Q&A: Ten years of Pact Coffee

UK-based coffee subscription company Pact Coffee celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 2022. Founded by Stephen Rapoport in 2012 with the aim to bring specialty coffee to UK homes, the company has grown into one of the leading direct-trade packaged coffee subscription services in the UK

Will Corby, Director of Coffee and Social Impact at Pact Coffee | Photo credit: Pact Coffee


 

Will Corby joined Pact Coffee as Head of Coffee in 2014. In August 2022 his role was expanded to Director of Coffee and Social Impact to better reflect the company’s relationships with coffee farmers.


He discusses the company’s achievements, including recent B Corp certification, growing appetite for specialty coffee in the UK and the industry’s capacity to introduce positive change for producers


Describe some of the company’s major achievements in the coffee industry over the last decade.
  

For me, the biggest one is introducing more than a million people to speciality coffee. It’s taken an enormous amount of work by my colleagues at Pact to achieve such a substantial number, and its proof of a shift in the market not just towards higher quality, but also trust in ethics and sustainability.  


That’s the reason we’ve released a transparency report for six years in a row now – we want to show that quality, sustainability and ethics are simultaneously achievable. It’s not just about wearing the badge. Being open and honest about our business practices is the best way to show that we’re about much more than ‘green’ practices for the sake of marketing. 

 

You have recently been promoted to Director of Coffee and Social Impact. How important is the latter part of your remit in the current economic climate?  

 

It’s what I’m in the role for! Of course, I love drinking great speciality coffee, but I could do that anywhere.  
 

The capacity that Pact has for global change is enormous; we’ve been able to host our own competition in Colombia with the Land of Diversity Competition, encourage ethical practices with other roasters, join reforestation projects, change lives by paying truly great prices for great coffee and so much more. It’s incredibly rewarding. 


In times of economic trouble, it’s more important than ever to operate as we do. The commodity-coffee price is high, but, due to hugely increased fertiliser prices and a significant reduction in crop size thanks to climate change, things are very, very tough for farmers right now. Paying a premium to farmers while bringing our customers maximum quality makes sure that those at source aren’t the ones to lose out.  

 

What are the benefits of Pact’s direct trade operating model?   

 

Although it has clearly good intentions, the Fairtrade base price hasn’t changed for years, and lots of farmers don’t break even with what they’re paid.  
 

That’s why we form first-name relationships, cut out unnecessary steps in the supply chain and pay the families behind the coffee a price they can actually live on. Last year, it was, on average, 60% more than the Fairtrade base price.  


It also means that I can make sure it’s working for these families on a case-by-case basis. Looking at them as individuals provides the best impact. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
 

“People bought home-brewing espresso equipment on a scale that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before in the UK through the pandemic”

 

What is the current state of the UK coffee subscription market?  

 

We saw huge amounts of growth during lockdown, and I think it’s because of the way that we’ve set the subscription up that people have stuck around since returning to the office. 
 

No one is tied to a contract. You can have coffee as often or as rarely as you like, and you can skip, cancel or pause at any time. Our range is constantly expanding, and people can tell us what they like and what they don’t to make sure we’re getting every delivery right. 


Also, I think people know that they’re paying a small premium for a huge increase in quality compared to what they can find in supermarkets. People bought home-brewing espresso equipment on a scale that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before in the UK through the pandemic. Now they’ve got that at home, it’s an affordable treat that’s much cheaper than heading to the nearby coffee shop.  

 

How does B Corp accreditation influence the company’s next steps?   

 

After working for months with the B Corp team, it’s generated lots of ideas for the future; I found it really inspirational and I can see a potential for loads of good work that we can do with other B Corp members.  
 

As a leadership team, we’ve signed up to a long list of commitments that guarantees we continue to lead and run the company in a truly ethical and sustainable way.  


To get B Corp certification, you need to get a score of at least 80. In a few years’ time, we have to recertify, and my goal is to make sure we take the steps to get a significantly higher score. B Corp is a journey. We want to use it as a measurement stick to make sure we’re leaders in the community.


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