August 4, 2020

How Can Coffee Traders Raise Brand Awareness?


The Ethiopian Exporter’s Association represents almost 100 green coffee exporters. The question is: how many of them can you name? 

Exporters and importers invest millions to manage the quality of their coffee as it makes its way from mill to warehouse to port to roaster. A common belief in the coffee sector is that green traders’ marketing doesn’t effectively represent these efforts. It’s therefore essential that, where possible, coffee traders raise their brand awareness.

In this article, we will explore what brand awareness is, why it’s so important for importers and exporters, and how it can be improved.

Lee este artículo en español Comerciantes de Café: Cómo Mejorar el Reconocimiento de Marca

What Is Brand Awareness, And Why Is It Important?

Brand awareness is the extent to which your market is familiar with your products and services. 

When a roaster checks their spreadsheet and realises their green coffee supplies are running low, the name of one particular green trader will generally come to mind first. Marketers call this phenomenon “mind share”. Its value comes from the fact it may be the first company that a roaster will email, increasing the likelihood of a sale. 

Building mind share can be more challenging for a B2B business (such as a trader) when compared to a B2C business (such as a roaster). This is partially because the B2B sales process tends to be longer and involves more stakeholders. Furthermore, coffee importers and exporters have historically followed the “traditional” B2B marketing strategy of building relationships with a select number of green buyers in larger roasteries. 

However, today’s specialty coffee market is changing quickly. “There’s a huge fragmentation in that segment,” says James Dargan, Head of Asian Arabica for Sucafina, a farm-to-roaster green coffee supplier. He notes that when many specialty coffee baristas start their own roasting businesses, it’s not long before their own head barista leaves to start another. James notes that “probably not enough effort has been spent on marketing“ in recent years to build brand awareness among this fast-growing community of roasters.

He explains that when roasters make purchase decisions, they want to trust that the exporter is doing the basics: “[Roasters ask if an exporter has] an ethical or equitable supply chain.” For example, Sucafina uses recyclable Ecotact bags to transport green coffee. This helps roasters to recognise that they make a commitment to environmental sustainability.

You may also like 3 Steps To Crafting A Successful Specialty Coffee Brand

Find A Clear And Unique Value Proposition

When a green trader spends US $5,000 to attend a trade show, they naturally expect to see some kind of return. While attendance could result in a handful of sales leads, if they can explain how they are different and more valuable to potential customers, this number may well increase.

This is not an easy task, however. According to Michael Mamo, Managing Director of green coffee exporter Addis Exporter: “As roasters have proliferated, there’s not a producing country where you don’t have four or five multinational exporters competing and then another 30 smaller, independent exporters fighting it out.

Michael says Addis Exporter sets itself apart by providing a “very efficient service” and “a lot of QC”. He explains that mills in Ethiopia sometimes don’t have optimal warehousing, and the hot, dusty conditions can cause coffee quality to deteriorate. To counteract this, Addis Exporter maintains the quality of their coffee by storing parchment in hermetically-sealed Ecotact bags. In these conditions, Michael said that there was a noticeable difference between “the parchment [they] stored in Ecotact and the parchment [they] didn’t”. 

Michael said that shipping coffee samples from Ethiopia also proves to be difficult. Packages “used to burst, even though [he] double-packed and sealed it”. This, Michael explains, affects efficiency as “when it bursts, we have to send another sample to the buyer”. However, he notes that since the switch to Ecotact bags, “the sample reaches the buyer without breaking”.

James says that Sucafina first established themselves as an “end-to-end service provider” that could deliver any quantity of green coffee: “We can sell you 20,000 bags of Vietnamese robusta, or deliver 20 kilos of Burundian micro lot straight to your door.” To achieve this, James and his team use Ecotact’s broad range of bag sizes, ranging from a 100g sample bag of roasted coffee to the standard 60kg sack for green coffee shipped at sea. 

Photo credit: Ecotact

Building A Community On The Ground

Specialty coffee is rooted in relationships, and its strong community often sets it apart from other industries. “We’re not trading oil or cotton, you know; we trade a product that is very people-focused,” James explains.

And within different regions, there are distinct, smaller specialty coffee communities. As such, James says that coffee importers “definitely need destination teams”.

“You need people on the ground, you need to go to the events, to be part of that community.” For James, this forms part of Sucafina’s goal of connecting coffee-growing communities with destination markets. “We have a team out there, living in the field… they’re with the farmers all year round, and we need to do that on the other end of the supply chain as well.”

While in destination markets, sponsoring local coffee events such as latte art competitions or educational workshops will help to promote your company and improve brand awareness. Some green intermediaries go even further, setting up training and event spaces near their destination warehouses to support the local coffee community. 

Another trend, common with suppliers of café products like alternative milk and cleaning products, is the use of “brand ambassadors”. Attaching a product to someone trusted or well-known in the coffee industry often improves its visibility, and raises brand awareness as a result.

Making The Most Of Trade Shows

James says that when it comes to trade shows, “you’ve got to go, because everyone’s there… you get a lot of bang for your buck and meet people”. And while tickets may be expensive, James believes it is an ideal place to meet potential customers, suppliers, and collaborators. 

And while James says that purchasing a booth isn’t always necessary, “you have to do something, for sure”. This might be hosting a small event of your own, or maybe even setting up a time to socialise with people after the event finishes.

If you do buy a booth, however, you have an excellent opportunity to showcase the projects that define your business’ ethical profile. Michael tells me the story of how Addis Exporter collaborated with Girls Gotta Run, a non-profit based in Ethiopia that empowers underprivileged children.

Michael created a brand, “Rocko Mountain”, specifically for this partnership. Using custom-printed Ecotact packaging, he was able to design and prominently display the brand at the booth. Ecotact’s low minimum order quantities helped Addis Exporter bring the brand to life, and the company’s network of global distributors helped deliver the project at relatively short notice. 

Using Digital Platforms To Build Brand Awareness

Roasters and green importers often devote a lot of attention to curating their social media presence and building an online following. In today’s world, it’s no understatement to say that raising digital brand awareness has never been more important.

Addis Exporter showcases the inner workings of their new washing station on their Instagram. The station is based in Gera, a woreda (province) within the Oromia Region of Eastern Ethiopia. On the Instagram account, images of pristine parchment surrounded by picturesque hills helps the company communicate their commitment to coffee quality. 

“I think we probably did the best job of cherry selection in the Gera area,” Michael says, with unripe beans making up 20% of the finished output. “I think a lot of other people had 40%.”

In between images of washing stations are photos that show Michael’s love of running, social impact movements, and his friends in the coffee community. Michael handles the Addis Exporter Instagram account personally; he also regularly likes and replies to comments to engage with his customers and the wider coffee community. Sucafina, however, employ a full-time social media manager who plans a content calendar.

Many importers and exporters are also delivering educational content online through webinars and podcasts. For example, Sucafina hosts Exploring Origins, a series of webinars that explore their work at origin. As more coffee professionals embrace digital media in the form of videos and podcasts, sponsorship and product placement can also help drive brand awareness. 

In today’s world, building your company’s reputation has never been more important. Whether it’s through innovative social media content or forging new relationships on the ground, raising brand awareness will drive success for months and years to come. By showcasing and building on their hard work at origin, importers and exporters can ensure they win mind share and maintain their sustainable business practices well into the future.

Photo credits: Sucafina, Addis Exporter, Ecotact

Please note: Ecotact are a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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