As we prepare for “silly season”, Genio wants to take a minute to reflect on a few valuable lessons learned from our circle of friends, who endured the same challenges and hardship in 2020 as most of us in the coffee industry. The definition of resilience is someone or something that bounces back into shape or recovers quickly. Today, we can add more names to this group of resilient people and companies that faced multiple unexpected challenges and worked through them to overcome.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the team of Sevenoaks Trading, trusted green bean suppliers in South Africa and the UK, and talk about how the national Lockdown compelled them to reevaluate their business planning and processes.

One of the first observations was the sense of community amongst the Sevenoaks staff, their customers as well as their own suppliers. The goal was simply to get the job done and ensure that customers were assisted quickly and efficiently. Sevenoaks found creative ways to get around logistical restrictions, market uncertainty as well as the gap between supply and demand. The message to all stakeholders was clear: “We are going to get through this together”.

Because Sevenoaks imports their green beans from various countries, the fluctuating exchange rate affects their selling price to the local market daily. In a time where your customers are already worried about the future of their own business, the Sevenoaks team needed to be upfront and transparent regarding price increases and storage limitations. By guiding their customers through this process and giving them advice and tools to manage their own green bean stock levels, Sevenoaks brought some “peace of mind” in a time of uncertainty and chaos.

Another long-term threat to the entire speciality coffee industry is the fact that many corporates are still encouraging their staff to work from home. Sevenoaks sees this rather as an opportunity to bring good quality coffee to the homes of coffee enthusiasts and encourages their own customers to dip into this market as well. The solution of a neighborhood coffee roaster creates new opportunities for future business, and local shops networking in their immediate community – the possibilities are endless.

Sevenoaks points out that more and more consumers are also experimenting with home roasting and should rather be a craze to be embraced than to ignore. Their advice to coffee businesses is to target these enthusiasts through various communication channels to provide the right tools to practice home roasting effectively. In this way, still promoting the consumption of speciality coffee by educating and exposing new palates to a variety of coffee notes and profiles. One example is Sevenoaks’ virtual cupping sessions that will allow their customers all over South Africa and bordering countries to develop the habit of cupping regularly, ask questions and engage with the Sevenoaks Q Graders and coffee experts Mike Mac Donald and Nicodemus Nabakwe to develop that very subjective coffee tasters palate and build a resourceful tasters journal for future reference in the comfort of their own homes or roasteries.

Lastly, the Sevenoaks team will continue to promote the purchasing of good-quality green beans and not to cut costs to save a few pennies, even in leaner times. Many of their customers used the Lockdown period to expand their business offering such as free delivery to their immediate community, as well as alternative products and services. South Africans are resilient and resourceful and, in most cases, have managed to snap back and identify new opportunities and celebrate the product that brings them together in the first place – good quality coffee.

For more information on Sevenoaks’ Virtual Cupping Sessions, please contact Paulien Swanepoel on +27 11 708 7180 or paulien@sevenoakstrading.co.za