Trade for Development Centre is a programme of Enabel, the Belgian development agency.

Javry coffee, sustainable but without a label

For nearly 10 years, Javry has marketed coffees that are both high quality and respectful of people and the environment. To do so, the Belgian roaster opts for direct sourcing rather than labels. Among its ambitions, the plan to import half its coffee by sailing cargo ship by the end of 2025.

Since it started in 2015, Javry has nurtured the same ambition: to provide quality, responsible and affordable coffee to its customers, be they individuals or businesses. “Our aim is to get as many people as possible to stop drinking poor-quality coffee, which has a harmful impact on society and the environment, and have them switch to ethical, eco-responsible coffee,” explains Pierre-Yves Orban, cofounder and CMO of the roasting company. “Ethical, because we believe in a supply chain that pays all parties properly and in which people have decent working conditions. And eco-responsible, offering coffee solutions with the lowest possible environmental impact.” Through its online shop, Javry sells its coffees to private customers, but its core business is clearly geared towards businesses, which accounts for 80% of its sales. For this type of customer, the firm offers coffee, of course, but also complete solutions (including coffee machines and maintenance) for offices of between 20 and 200 people. In addition to private businesses, Javry also serves customers from the public sector, including some fifteen local authorities, several ministerial offices, European institutions, hospital departments and so on. “Over the last few years, we have noticed that institutional customers are increasingly receptive to our products,” says Pierre-Yves Orban with satisfaction. “I think a shift is taking place, typically in public procurement. In the past, public contracts were largely focused on the cost or technical details of the machine, whereas now most of them include a societal dimension, by demanding fairtrade or organic labelled coffee, for example.”

Unlabelled sustainability

However, despite its approach, Javry does not really attach much importance to labels. “One thing that sets us apart from the big players in the market, who claim to be ethical and fair trade, is the fact that we have not opted for labels,” explains Pierre-Yves Orban. “We do offer a number of products with an organic label, but that is simply because we work with producers who have the label. We are obviously in favour of organic farming, but above all we are in favour of sustainable farming. There are certain realities on the ground that sometimes make it impossible for producers to go organic. Mind, we are absolutely opposed to abusive practices such as intensive farming, excessive use of pesticides, deforestation, etc.“ Perhaps even more surprisingly, Javry simply does not sell any fair trade coffee. “Our approach is not simply to buy a coffee with a fair trade label and say that we practise fair trade. We have opted for an approach in which we are in direct contact with the producer cooperatives.”

This direct contact does, however, involve an intermediary between Javry and the coffee grower cooperatives: the French company Belco, which specialises in coffee sourcing. “We only work with this trusted partner because they have the same philosophy, the same values and the same objectives as we do,” continues the cofounder of the roaster, detailing in passing the many advantages of operating directly. “First of all, it avoids having to go through numerous intermediaries, each of whom takes a commission. In the end, we pay the same price, but more money ends up in the producers’ pockets. Secondly, buying direct guarantees coffee growers a price based on the realities on the ground in each region. The standard of living of a Mexican coffee grower is not at all the same as that of an Ethiopian coffee grower. So, a label that bases itself on the arabica price on the commodity market and adds the same premium, regardless of the producing country, does not suit us.”

Javry therefore negotiates its prices with its partner Belco, which itself negotiates with the cooperatives and acts as a safeguard. “Our mindset is to take into account the cost price, possible improvements in production and even the financing of longer-term projects. We do so with a view to producing quality coffee that can be sold at a good price in Europe. That is why Belco is looking for partners who are prepared to make a long-term commitment, who share the same philosophy or who are prepared to develop their operations by turning to agroforestry or organic farming, for example. In a world as complex as that of coffee, the best guarantee you can have in terms of ethics, sustainability and proper remuneration is to work with people you trust, to get to know them, to meet them regularly and to establish a genuine long-term relationship with a view to building something.” Pierre-Yves Orban admits, however, that there is still room for improvement. “I would say that the follow-up to the cooperatives is very well managed. On the other hand, reporting on the stage between coffee growers and cooperatives still needs to be improved or at least better defined. This would enable us, for example, to ensure that all producers reach living income, even though I sincerely believe that this is the case. As a Belco customer, it is also our role to push for this information in the future.”

Full steam ahead to sailing

Another special feature of Javry is that some of its coffees are imported by sailing ship. Up until now, the roaster has mainly proceeded on an ad hoc basis, importing arabica when transport was available, but the company now intends to move up a gear. “Until now, TOWT, the transport company we work with, has offered small-scale transport services using old schooners, mainly to prove that the commercial model of sailing could work. But it is now on the verge of launching its first truly modern sailing cargo ship, with a second to follow later this year. We will soon be able to import much more coffee, on a much more fixed basis and, above all, at a very competitive price,” Pierre-Yves Orban is delighted to say. “Our aim is that by the end of 2025, we will be able to import 50% of our coffees by sail and offer them at the same price as our mid-range and top-range coffees.”

The roaster is well aware that to achieve its ambition and accelerate the consumption of ethical and eco-responsible coffee still requires a great deal of work. “In recent years, we’ve noticed that people are generally more aware of the importance of having a quality coffee. However, this shift is much less marked when it comes to ecological and societal aspects. There is still work to be done in terms of raising consumer awareness of the importance of buying sustainable coffee and the fact that it comes at a cost,” says Pierre-Yves Orban.

“Nevertheless, this increased interest in quality is already a good sign, because quality means real craftsmanship, real know-how, which we can promote and for which people are prepared to pay a certain price.” For the cofounder of Javry, the consumer clearly has a role to play in solving the sector’s problems, but not necessarily a key one. “By making their purchasing choices, consumers are sending out a signal, particularly to the major players. But I do not think the solution will come from below. I think we need enlightened entrepreneurs who are prepared to change things and impose higher quality, more ethical products. Finally, I believe that the authorities also have a vital role to play, as there is still a huge section of the population that is not at all aware of sustainability issues, and perhaps never will be. But we cannot afford to wait for everyone to change their mind. Otherwise, we head straight for disaster.”

Interview by Anthony Planus for Enabel’s Trade for Development Centre.

Photos :
– Heading: Javry’s Ecosierra green coffee crossed the Atlantic on board the schooner “De Gallant” in May 2020 
– Image : Javry

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