Jamaica Gleaner / Jamaican entrepreneur Lauren Le Franc has received financial backing from two London investors to set up the first organic Blue Mountain coffee business in the United Kingdom.
The business, which will be an expansion of her original coffee brand True Blue 100% Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee through her local company J.A. Island Roasters, will focus on importing organic Jamaican coffee green beans from the world-famous Blue Mountains.
“There is a growing demand on the market for a more environmentally friendly and ethically traded coffee, and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is in the perfect position to take advantage of that movement,” Le Franc said.
To date, the 27-year-old’s company mainly supplies clients in Asia through Alibaba and in Europe via its website. Locally, it is sold at the Norman Manley International Airport and offered at few hotels.
Le Franc’s business, which began in 2011, received international support after delivering a business pitch in similar fashion to reality shows Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank to a panel of judges in 2016. She won the City University of London’s Entrepreneur Graduate Scheme competition, beating out about 30 other competitors, allowing her set up a London office.
The Jamaica-born purveyor of coffee, who is the only person in Jamaica with certification from international organic body Certification of Environmental Standards (CERES) to export organic beans with approval from the Coffee Industry Board for the first shipment, said, “I heard about the opportunity to pitch my business as an alumnus of the university. I didn’t expect to win, but this win is a great step for the Jamaican organic coffee industry and a testament to the hard work I have put in over the years.”
With few females in the Jamaican coffee industry at present, Le Franc admitted to initial pushback from the male-dominated industry when she founded the company at the age of 18. She said, “I had a lot of difficulty when I started because I don’t think anyone took me seriously. It took years of fostering relationships with both the Coffee Industry Board and CERES in order for me to get the necessary approval to export.”
To address this, Le Franc, in partnership with the International Woman in Coffee Alliance, hosted a round-table discussion with women working in the coffee industry in Jamaica in 2013. “I want to encourage more women to become leaders in the coffee industry in Jamaica, which is predominantly male. I am all about uplifting and supporting women within the industry.”
The qualified barrister of England and Wales, who completed an accelerated Undergraduate degree in Law and Business, specialising in legal and financial services, said, “I was tired of working for someone else to build their own brand. I wanted to get more involved with coffee but I wanted to do something different, so I acquired my licence to produce organic coffee.”
Today, her True Blue brand specialises in done-to-order micro-roasted coffee, roasted in small, even batches to preserve the coffee’s unique quality and flavour. Looking to the future, Le Franc explained, “Jamaican coffee is still in high demand on the international market. I’m looking forward to my first shipment to the UK and then expanding to other markets.”
As a social enterprise, the business will donate a percentage of the profits from sales to help develop the local Jamaican farming community. Le Franc said, “It’s important for me to give back to the community and to the farmers. One of the main problems is that small farmers are unable to get licences and are being squeezed out by large enterprises. It is my view that if the communities don’t develop, the industry will not grow.”