• brucemckinnon

Lorna and the launch of Cafedirect



As Cafédirect celebrates its 30th birthday, I wanted to share a personal story about Lorna Young, a remarkable woman I had the privilege of working with during the launch Cafédirect back in 1991. Lorna, who passed away just 5 years later in 1996, managed, on a shoestring budget, to get the brand into all the nation’s supermarkets within a year. It’s a great story, do pass it on!


Despite the fact that Lorna as a teenager had been diagnosed with a life threatening heart condition, here she was, in her mid 40s, full of beans and passionate about the box of fair trade coffee she had just placed on the table.


It was 1991, filter coffee was still sold in boxes and fair trade was something that nobody in the UK had ever heard of. Lorna Young was here to change all that.


Fast forward 30 years and fair trade is now big business, worth €8 bn in sales worldwide, with over 1.4 million farmers across 74 countries engaged in creating over 30,000 products all of which are certified fair trade[1]


Lorna worked for one of four organizations that had come together to create the UK’s first fair trade coffee company, with the great name Cafédirect. Her goal was to get the brand into every supermarket chain in the country – a task that she managed within a year of launch as it happened. My job was far simpler, to create and deliver the marketing to launch the brand with the princely sum of £4,000 - that’s less than 0.02 percent of the total marketing spend in the industry[2].


However, we had a good story, one that nobody had heard before, we had the clout of the supporters from the four organizations, we had a genuinely delicious product, and of course, we had Lorna.


At the time I was working for a fabulous agency whose clients were exclusively good causes. My job was to persuade some of London’s most creative talent to work with these clients for nothing in exchange for a warm glow and a chance to stretch their creative muscles. Oh yes, I also had to ensure what small budget I had for marketing was multiplied at least one hundredfold.


The really big challenge, however, was around the messaging. Even back then, charity fatigue (where people are just tired of being asked to donate to yet another charity campaign) had set in, and on top of that, charity products were not known for their quality.


With Cafédirect we did, in fact, have a great product and a great story. Simply put, by buying Cafédirect you were paying a fair price to the people who grew the beans, and in return you got a great tasting cup of coffee. We were fortunate to find a young creative team who really understood the fine balance that was needed.


Of the ads we developed, the one I remember that best captured the spirit of those early years was of a positive image of a grower with the headline, “Bring rich smooth coffee into your home, and a little sunshine into hers”. This light touch communicated a quality signal – the promise of good coffee and a promise that the coffee would do some good too. This messaging I believe set the tone for defining the new fair trade movement - not charitable but with the interests of the grower at heart, and the interests of customers too.


It worked. Lorna’s hard work with the supermarket buyers, the campaigning from the four organizations, along with the light touch messaging and some very generous media owners delivered a 3 percent share of the filter coffee market in the first year[3].


The Cafédirect brand provided a way of coalescing its four owners and thousands of supporters in support of a single and compelling call to action – to be stocked in all the supermarket chains.


Since then, Cafédirect has grown into a company with sales in excess of £17m[4], won countless awards for its great coffee, continues to pioneer fair trade and ethical business models, and, daring for a coffee company, even sells tea! You can read more about the brand here.


Lorna, who passed away in 1996, I’m sure would be pleased but I’m also sure she would ask, what next?!


On a personal note, I was saddened to hear the news that Lorna’s dad died on October the 2nd,

a proud dad a and I am told with a sharp sense of humour, just like his daughter! I still work for Lorna as it happens, serving as a trustee for the Lorna Young Foundation, that runs pioneering programs around the world, do pay them a visit here.


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This article is edited from the award winning brand strategy book “What’s Your Point?” which can be found at amazon.com.


[1] “Fairtrade Tops $9 Billion in Global Sales for First Time on 8% Growth, October 29 2018” Available at: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/10/29/1638502/0/en/Fairtrade-Tops-9-Billion-in-Global-Sales-for-First-Time-on-8-Growth.html (Accessed 4th October 2021) [2] Davies I., Doherty, B. and Knox, C. “The Rise and Stall of a Fair Trade Pioneer: The Cafédirect Story”. Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 92, No. 1, 2010, pp. 127–147 [3] Davies I., Doherty, B. and Knox, C. “The Rise and Stall of a Fair Trade Pioneer: The Cafédirect Story”. Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 92, No. 1, 2010, pp. 127–147 [4] Cafédirect plc. Report and financial statements for the year ended 31 December 2020. Available at: https://www.cafedirect.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/FY2020-Cafedirect-plc-Statutory-Accounts-Signed.pdf (Accessed 4th October 2021)



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