Going above and beyond Fairtrade, with Union Hand-Roasted

Union's Co-founder Jeremy Torz tells us how his business is bringing coffee farmers and coffee drinkers a little closer together, creating a shift in how coffee is grown and produced at origin.

We caught up with Jeremy at their headquarters and roastery in East London to hear the business journey and get the lowdown on some of their success so far.

What is Union Hand-Roasted?

We are a speciality boutique coffee roasting company based in the East End of London, supplying to cafés, restaurants, delicatessens and grocery stores around the country.

Why did you start the company?

We founded Union in 2001 following our first trip to a coffee-growing community in Guatemala where we absolutely had a light bulb moment. We realised that if we wanted to pursue the finest quality coffee, we had to get more engaged with producers at the farms and try and create a shift in terms the way coffee was bought, sold and consumed.

There had to be depth and integrity in what we do.

We’re a coffee roasting company, roasting is at the heart. We've never wanted to let that control go away and it's the ability to be involved with every part of the chain from field to cup that excites us. There had to be depth and integrity in what we do.

What are you changing in the way coffee is produced?

Not surprisingly, or maybe it is surprising to a lot of people, there's a lot of coffee farmers that actually never drink the coffee that they grow. They don't necessarily understand the flavour profiles or how to achieve them. So what we're trying to do with them is to educate and understand, understand the taste of the coffee and then move back to the field to say, okay, how can we get that from the field and that takes more time and labour and cost.

And this is where I think our Direct Trade model comes in because we don't just have to cut out the middleman. It's about understanding every element in the process, valuing that part and saying, Yes, there is a cost to your time to do that so we need to pay you a little bit more to produce the coffee that we want. The Direct Trade model is our way of making sure that we work in partnership with farmers to improve both quality of coffee and livelihoods, long term.

How are you bringing coffee farmers and coffee drinkers a little closer?

Union came from that point of view that on one side I've got farmers and growers and on the other side I've got people who drink the coffee. These people have never spoken. They've never shared a dialogue and that’s what I think Union's job is to do, is to share what we want to drink, that information, that education, with the farmers and give their stories to the consumers.

So we're not just saying, oh, buy Union coffee because it's better quality. Anybody can say my brand is better quality, but you need to give reasons why? That's what the Direct Trade model offers, it's about that depth and integrity.

We want to communicate first and foremost that Union is amazing quality coffee.

You recently revised the visual brand identity. Why?

The logo type that we had prior was very worthy. People pick up on the ethical components of a brand very quickly and will often assume that if you’re an ethical brand then the quality will be of only a certain level.

This is what has driven our new revamp of the brand and packaging. We want to communicate first and foremost that Union is amazing quality coffee. And secondly, it is all produced ethically too so you can feel pretty damn good about it as well.

We’ve always been careful to try and find the right places for our coffees to be.

How do you decide on who you want to partner with? 

We've always been careful to try and find the right places for our coffees to be. Generally when we're talking to café or restaurant operators, if the first question is what's the price of a kilo or do you have a cheaper one, that's probably the wrong conversation for us. Where those conversations start with, I want to impress my customers or I want to surprise and delight them, that's where we get engaged.

What does the future have in store for Union Hand-Roasted?

With the move to online speciality food buying and drink buying, it’s opening up a whole new area. We're really excited about the chance to have that conversation directly with our home customer. We're trying to find ways of being able to say, look, this is what we do in the quality room here at Union Roastery - how can I give you the chance to taste three different coffees side-by-side and explain each taste profile. It's about pulling a range together that can show people something different and offer them different experiences for different seasons.

Find those sacred cows and hang on to them.

What advice would you offer other brand owners?

One of the things said to me here at Union when we have team meetings, they say time and time again, I love the fact that what you and Steven were about when you started this, are still held true and important today.

So find those sacred cows and hang on to them. Don't dilute that because as soon as you do, you're going to start to erode the truth and then what lies behind all your messaging.