as industry bodies such as the SCAE (Speciality Coffee Association of Europe and the BSA (Beverage Standards Association).
We did manage to arrange some funding through NatWest’s Small Firm Loan Guarantee Scheme, which allowed us to purchase crockery to support a National Pub Group which we had won in 2007.
LOW: With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?
Listen, listen, listen to those who have experienced similar set ups and gain advice to prepare you for the journey.
LOW: What is the single best piece of advice you have received along the way?
To continue to develop and evolve along with the industry and markets. The world coffee market is a vast industry enjoyed all over the world. As an independently owned business it is essential to ensure that our offer always remains fresh, vibrant and exciting.
LOW: Who or what are you inspired by?
I am a big believer in ‘getting out of life what one puts in’. My main inspiration was my late Father, Malcolm, who taught me about values, ethics, respect and effort. Without these key attributes I believe Cafeology would not be in as good a position today.
LOW: What is the USP that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?
We are a very proud to be an independently owned British company. Our strap line of ‘100% Ethical in Everything We Do’ forms the backbone of our company. We direct source our coffees allowing the opportunity for our customers to engage with our producers, something which we have been actively involved with in Colombia since 2009. We have worked with the same producer ASOAPIA over the last 7 years which has allowed our customers and their consumers to meet the President of the Producer Group. Our partnership with the RSPB has allowed us a unique partnership with one of the largest wildlife charities in Europe as we seek to develop our Award Winning Bird Friendly coffee.
LOW: How does your company impact people’s lives for the better?
Cafeology is built on providing long term, sustainable partnerships both with our suppliers and our customers. By working closely with our producers allows us to engage in social initiatives back at the farm. For example, we provide an ongoing donation to our producer in El Salvador which has helped fund family trips to providing milk to the children of the farmers. Also, with our Fairtrade growers, we provide a social premium through the Fairtrade system which helps the cooperative members with social initiatives.
A key point is also the development of our own staff. It gives me great pride to see how they have developed and the commitment our team show to ensure Cafeology remains at the forefront of the industry. This ultimately creates a healthy environment across the company as our staff feel appreciated and rewarded for their considerable efforts.
LOW: How long did it take you to break into new markets?
Our business gained momentum in 2007 after securing one of the largest pub groups in the UK. This provided traction to our business and allowed us to explore other areas and markets where hot beverages are consumed away from home.
LOW: How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?
A: Over recent years we have enjoyed significant growth in turnover and volume, which has led us to create further job opportunities as our business has expanded. The recent decision for the UK to leave Europe will no doubt throw us our biggest challenge to date. All our coffee is traded in US$ which given the devaluation of the GB£ has resulted in a significant rise in costs. We also work with equipment suppliers in Europe which has had a similar effect even though it is still very early days.
LOW: How are you planning to grow your business?
We are a business build on quality and as the coffee industry continues to grow, we believe coffee drinkers are becoming more discerning as the expansion of coffee bars across the high street continued to develop. By offering the very highest quality, we feel this is the right steps to ensure sustainable growth is achieved.
We have recently purchased a brand new coffee roaster which will be commissioned on 16 December 2016. This will allow us to provide bespoke artisan coffees for new sectors we have not been involved with previously.
LOW: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?
I feel that there should be more help on offer for business start-ups. In 2003, we received no advice and little assistance on where to turn on setting a business up. It was very much a case of talking to people who have done something similar.
I feel there should be greater encouragement for entrepreneurs to start up their own businesses. This could be in the shape of helpful tax breaks or access to cheaper funding to assist the set ups. This I feel should be based on which particular sector the business is operating and how it benefits others.
Define SME’s. I have always felt this term has too wide an area. As I understand it is used for businesses who have up to 250 employees or up to £36M t/o. This is a huge area, and perhaps it should be more defined to allow a greater voice for smaller companies.
LOW The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?
Being an entrepreneur can create a very challenging but rewarding environment to work in. For myself it is about being able to express your inner ambition and make key decisions that make a positive difference to others less fortunate than ones self.
LOW: What do you see as the key trends/disruptors for 2017 relevant to entrepreneurs?
I feel that entrepreneurship has become more encouraged which I think is a very positive step. Many people have the ideas but simply don’t get the option to express them. This hampers progression.
In my home city of Sheffield, there is an event called the MADE Festival. This is annual event held for those wishing to start up their own business as well new entrepreneurs. It gives great advice as well as gives attendees the opportunity to network with like minded professionals. The event also provides a platform for established speakers to share their stories about entrepreneurship and the challenges and successes they have experienced.
Brexit will continue to provide challenges in the immediate term, especially the lack of information resulting in uncertainty, which hampers progression.
LOW: If you could go back to when you were about to start your company and give yourself a single message or piece of advice, what would it be?
Listen and learn. Starting a business from scratch can be a very lonely place and there will always be challenges along the way. Listen to others and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or seek advice along the way.Return to The LOWdown
Learn more about Cafeology here.