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Nespresso CEO Jean-Marc Duvoisin talks reviving origins

From the June 2019 issue.

Nespresso CEO Jean-Marc Duvoisin on integrating sustainability into the company’s business model, and resurrecting coffees that were once lost, but are now found.

Nespresso CEO Jean-Marc Duvoisin and Academy Award-winning actor George Clooney have more in common than most might think. Both are strong advocates for sustainability, look sharp in a suit, and are committed to presenting Nespresso as a premium portioned coffee product. The only difference is that Duvoisin, a Swiss national, does so with a responsibility to Nespresso’s thousands of consumers and producers while American movie icon Clooney flashes his mischievous smile at the TV lens, coffee in hand, asking: “How far would you go for a Nespresso?”

Clearly for Clooney, very far. Since he starred in the company’s first celebrity campaign in 2006, Clooney has charmed fans as the perfect personification of the understated elegance and authenticity that makes Nespresso famous around the world.

“I’ve had the pleasure of meeting George in different occasions, one of them being the Nespresso Sustainability Advisory Board, in which he is a committed and active member,” Duvoisin tells Global Coffee Report. “George is not only our brand ambassador but a strong sustainability champion.”

It was Clooney who encouraged Duvoisin to visit South Sudan to meet with farmers and support the recovery of South Sudan’s coffee industry in 2015. Once there, Nespresso’s coffee experts discovered a lot of “very interesting” coffee plants and an industry in need of revival.

Nespresso and its global non-profit partner TechnoServe hired agronomists to help improve the locals’ production methods through its AAA Sustainable Quality Program, which it first launched in Colombia in 2003 with the support of Rainforest Alliance.

“It’s an internal certification,” Duvoisin says. “AAA is based on having agronomists go to the farms and support the farmers by training them to produce a better quality product, achieving more volume and greater productivity in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.”

Read more:
• Nespresso launches Reviving Origins program to bring back lost coffees
• Starbucks by Nespresso launches in May
• Nespresso and FNC unite to revive coffee farming in El Rosario, Nariño

Nespresso now has more than 450 agronomists working around the world, lending their expertise to 100,000 farmers in 13 countries, including South Sudan. In 2015, Nespresso released the country’s first significant non-oil export in a generation, Suluja ti South Sudan coffee capsules.

“Suluja ti South Sudan was an enormous success from the consumer point of view because the aroma was very different to anything else we had on offer, but also because the story was very appealing,” Duvoisin says.

That’s where the concept of Reviving Origins was created, a new Nespresso program to restore coffee farming in regions where it is under threat, such as Zimbabwe, former conflict zones of Colombia, and South Sudan.

Nespresso is investing CHF10 million (about US$9.8 million) over the next five years to revive the coffee industries in selected countries with the aim of encouraging rural economic development.

Reviving Origins is part of Nespresso’s overall commitment to invest CHF500 million (about US$490 million) from 2014 to 2020 in its sustainability strategy, The Positive Cup.

“Through our Reviving Origins program, we have an opportunity to bring back forgotten coffees, boost economic development in regions where there has been significant adversity, and share a completely new taste experience with consumers,” Duvoisin says.

Every restoration situation is different. In South Sudan, Duvoisin says while the coffee quality was good, it was a cash crop with low volumes. The revival process was about improving processing methods to improve coffee quality, and increasing production so that the product could be commercialised.

In Colombia, coffee almost disappeared in Caquetá following 50 years of conflict, with many farmers abandoning their lands. As such, Nespresso has partnered with local farmers and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) to support the rebuilding of the industry, encourage producers to implement sustainable farming practices that facilitate the growth of high quality coffee, and provide better access to international markets. With the support of the FNC and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nespresso has also just added El Rosario in the Nariño region – a municipality where illicit crops continue to be cultivated – to its Revivals list with plans to improve the municipality’s coffee farms and community infrastructure.

And in Zimbabwe, Duvoisin says Reviving Origins is about empowering farmers with production techniques to improve crop quality.

In the late 1980s, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Zimbabwean coffee farmers produced more than 15,000 tonnes of coffee. However, production almost came to a complete halt as a result of climate factors and economic instability. By 2017, production levels were at less than 500 tonnes.

“In Zimbabwe, the people no longer knew about coffee production or how to care for their coffee. So, its revival was about restoring its production industry along with TechnoServe to support agronomy expertise in the country,” Duvoisin says. “What we’ve done is opened the farmer’s eyes to a new means of having a stable income.”

TechnoServe and Nespresso have since worked with the local coffee farming community in Manicaland Province, eastern Zimbabwe, to establish sustainable farming practices and bring expert trainers and new techniques to tackle issues such as coffee processing and tree management. The result is a higher quality Arabica coffee.

“Revival is taking place in regions where we can imagine having access to very good quality coffee and large volumes. We’ve found unique coffees in other countries but sometimes the quality is not there,” Duvoisin says.

“It’s also about ensuring that we find an interesting coffee that embraces a story and a flavour or aroma in the cup the consumer hasn’t experienced before. These initiatives are not only a question of responsibility, they are part of our business model. It’s something consumers expect from us.”

Long-term commitment
Duvoisin joined Nestlé in 1986 and worked in different markets across Latin America before becoming Market Head of the Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador region, and Mexico. His deep knowledge of the company, international experience, and recognised leadership made him the right candidate to later lead the Nespresso expansion in 2013, when he replaced then-CEO Richard Girardot. It was around this time Nespresso was finalising the Vertuo coffee machine, which it first launched in the United States, then Canada. It was also a time when more capsule brands were making their presence known on the market, providing Nespresso with healthy competition for the first time.

“Nespresso is one of the most interesting companies you can run,” Duvoisin tells GCR.

“Competition will always be there. The only thing it does is push you even more to ensure you’re delivering what the consumer really wants, and to create competitive advantages based on that. If you can identify what they want and deliver it, that’s the key.”

A league of its own
What Nespresso customers want, according to Duvoisin, is an exciting coffee and a fascinating story.

“Five to 10 years ago coffee consumers just wanted strong coffee with milk or sugar. Little by little, they’ve got to understand that the world of coffee is wide and diverse, and they want to widen their experiences. They want to try different flavours and enjoy coffees linked to stories. That’s how they develop their coffee expertise,” Duvoisin says.

“Nespresso was probably one of the first companies to offer this idea of diversity to consumers, and it’s this broad selection that’s helped evolve consumer expectations.”

At origin, Duvoisin says “unique flavour” is achieved through various processing techniques, such as asking Colombian farmers to keep cherries on the trees longer during fermentation, encouraging

Nicaraguan farmers to leave the mucilage on the cherry for a sweeter cup profile, or building trust with farmers in Indonesia to change their traditional practices.

Duvoisin says experimentation is key to evolution, however with the C market price continuing to decline, support for the industry’s farming communities must come first.

“Coffee pricing is a big concern for us. It’s not where it should be,” Duvoisin says. “The situation for the past two years has become a cycle that goes up and down, as often is the case in agricultural production. What we see now is overproduction, which drags the price of coffee down. But why is it not healthy? In some countries the price doesn’t even cover cost of production. Because we pay our farmers more, much more than the coffee market, they are protected, but [the current environment] is not good for the whole industry. What happens is quality goes down and so does volume.”

Duvoisin says every roaster must be responsible for correctly paying the right price to farmers. In this way, Nespresso wants to be seen as doing “absolutely everything it can” to support its producers, economically and environmentally, including through its pilot weather index insurance program for smallholder coffee farmers in Colombia.

Sustainable stance
Nespresso’s sustainable commitments extend to changing consumer behaviours through its recycling scheme. In most countries, public recycling infrastructure is unable to process small light items such as coffee capsules, so Nespresso set up dedicated schemes 28 years ago. Today, it covers 53 countries with more than 100,000 drop off points.

In April 2019, Nespresso issued an invitation to other portioned coffee manufacturers to join its recycling program to help improve the accessibility and convenience of aluminium capsule recycling. It is confident this program is driving the industry towards a global solution for the whole capsule category.

“Aluminium is a very noble product because it can be recycled in infinite ways. We use aluminium because we believe it’s the best packaging solution to keep peak freshness,” Duvoisin says. “I see the decision [to open the recycling program to other manufacturers] as pre-competitive, meaning that it’s not from recycling that we make a competitive cup. We see where we have our competitive advantages, but recycling is not one of them. We need everyone to be contributing and all our consumers should be helping us recycle too. The packaging we have on the market is a professional responsibility.”

Duvoisin says one of his greatest accomplishments at Nespresso is embedding sustainability across Nespresso’s entire production chain, and having the brand recognised by its customers as working in the most sustainable way. By 2020, it has committed to reach 100 per cent sustainably sourced coffee, 100 per cent sustainably managed aluminium, and 100 per cent carbon efficient operations.

“We do everything we feel we should be doing and we showcase it in a very transparent way. We show our challenges and our successes, and I personally believe we are doing the best we can with our ambition to be the most sustainable coffee brand,” Duvoisin says.

However, Duvoisin isn’t afraid to admit there’s always more to be done.

“We can always push our ambition further to offer consumers the best coffee in the most sustainable way, and to be perceived as such,” he says.

“We want to increase our recycling rate, and for that we need more communication with consumers. But so far the system is working really well and the recycling rates in each participating country are very strong.”

Duvoisin adds that it’s also important to increase consumer awareness about the impact of climate change and waste consumption.

“Many people won’t know that portion coffee is the best way to prepare a cup of coffee in terms of its carbon footprint. It’s more efficient than any other method with the exception of soluble coffee,” Duvoisin says. “Most carbon footprint comes from coffee production and preparation at home – look at the energy used to grind coffee beans, the energy to warm water and extract a coffee in a traditional espresso machine. All this is much more efficient in portion coffee. It’s something we measure all the time and strive to improve in our machines. It’s probably something that will become even more important from a consumer point of view.”

The next step
Duvoisin says the company’s success as one of the fastest growing global food and beverage brands with close to 800 boutiques worldwide is because of its strong growth rate which “has allowed the everyday consumer to prepare good quality coffee at home based on a Nespresso innovation”.

“Nespresso brought something completely new to the market. It positioned coffee as a premium product and consumers recognised this. Our direct consumer relationship was a completely new way of marketing at the time. I’d say [Nespresso] is one of the only companies like this,” he says.

Duvoisin doesn’t discount Clooney’s charming contributions to the company’s luxury reputation, but says as long as consumers connect with the stories of origin and embrace Nespresso’s evolving product range, he is confident in 2030 customers will still be saying, “Nespresso, what else?”

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