Seis Cielo Coffee Roasters are committed to chasing the sustainability target!

The first step in being part of the solution is designing a sustainable product that reconciles our social expectations as well as our economic needs and those of our environment.  There is a lot of talk about conservation and protection of rainforests in sustainable coffee messages, and obviously the economic factors are never easily ignored but what about the social imperative?

In the case of coffee consumption in Canada,  I think this surrounds the convenience of coffee. This is the reason big smart brands like Starbucks and Tim Hortons are moving to drive through only locations.  For small businesses who don’t have that sort of capital we need to find other ways to compete for convenience.  This is why we have made the choice like many other local food retailers to provide our products in compostable packaging.

Our daily latte shouldn’t break the bank  and yes obviously we should consume coffee that was produced and sourced in an environmentally sustainable way, but remembering your own cup? or now with Covid-19, we won’t be carrying around our own cups for awhile.

There is a lot more that goes into the debate of compostable vs. reuseable options but for the argument of convenience which seems to be important for Canadian coffee consumers – the compostable cup wins.

A product that works to cause no harm is our first layer of sustainability.  We pay the farmer direct and a fair amount that allows him to manage his farm in a sustainable way that includes; paying fair wages, avoiding deforestation, and focusing on quality.  Then we provide the consumer conveniences they are accustomed too and prices that are comparable to brands of lesser quality (and significantly lesser commitment to the farmer).

So how do we Market it?

 I like to believe that just having a great cup of coffee with a responsible backstory is enough of a marketing tactic – and so far it has been.

The idea that started Seis Cielo was that our sustainable product should be able to compete in the Canadian market because in fact, the coffee industry is so exploitive there is space to make less by sharing the value paid for coffee with farmers, and still make enough to run a business.

We also hope and know, that as the world changes, consumers want options that are committed to this type of transparency.  Our coffee must also taste a bit better because of what it works to represent.

This second layer of sustainability that involves how we market our coffee is a bit more complicated and something I still have a hard time with.  I am absolutely not an expert on marketing or advertising – I have a business with no sign out front and I named the business something hard to pronounce that is not in English.  I think this is because I hate the culture of consumption and I did not want to become a player in this game – I don’t want to chase clients and flood anybody with advertisements or create pressure on people to change their habits in an invasive way.

What is common in the sustainable marketing industry is to rely on certification mechanisms. 

To stay true to our sustainable mission we also must understand how global marketing of sustainable or ethical coffee works – or doesn’t work to create a product that meets the promises that are often made. (More on this, read our past blog – is our Coffee Organic?)

In reality coffee certification mechanisms fall short of improving the lives of farmers and the environment they say they are protecting.  This is not only our view, it is based on research in sustainable coffee markets that is one of the most researched food produc.   Some do more than others, but it really comes down to the prices paid and what that means for a farmers livelihood, most restrictions like not cutting down new forests is not and cannot be properly validated, canopy requirements are often the regular practice for areas certified ie) there is no change in practice due to certifications and certifications themselves are a profitable business. Most certification mechanisms require of farmers to sell through cooperatives which can be good but there definitely isn’t enough oversight of how cooperatives are run or how certifications themselves improve or verify themselves.   Paying more per lb would be the solution, but that is not how business is done in this globalized world of mega corporations.

The majority of the burden of cost, restrictions for sale and responsibility of growing coffee that meets certification requirements are on the coffee farmers.  The coffee wholesaler, roaster or coffee shop can use these certifications and their flashy words and images for marketing and improving the price of their product but the increase in price value or the intangible image enhancement is not shared with farmers,

Certifications also provide a great benefit for corporations to easily green wash their products.  Obviously the big name coffee buyers DO NOT source coffee using ethical practices, we know this because coffee is still grown by mostly small farmers who have for generations lived in poverty, while vast amounts of rainforest are deforested annually not because of global supply needs, but because of low prices per lb.

In summary, we won’t market our coffee using common certifications because they do not prove you are buying a sustainable product, let alone one that was purchased in an ethical way.  We have a better option since we have direct relationships and aren’t ashamed to share this information.   All our coffee is registered with Transparent Trade Coffees.

We know what are coffee farmers are paid and we aren’t embarrassed to share what that really is, if you want to know our exact prices – Check out our Transparency Pledge

It is true that some certification mechanisms are better than nothing, some attempt at supply chain transparency is better than none, and conservation and education efforts well designed do help– as long as you don’t let that be enough and become complacent believing we cannot improve – because of a frog on a label.

The social imperative of sustainable marketing must understand that the final consumer does not want to worry about how their coffee was grown and sourced and purchased that is why these certifications are such a good business.   If someone made you read about the atrocities associated with every item you liked to buy – would you avoid clicking on those articles that preached to you and made you feel guilty?

We do have a responsibility to become more connected to not only the production of our food, but also our clothes, our entertainment, how our waste is managed, everyone personally should be aware that they make a choice everyday with the money they spend to allow extreme inequality to continue.

But we aren’t going to sell more coffee making you feel bad so how do we go one step further in actually marketing our product in a sustainable way?

Promote our Farmers and the Region

Around world some coffee is known and some isn’t.  We know Hawaiian Kona Coffee, we know Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, we know that coffee the cat eats and poops out, but normally coffee is bought and traded and blended, often not even sold by a country origin with all brand recognition supporting the roaster or coffee shop.

You could also compare this process to buying wine, what quality of wine would you expect if there was no information about the type of grapes or where they were from?

Seis Cielo believes it is important to share the brand recognition and create awareness in the market for farm partners.   This is also why we encouraged all our farm partners the first year to name their farms if they hadn’t already.  We got our graphic designer to create a farm seal for each that we use when we promote and sell their coffee.  This process was quite amusing as some farmers came up with very romantic and appealing names, while others provided maybe less appetizing farm identities for example our  top lot scoring a 92 from Finca los Ganados (Cattle Farm) Lot Ternero  (Veal).

This process of naming farms and lots creates an understanding of coffee quality based on where the coffee is growing which leads to opportunities for environmental education, protection and conservation.

Our blends are all named after the region, Paraiso Peaks our Signature Espresso Blend highlights the tropical fruit and vibrant acidity the Honduran Department of El Paraiso is known for.  Our Delicias Mountain Dark Roast is named after the community of Las Delicias, where our coffee growing partners live.  Our Bruma Blend was named with the help of Daniel from Finca El Laurel and is translated to Mist Blend, which is made up of the Parainema coffee bean which again is a local El Paraiso coffee hybrid made for the area to bring resistence against the nema fungus.

The mountains of las Delicias are often covered in mist, which is why the coffee has a longer drying time and probably one of the reasons this area has such great high scoring coffees.

Another issue with our marketing is that in the past we haven’t done much of it.  It is difficult to become a part of a movement that is so abusive and destructive – we should all actually be buying less and be a bit more satisfied with what we have.  I personally hate feeling pressure to buy something I don’t need but this is a necessary part of having a business and I have to promote our shop somehow.

This is why I want to write these blogs – perhaps a bit dry and not always locally relevant, but for me they are how I justify entering the game of advertising.

Our next posts will focus on our local partnerships and details of our sustainable commitments like why we choose compostable bags despite the fact there are no commercial compost facilities in the area.

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Thanks for reading this far and for your continued support.


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