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Bewley’s and Ramacafe: Direct trade at its best

From the November 2012 issue.

Leading Irish coffee company Bewley's has sustained a 10-year trading partnership with Nicaraguan coffee producer Henry Hueck. This is one relationship built on trust, passion and a sustainable vision.

Bewley’s Coffee Buying Director Paul O’Toole likens the company’s 10-year partnership with Nicaraguan coffee producer Henry Hueck to that of a long distance friendship, “at times challenging” but “very rewarding”.

After 22 years working at Bewley’s, O’Toole more than most has seen the development of the coffee business in the largely tea-drinking nation.
“Thirty years ago in Ireland, coffee came out of a jar,” says O’Toole. “Back then Bewley’s was principally just a bunch of cafés in town. Patrick Bewley (current CEO) was roasting the coffee on the neighbour’s floorboards. We may be a tea-drinking nation, but coffee consumption has undoubtedly grown here at astronomical rates over the last 30 years.”

At the height of the coffee price crisis in 2002, O’Toole travelled to Nicaragua as a Cup of Excellence judge. It was here he first met Ramacafe’s Hueck, and was impressed by his passion for the trade.

“I have always shared the view that happy people make better coffee. I could see what Hueck was trying to do with his workforce and I believed in it. Most impressively, Hueck had a 10-year plan for his business, infrastructure and social enterprise, not just a plan for the next coffee season,” O’Toole says.

A year later, O’Toole travelled with Irish Aid to Honduras and Nicaragua where he was told: “What the people need are customers so they can produce coffee and continue to make a livelihood,” O’Toole recalls. “So that’s what [Bewley’s] did.”

In 2003 O’Toole initiated trading with Hueck and his two farms in Northern Nicaragua to not only help establish a quality life for his coffee workers but to developed a program that would see quality coffee transported to Ireland in a “win-win” situation for both parties.

“We agreed on a sustainable price rather than the market price at the time,” says O’Toole. “We agreed to purchase three containers from Hueck for three years. That was at a time when the market was paying about US$0.65 per pound. But we agreed on $0.97 a pound. Our purchase represented about one third of Henry’s production at the time.”

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