Melbourne-based Market Lane places relationships at the centre of its operations, paying higher premiums to coffee producers, prioritising staff support and ensuring customers understand the journey of their daily cup. The specialty coffee roaster, café chain and retailer’s co-founder Fleur Studd speaks to World Coffee Portal about her enduring vision for the brand and the importance of using business for good
Left to right: Fleur Studd, Jason Scheltus, and Jenni Bryant, Co-owners of Market Lane | Photo credit: Abi Varney
Founded in Melbourne in 2009, Market Lane is a specialty coffee roaster, eight-strong café chain and retailer which places a strong emphasis on operating in a sustainable and responsible way.
What have been Market Lane's biggest achievements since the company was formed in 2009?
Market Lane started out as a small roastery and specialty coffee shop in Melbourne’s bustling Prahran Market. In the 13 years since we opened, we have grown to eight stores and over 70 team members. We now also have a dedicated roastery and office space in Brunswick East.
We’re proud that our aim and vision has remained the same since the day we opened: to share good coffee that is good for everyone – from the individuals and communities that produce the delicious and distinctive coffees we share, to the team members who roast and brew them, to the customers who drink and enjoy them. We’re also proud of the strong long-term relationships we’ve built with dedicated, quality-focused producers in seven countries, many of whom we’ve been working with since we opened.
Market Lane is B Corp certified, and we’re also carbon neutral. From the start, we’ve been committed to conducting our business as ethically, responsibly and sustainably as possible.
How has consumer behaviour changed since the pandemic?
Melbourne has a thriving coffee shop culture. We also had some of the strictest and longest pandemic lockdowns in the world. At first, it was a shock to many people’s systems not to visit their favourite café for their daily coffee. Over time, though, we found that many people started discovering and enjoying the ritual of brewing and drinking their coffee at home.
Through necessity, something that may once have seemed time-consuming and intimidating became demystified and accessible, and even pleasurable. The city is, of course, thankfully back open and thriving, but we’ve found a huge number of people continue to enjoy at least some of their weekly cups of coffee at home.
Market Lane, Brunswick | Photo credit: Abi Varney
What is the current trading environment at your stores?
We were lucky to be able to stay open and continue operating during the Covid-19 lockdowns, with strict rules around take-away cup use, mask wearing and QR code check-ins. There was very restricted geographic movement through the city during the lockdowns, which meant that some of our shops were actually busier than usual, serving customers who were no longer commuting to work.
Now we are back to something resembling normalcy, and we have been thrilled to welcome our customers back inside our shops, and to serve them coffees in ceramic cups again (…it’s the little things!)
We opened a new shop location in 2022 at the Queen Victoria Market and another in 2023 in Brunswick and it’s been wonderful to make coffee for new communities of customers; to be able to chat to them face-to-face about what we do, and the coffees we’re brewing and retailing that day.
How do you use business for good and help local communities flourish?
We’re a hospitality business that works to ensure that everyone on our team feels safe, valued and supported. We strive to maintain an inclusive, healthy, non-discriminatory workplace – we have gender parity in our hiring practices, with pay equity across genders; we offer a mental health care support scheme to all our team members; and we run regular anti-racism and cultural engagement and education programmes.
We also offer our team members opportunities for professional growth within specialty coffee. Over 50% of our back-of-house team members began their employment at Market Lane as baristas – including one of the company’s co-owners and several members of our senior management team.
Our relationships with our coffee suppliers abroad are just as important to us as our relationships at home. Since we opened Market Lane, we have avoided the old commodity model of coffee-buying – instead, we work to establish transparent, long-term relationships with coffee producers.
We pay high premiums that sit significantly above the commodity market and Fairtrade price floors, and we pre-commit and pre-contract coffee so our suppliers can access financing at the beginning of the season, and more easily and confidently plan for their year.
Overseas, we are proud contributors to World Coffee Research and the Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide, and we also donate to amazing initiatives run by some of our producing partners.
Closer to home, it’s important to us to be active, supportive and participatory members of our local communities, too. One way we achieve this is by partnering with several incredible organisations and running educational campaigns and donating money (and coffee beans) throughout the year.
We have also been involved in fundraising events for communities impacted by tragic events and circumstances, including our fundraising day with the team at Attica last year to raise money for communities impacted by the devastating floods in New South Wales.
” – in our industry and all industries – and holds us accountable to our own high standards”
What made Market Lane pursue B Corp accreditation?
A major reason we decided to embark on the B Corp accreditation process was for the process itself. Since opening, we have endeavoured to make all our decisions in accordance with our four core values: exceptional quality, transparency, sustainability and community.
We believed that we were doing the right things, but the B Corp certification process gave us a verifiable framework through which to measure our positive impact, and make sure we are doing everything as ethically as possible. The process also helped us put in place structures, and define and set new goals, in order to continue to operate our business in the most sustainable, responsible and transparent ways.
What we love about the B Corp certification is that it cuts through the noise – in our industry and all industries – and holds us accountable to our own high standards, demonstrating that we are actively living our values, and continuously striving to do and be better. We also love being part of a growing movement of organisations working hard to use business for good – to benefit people and the planet, and not just turn a profit.
Where do you see Market Lane in the next two-three years?
Our focus for the next while is on our team, both front-of-house and back-of-house, making sure everyone feels supported and everything is running as smoothly as possible.
Our environmental initiatives also continue to be a major focus. We’re currently working towards becoming certified Climate Active, we’re switching to renewable energy sources wherever possible, and our goal is to make the use of reusable to-go cups the norm in all our shops.
We are also thrilled that we can finally visit our producing partners again. In recent months, our coffee buyers have travelled to Brazil, Ethiopia and Kenya, and soon we’re off to Guatemala. Industry-wide, we all did a great job of staying in touch these last few years, but nothing beats visiting our producing partners where they are. This allows us to learn about the changes and improvements they’ve made and any challenges they may have faced in recent months, as well as taste their coffees and select our favourites to share with our customers back home in Australia.