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Saturday 23 June 2018

Ethical roaster Union aiming to double revenues as British coffee culture booms

Union Hand-Roasted Coffee works directly with coffee farmers in countries including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Guatemala on fair trade grounds.

Union Hand-Roasted Coffee conducts direct free trade with producer partners in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Guatemala (Union/PA)
Union Hand-Roasted Coffee conducts direct free trade with producer partners in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Guatemala (Union/PA)

By Kalyeena Makortoff, Press Association City Reporter

Union Hand-Roasted Coffee is aiming to double revenues to £25 million as it looks to cash in on Britain’s booming coffee culture.

The roaster – which works directly with coffee farmers in countries including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Guatemala to source fair trade beans – has been growing in strides since its founding in 2001 and has just completed an acquisition that its co-founder says gives Union a stake in the entirety of the coffee life cycle.

Its takeover of Edinburgh coffee shop Brew Lab – for an undisclosed sum – “helps us tell that story all the way from seed to cup”, Jeremy Torz said.

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Union took a while to match its ethical approach with an equal quality coffee, Mr Torz said, but is now benefiting from a growing coffee culture in Britain where it conducts 90% of its business.

“People now have coffee on their radar much more than they ever ever did, and the whole food and drink culture has moved on in the UK,” he said.

“Now we have amazing craft beer, fantastic craft gin – coffee has got a part in that with bread and all other sort of passion-led food and drink.”

The company brought in revenues of £12.5 million last year – in part through sales to cafes, restaurants and retailers including Waitrose and Ocado – and is now looking to double that figure in five years’ time and treble its size a decade down the line.

Despite its recent acquisition, the co-founder assured that Union is “definitely not going into the coffee bar chain business”, but would not rule out further cafes across the country.

He said: “We can show that a quality coffee market exists all around the UK, it’s not just a London thing. We see that already in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Bath, all of these cities have got great vibrant coffee scenes.”

Mr Torz wants Union to be the first speciality coffee business to grow to scale, noting that most expanding coffee companies tend to see quality “erode” in as they scramble to protect margins.

But quality and ethics need to go hand-in-hand if they hope to continue riding the wave of coffee popularity across the UK, he added.

He said: “If we’re looking to be selling coffee which we feel represents the best of the crop – and we’re asking people to pay a penny or two more a pack for it – then we’ve got to support that decision in the customer’s mind as to why.”

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He said Union is “always welcomed” by local communities in Africa and Central America, but added that trust with local farmers has taken time to forge.

“It’s the responsibility of businesses to show they can be effective friends and partners to developing communities,” he said.

Taking on that burden could help make up for any lagging social conscience on the part of the British consumer.

“When somebody walks up to the supermarket shelf, the majority of consumers are not necessarily thinking which of these products are good for the planet and the people – but I think there’s an element of conversion that comes through from companies behaving well and behaving with a caring sense,” Mr Torz said.

Press Association

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