“In the 21st century, your supply chain is your brand,” says Killian Stokes, university lecturer and co-founder of Moyee Coffee Ireland, a greentech coffee company with big ambitions – to disrupt the industry’s global business model.
Blockchain – which first came into mainstream awareness as the underlying digital network for the boom and bust of cryptocurrency mania – has become a catalyst of that disruption.
A supply chain tracked and traced with blockchain benefits from two key advantages: greater transparency and traceability. From back-end inventory through to front-end consumer experience, the implications are huge: every aspect of production and the supply chain journey can be laid bare.
Moyee Coffee decided to use blockchain to track their supply chain after looking at existing certification options: “We looked at the Rainforest Alliance, FairTrade, all these great certifications. But a lot of them have limitations, and there are costs involved,” explains Stokes.
“Blockchain can enable companies to move way beyond smoke and mirrors or greenwashing and get real numbers – the data. We can show all stakeholders where the carbon was added and where the money was paid out. It’s locked in for all to see and none to change. That’s 100% transparency.”
“We can connect with consumers and digitise every transaction on the value chain – the journey and the full process.”
Instead of relying on intermediary organisations for audits, challenger brands like Moyee Coffee can use blockchain to launch their own supply chain sustainability audit and share data for every stage of their value chain.
A supply chain tracked and traced with blockchain allows consumers to connect and understand the product they are buying in ways previously not possible.
Moyee Coffee can demonstrate to their buyers exactly how their coffee is grown: “before you purchase coffee, you can pull out your phone, zap a QR code, and you’ll be able to see how much the farmer got paid for the bag of coffee in your hand, and we can share stories and videos to show you how our coffee grows in a forest.
“We can take our customers on the journey with us, and the strength of that is powerful. It gives all stakeholders a level of credibility,” says Stokes.
“What’s the return on your consumer actions, and how can we articulate your impact the best we can? I’m a big believer that as we focus on getting that narration and story right, that will bring us a bigger tribe.”
Moyee Coffee is using blockchain to track coffee transactions and transport from the farmers’ fields in Ethiopia to supermarkets in Europe – bringing an unprecedented level of transparency to an industry that typically underpays and oversells.
However, adding data to the blockchain to trace every mile of the supply chain is not without its challenges: “You’re in the mountains of Ethiopia with poor farmers who don’t have much education or own a smartphone, and the connectivity isn’t great. But they’re very open to learning to work with mobile phones and being paid digitally. We offer to pay them 10% more for digital payment, it’s a pretty strong incentive, so I can see us digitising the first mile,” explains Stokes.
“At the other end, in a London supermarket, the consumers all have mobile phones in their back pockets. They’ve got 4 and 5G, but they’ve got so much noise going on in their life. They have the technology, but they don’t have the culture in terms of, why are they going to use our blockchain or app? That challenge is down to motivation. It’s down to brand aspiration. You need to tap into what is important to them, and you need to move them, inspire them, and story tell,” says Stokes.
What Moyee Coffee hopes will inspire customer loyalty is the brand’s aspirations to challenge exploitative processes within the global coffee industry and demonstrate that there’s a better way to brew.
Most coffee farmers are among the world’s poorest: in an industry primarily controlled by conglomerates, systemic incongruence in supply chain value distribution means farmers often earn just 1-2% of what the end consumer pays for coffee.
Moyee Coffee vows to change this business model by “processing and roasting coffee in the coffee belt. This will put more of the value, jobs, and income from coffee back into the coffee belt.” They also grow coffee in forests, not fields, to preserve the land, promote biodiversity, offset emission and rejuvenate the local environment.
“The environment the product comes from is a part of your brand offer,” says Stokes, “coffee is a major cause of environmental destruction, we think it should be a force for good.”