Iconic Irish brand remains true to old Quaker values as coffee scene continues to grow
Bewley's brand director Mark Saunders explains to John McGee the importance of remaining relevant to customers
With an annual turnover of €150m and over 1,200 employees, the iconic Irish brand Bewley's is one of our oldest companies. Set up in 1840 by Samuel and Charles Bewley, and now controlled by the Campbell family, the company operates across multiple Irish, UK and US channels including cafés, retail grocery and food-service, which now accounts for the largest part of the business.
From Dublin, Mark Saunders is its brand director and has played a key role in shaping the company's development since he joined it in 2009. Prior to this he was commercial and marketing director for Dairy Crest Ireland.
Given that the company operates in very competitive markets, what are the main marketing challenges?
"Like many other brands and businesses, the main challenge we face is ensuring we remain relevant to consumers in the channels and markets we operate in, clearly understanding their requirements and delivering high quality, differentiated solutions that satisfy their needs.
"In terms of the international dimension of our business, while there are localised differences in consumer behaviour, we do see global macro trends that cut across all markets. This includes consumers choosing better quality coffee, wanting to try new products and experiences, the rise of convenient solutions and the importance of companies trading and behaving ethically and responsibly."
As a long established Irish brand, what does the company stand for in 2017?
"The Bewley's brand enjoys high levels of brand awareness and trust and was built on a spirit of adventure and discovery from the day Charles and Samuel Bewley first brought tea directly into Ireland in 1835, to when Ernest Bewley first opened Bewley's Oriental Café on Grafton Street in 1927. Our mission is to 'delight the senses' and that's what we always aim to deliver - enriching coffee experiences that delight the senses."
How important is innovation and product development for the beverages industry?
"Innovation and new product development is incredibly important to stay relevant to customers, given the speed of change taking place both in general consumer behaviour and then more specifically in the coffee market.
"In the last few years we have seen big changes and innovation with growth in capsule coffees, online subscription coffee clubs like our own Bewley's Coffee Project, and the re-emergence of filter coffee and associated brew methods such as aeropress and chemex.
"More recently we have seen the emergence of cold brew and nitro coffee as a segment in its own right.
"These are coffee preparation methods which maximise taste and experience for coffee drinkers."
The ethical procurement of tea and coffee has become a major industry-wide issue. How does Bewley's manage this?
"The Bewley's family were Quakers and the company was built on the Quaker values of community, equality, honesty, fairness and integrity of character: 177 years on, this philosophy remains one of our guiding principles. Today the issues we face have changed but our belief in 'good business is good business' has not.
"We were the very first company to launch a Fairtrade product in Ireland in 1996 and during Fairtrade Fortnight 2017 we announced that all our branded fresh coffee will be 100pc Fairtrade from now on. In conjunction with this we also welcomed two coffee farmers to Dublin from the Soppexxca Cooperative in Nicaragua to meet our staff and customers and explain first-hand the difference the Fairtrade premium makes to their communities.
"On the coffee estate Ramacafe in Nicaragua, Bewley's has directly funded the development of clinics and classrooms, improving the quality of life for those working on the farms. We believe in being ethical and responsible in everything we do.
"Closer to home we were also the first roaster in Ireland to achieve carbon neutral status. We're also synonymous with Ireland's Biggest Coffee Morning for Hospice that has helped to raise over €33m for hospice care in Ireland since the campaign first began in 1993."
How competitive is the food-service business in Ireland?
"The rise of coffee culture and coffee consumption in the last decade has slowly but surely seen us begin to change from being a nation of tea drinkers to a nation of coffee drinkers. And with this growth we inevitably see increased competition in the market. We respond to this by continuing to invest in our business, including brands, innovation, insights, barista trainers and service engineers."
Finally, what is happening to the landmark Bewley's store on Grafton Street?
"This year is a very exciting year for us as we will be reopening Bewley's Grafton Street Café after an extensive refurbishment. The café is the home of our brand and it occupies a very special place in the hearts and minds of the people of Dublin and Ireland.
"When it reopens later this year it will be bigger, brighter and better than ever. It's getting a complete refurbishment that will allow the café to seat 500 customers at any one time. We will be reopening the side entrance on Johnson's Court, bringing back a number of open fires and our famous Harry Clarke windows will be carefully restored along with the front façade of the café.
"The core offer will be centred around the best teas and coffees, along with baked goods and patisserie from our in-store bakery."
Sunday Indo Business