If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the last year or two, it’s that the future is never certain.
The outbreak of Covid-19 led to unprecedented changes in everything from how we socialise to the ways in which we work, travel, and shop.
All this, set against a backdrop of rising global temperatures and extreme weather conditions, has made it increasingly difficult for businesses to plan for the future.
However, by keeping on top of movements in the market and making calculated decisions now, business owners can help limit the impact of shocks further down the line.
Known as “future-proofing”, it’s as important for those in the coffee sector as it is in any other industry. To find out more, I spoke with corporate sustainability expert Allie Stauss.
What is future-proofing?
Future-proofing is the process of ensuring a business not only stays afloat, but thrives in a changing world.
It is about predicting what may affect the business in the months and years to come and committing to solutions before the problems arise. In particular, it involves anticipating the changing expectations and demands of consumers.
For coffee businesses, the current focus of future-proofing falls into two broad categories: the environment and Covid-19.
Environmental protection has been high on the agenda for some time. Deforestation, rising global temperatures, and biodiversity loss, among others things, have prompted many roasters and coffee shops to put various measures in place.
These include everything from switching to sustainable coffee bags to offering nondairy milk alternatives. Many have also invested in carbon offsetting initiatives, eliminated single-use plastics, and turned to zero-emission roasters.
Covid-19, albeit a more recent development, is expected to have long-lasting effects on the coffee sector. Specifically, the economic fallout from extended lockdowns and residual fears over social distancing have led to a dramatic change in the way consumers behave.
In response, many roasters and coffee shops have started to pour more resources into their online stores and delivery services.
The number of subscription models has risen exponentially, while some businesses have explored new ways of enhancing the at-home customer experience.
Step for future-proofing your coffee business
For Allie, the most important task we face as an industry, and indeed as a society, must be tackled collectively across the supply chain.
“The pursuit of becoming net zero by 2050 as defined by the Paris Agreement will require significant action from everyone,” she says.
“Within the context of coffee, this means that all segments of the value chain must understand the environmental impact of their activities and develop strategies for reducing their carbon footprints.”
For roasters and coffee shop owners in consuming countries, such as the UK, this often requires a dual-pronged approach. Businesses will need to focus not only their own emission reductions, but also seek carbon neutrality through the purchase of offsets for producers in their supply chain.
According to Allie, these projects can be particularly effective “if the offset projects involve carbon sequestration in coffee-producing communities.” This approach is known as “insetting”.
Limiting your environmental impact can also be achieved on a local level by implementing better business practices.
Effective waste management, switching to eco-friendly packaging such as compostable coffee bags, and encouraging the use of nondairy milk alternatives all have a role to play in transitioning to a cleaner industry.
However, Allie points out that it’s not just the environment that stands to benefit from these changes; businesses that showcase a commitment to sustainability will inevitably improve their public image.
“Coffee shops that offer a diverse menu of dairy substitutes may generate value through reputational perception as an inclusive business that caters to diverse dietary needs and preferences,” she explains.
Another way in which our coffee businesses can reduce the impact of climate change is by investing in the high-quality supply of biodiverse coffee species.
This could include anything from supporting the adaption of growers’ land management practices to the introduction of more climate robust species like Coffea Stenophylla.
Allie explains that this strategy of diversification could help “mitigate against the risk posed by climate-induced crop failures”.
But future-proofing your business does not end at environmental protection. Increasingly, shoppers head to the internet to find and buy whatever it is they are looking for – and coffee is no exception.
Whether it is the rising importance of social media marketing for coffee shops, or the rapidly growing market share of subscription coffee services for small to medium roasters, Covid-19 has accelerated trends that have been moving inexorably towards the online sphere for the past decade.
To avoid being left behind in the digital age, it is vital to consider how you can improve your online presence.
The costs of future-proofing
Preparing for the future is, by its nature, a difficult task. It can throw up any number of challenges and, particularly for small businesses, demand a significant chunk of revenue.
For example, setting up an online store or swapping a traditional roaster for an electric one requires substantial upfront costs.
“The cost of adjusting their business approach and making ‘green’ investments will be a barrier for small businesses,” Allie explains.
Future-proofing is, however, a vital investment as we approach a situation where the global cost of climate change could be economically disastrous – and making the right long-term investments now will save money further down the line.
“Many of the most impactful actions that roasters and retailers can take are reliant upon systems, infrastructure, and policy decisions that are beyond their sphere of influence,” Allie says, “such as the ability to source electricity from clean power plants.”
On a brighter note, these critical limiters are hopefully set to shift in the not too distant future.
“Fresh on the heels of the latest UN-sponsored global climate conference – COP26 – these systemic barriers should decrease over time,” Allie concludes.
Although the coffee sector faces an increasingly difficult set of circumstances, there are decisions roasters can make now to help ease the transition into a new era.
The changes that we are now being forced to make to our businesses and to our lives have been a long time coming and will not only improve our position in a changing market but will literally safeguard the survival of our species in a changing world.
At MTPak Coffee, our mission is to help your business make the changes it needs to thrive in a modern environment. We offer a range of sustainable packaging options, including LDPE, PLA, kraft paper, and rice paper bags.
Our degassing valves are fully recyclable, while our water-based inks are low in volatile organic compounds.