Henry Clifford is one of the youngest team members at DR Wakefield. His love affair with coffee began while studying political science and philosophy at a Catalan university in Barcelona. During this time, he got a taste for the drink courtesy of a Venezuelan architect he lived with. On his return to London, Henry continued to build on his enthusiasm by exploring London’s coffee chains and quickly discovered that he wanted to explore more of what the coffee world had to offer. When he finished university, he set up his coffee blog, and during his Masters, blogged about what he was learning on his capital coffee trips.
Masters finished, he approached a number of coffee firms, looking to gain experience in the industry. “Luckily, Simon invited me to the office to chat”, he says, “And the rest is history!”
We spoke to Henry for part 3 of our series on the past, present and future of DR Wakefield and the coffee industry.
Perfect packaging and the need for information
Since Henry’s time at DR Wakefield began in October 2013, he’s already seen plenty of major changes to the industry. “The role of packaging in the specialty coffee industry is changing, because roasters are increasingly concerned with preserving quality”, he says. “We’ve seen a big surge in GrainPro usage, and it’s fast becoming the industry standard for specialty coffees: demand is going through the roof.”
Demand for information is also a key trend. “People want to know as much as they can about the coffee they’re buying”, says Henry, “The farmer, the varietal, the day the coffee was picked. Previously, people didn’t have access to as much information – and didn’t demand it either. There’s much more transparency throughout the supply chain now. You can’t just say ‘El Salvador Microlot’ – you need to provide the specifics.” Information, he says, is key when marketing specialty coffee, and will continue to be key in the future: “Roasters are much more interested in the provenance of their product than before.”
Customer relationships: the bedrock of the business
While there are plenty of changes afoot, there are parts of the way in which DR Wakefield operates that Henry believes will continue long into the future. “Long-term relationships with producers and customers have always been the bedrock of our business”, he says. “It gives producers confidence in knowing that they have the security of supply – our relationships with our customers allow us to provide this reassurance.”
Sourcing great coffee from great people is something else that he says will never change: social responsibility and quality control are at the heart of DR Wakefield. “That’s what we do. And, of course, selling it to people who value and understand this.”
Information, information, information
It’s not just the industry as a whole that’s seen major changes: DR Wakefield’s past and future reflect these wider shifts. “We’ve upped our focus on information to keep up with demands from the market”, says Henry, “And we’re placing a real focus on events too: things like barbecues to introduce producers to customers. We’re also importing more coffees in GrainPro and vacuum boxes to keep up with trends.”
The future is looking more and more global for DR Wakefield, he says. “I can see us storing more and more coffee in Lithuania – specialty coffee is booming in Eastern Europe, and we’re proud to be part of it.”
Farmer and customer relationships
Technology has been the major contributing factor to changes in both farmer and customer relationships, according to Henry. “WhatsApp is becoming a useful tool”, he says, “and Skype, telephone calls and emails are always important. Whatever the line of communication, we’re chatting with our producers on a regular basis.”
And customers? “The same again. People like talking to people. Twitter and Instagram are having a big impact – we’re having some great conversations with people.”
Farmers have everything at their fingertips
In the field of technology, it’s increased Internet connectivity that’s had the biggest impact on relationships with producers and customers, says Henry. “For farmers, improved connectivity has had a major impact. It means that there’s faster communication, but also allows for greater transparency throughout the industry. I recently spoke to an older producer who was in the Congo 20 years ago: the farmer had no access to the market, so had no idea what level it was at, leaving him vulnerable. Now, producers have more access to market data, so they have all of the information they need at their fingertips.”
It’s also allowing DR Wakefield to bridge the gap between farmers and roasters, as Henry explains. “On Monday, I showed a farmer the Instagram account of a customer who roasts their coffee: they loved looking at the packaging and the ways in which that customer was marketing their coffee.” Improving these relationships enables those at every stage of a coffee bean’s lifecycle to see its entire journey, allowing processes to be developed for maximum efficiency and benefit.
“More transparency and faster communication are the future”, says Henry. “Add in the growth of technology in helping growers, the rising popularity of sodas made using cascara, and you’ve got a whole wealth of aspects of the industry that suggest there’s an exciting future ahead.”
For more on the current and future faces of the coffee industry, read our interviews with founder Derrick Wakefield, and Managing Director Simon Wakefield.