Grounds For Improvement

Contributing writer Tesla Martinez spoke with Brent Toevs, CEO of Marley Coffee, to get his perspective on taking a food or drink company global. Marley Coffee, founded by Bob Marley’s son, Rohan Marley, is a sustainably grown and ethically farmed gourmet coffee company.

How did Marley Coffee get its international start?

Marley Coffee began over a decade ago when Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley, purchased land in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica in an effort to help the locals with food supply. Since coffee was discovered on the land, he decided to get into the coffee business in order to impact the lives of the locals. He studied the coffee business in Ethiopia, where both coffee and his Rastafarian roots originated. While Bob Marley’s calling was music, Rohan Marley’s calling is coffee. 

Coffee embodies Jamaica and has a meaningful impact on the farmers who work for us, the people in the processing center and the local community around the farm. Ask our farmers how their lives have improved since Rohan appeared on the farm (and) they will unanimously say he has made a huge impact. Moreover, Marley Coffee works along with our partners to donate to the improvement of local elementary schools. The coffee business is a long trail that touches many people’s lives, which is important to the Marley family. 

We will continue growing globally while supporting more farmers who use best sustainable practices. We want Marley Coffee to be synonymous with not only Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee but with sustainable coffee from all over the world. We will continue working with the Rain Forest Alliance on coffee certifications, and will look to expand sources from Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, as well as Central America.

Our aim is to be a worldwide brand that is available to anyone, anywhere they want to drink coffee. We are a quality coffee really striving to make a difference in the world. 

How do you stay in tune with market trends and drive innovation?

We have gone from one product to around 100 quality products. We currently have four real cup products, will double that by Q1 next year, and then will double that by the end of next year. We just completed a deal with Garden of Life, which is our Marley Coffee Raw Meal. This new partnership places us on Whole Foods shelves. We are also looking at the cold beverage side, teas, and just launched three Marley Coffee capsules that are going into over 700 Aldi stores in Europe as a limited holiday edition. We believe this will drive product innovations. We also tend to believe single-serve is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Our goal is to be in the Nespresso type of system by next year. 

Where would you like to see the food and drink industry evolving in the next 10 years? 

We would like to see an evolution in the way high-end restaurants purchase coffee. For example, in a high-end restaurant a sommelier comes out with a wine list or perhaps there is someone on staff who is an expert in wine. However, a small percentage of high-end restaurants pay attention to coffee. The last experience at (other) restaurants is usually alcohol or bad coffee. 

These restaurants purchase their coffee from their existing distributor because the distributor typically offers them a free piece of equipment. We consider the free coffee to be garbage in taste and quality, and we want to change that. We want high-end restaurants to invest in proper equipment for brewing, and we want them to properly pay attention to coffee. 

We envision a time where a coffee expert comes out with a coffee menu and (you) see 10 Marley Coffees on there. We have some pretty exciting ideas on how this is done. It is an upfront investment for the restaurants, but their bottom line will actually grow if they pay attention to coffee, the way they do wine and alcohol.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

Finding the right partner. We have a lot of people that want to hop on board from different countries. We’ve slowed the process down to make sure we pick the right people who represent the brand well, love the brand and what we are doing, and have the financial resources to grow the brand in their respective market.

The distributors that we do have in other markets are very happy. They are good at what they do. Distributors are hitting it out of the park in markets such as Chile and Peru. 

How are you prioritizing which markets to expand into and how are you adapting business models needed to fit those markets?

Most opportunities find us. Every market is different. We tie our decisions to market research and the people in the business within that country. 

For example, we just signed an agreement with the largest food distributor in Japan. We believe there is a large market for chilled canned coffee. So we are working with some partners in Japan to conduct product testing and doing our research to see if that makes sense. 

We also know that coffeehouses are going to be a big part of our future. We will be modeling them after the original coffeehouses in Vienna. Rohan cares about genealogy as well as where things originated, which is the reason why our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe has significant importance to us. Ethiopia is the birthplace of civilization, the birthplace of coffee and the birthplace of Rastafarianism. The birthplace of coffee houses is Vienna, and we look forward to bringing that to the world. 

Can you leave us with some advice?

Make a real impact on the local community in which you expand!  

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