There's something strange about tuning into live internet streams of conferences. One feels as though they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended to be heard. Last week's Shared Value Initiative conference held at the Conrad Hotel in New York City certainly felt like an intimate family affair. I almost felt guilty to be listening in.
But listen in I did.
I've been doing some work with the team at Nespresso, and really loving the opportunity to delve further into its story of shared value. The CEO, Jean-Marc Duvoisin, was in the room at the Conrad and used his stage presence to explain how on-the-ground partnerships have been key to the unlocking of shared value opportunities for Nespresso's coffee farmers.
The company's AAA Sustainable Quality Program is helping more than 63,000 farmers in coffee-producing countries to improve the quality of their produce, boost productivity and deliver a range of social and environmental benefits. “It is a strategy that is embedded into our business, giving us access to the best coffee and creating a differentiator between us and the rest,” he says.
Jean-Marc Duvoisin, Nespresso's CEO
Based on the "funny idea", as Jean-Marc puts it, of wanting to put coffee in capsules to replicate the taste experienced in Italian coffee shops, Nespresso was a 1976 invention. By the 1990s it had exploded, particularly in Europe.
Essentially, the company's approach to working directly with its farmer communities is a response to this rapid growth
Just 1-2% of the world’s coffee meets the quality and aroma profiles required for Nespresso Grand Cru coffee.
Nespresso knows that to continue to grow as a business, it needs its coffee-growing communities to grow too. Otherwise, the supply will dry up and it's game over.
“It is about securing the future of the farmers we work with and ensuring they run sustainable businesses, so we can deliver on our brand promise to our customers,” I hear him tell delegates in New York.
On stage with Jean-Marc is the rather stern-looking former US Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman who wanted to know more about how Nespresso partners up with organisations on the ground to really get to grips with supporting coffee farmers. "Partnerships between the private sector and civil society are not always easy,” she says.
Luckily, one of Nespresso's partners is also on stage in the form of William Warshauer, the CEO of TechnoServe, a rather brilliant non-profit that operates largely in Africa to help alleviate poverty by helping farmers get more for their crops by giving them agronomy training and making sure they can access finance.
It's not long before Jean-Marc and William get on to the subject of South Sudan.
The two partners are, quite remarkably, building coffee production from scratch in South Sudan, a country that has been battered and bruised by civil war for many years.
“It's a perfect example of creating new opportunities and GDP through a shared value approach,” says William.
He's right: Coffee will soon become South Sudan’s second biggest export after oil.
He goes on to say that the partnership is successful because of the “clear and complementary” roles played by each party. “In South Sudan, there is an opportunity for all to win which is something strongly embraced by Nespresso as a progressive company.”
Having created the first co-operative there, Nespresso is now buying from 700 farmers. “We want 2,000 farmers in South Sudan producing coffee for us,” says Duvoisin.
It's also about giving Nespresso customers something special. "South Sudan is where the coffee plant originates from, so it’s a fascinating story for customers.”
Ann wrapped up the session by asking Jean-Marc to reveal the obstacles that remain in building more sustainable supply chains. “With such a hectic market, taking a long-term approach that adds value to farmers, and takes them out of poverty, is key,” he said. “And we need a sustainable price which allows everyone to benefit from it.
You can find out more about the South Sudan story here.
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