Lauren Le Franc is a Jamaican entrepreneur who has earned recognition from Forbes as one of the top 10 women in Caribbean sustainability. Her company The Little Coffee Company is making waves as an award-winning social enterprise and is soon launching in the Middle East.
L'Officiel Arabia: How did you come up with the concept of The Little Coffee Company?
Lauren Le Franc: It was a complete accident. I remember finishing up college in the U.K and I felt completely lost about what to do next. I headed back home to Jamaica to try and find some clarity about my next chapter.
When I was younger, I always had happy memories with my family in the Jamaica Blue Mountains so that is where I started. Helping different farming communities across the mountains and learning more about our coffee but what I didn’t realise at the time was that experience was life-changing for me.
I witnessed the strength of the community - hard working never complained always happy and that made me want to share their stories and have true representation in coffee. I also feel we now live in a world that only respects you when you have power influence and money but strength and perspective are what drive me and that is what I learned during my time there.
I started saving money and buying coffee at double the price and selling it to our airport making sure every farmer's name was on the packaging. The word started to spread more farmers wanted to work with me I had so much coffee I went on Alibaba and had my first buyer from Hong Kong they all wanted Jamaican Coffee “the champagne of coffee.”
That is when I realised I had a business.
L'O A: How did you integrate sustainability into your company?
LLF: Sustainability was in the business from the very beginning I only realise that now. The term wasn’t something used often at the time and no one truly knew what it meant to be sustainable. What was experienced was the reality of the change in our climate. The hurricanes were stronger more fires less rain and coffee farming was becoming more difficult.
From the start, I heard stories of pesticide poisoning and contaminating rivers. I wanted to work on reducing the use of chemicals and move towards organic farming.
There was a lot of push back but it was the first licensed trademarked organic Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. That is something we achieved and I am very proud of that. It took a lot of grit, determination and sheer luck to get there. I now embed the UNDP goals as a fundamental part of my business and make sure that we are working towards not just economic empowerment but also developing better farming practices.
In the business, the packaging that our customers receive has messy plastic. The coffee tins are reusable and can be upcycled with our refillable packs. The home compostable coffee pods are completely plastic-free and biodegradable which is better for the environment and less hassle for our customers. Launching the new coffee pods in 24 stores in John Lewis sold out in 4 days I am grateful that what we are doing with sustainability in mind seems to be working.
L'O A: Tell us more about Solar Aid.
LLF: Solar Aid is our charity partner they do fantastic work across many countries in Africa. They provide solar lamps to women and their families. This is life-changing because it not only helps to protect women who travel home late at night but it also provides extra reading time for their children.
Access to light is something that we take for granted but in many communities, they use kerosene lamps, especially in remote farming communities. Inhaling the fumes is also toxic and bad for health and the lamps can easily be knocked over and cause fires. 1 solar lamp costs around £4 and we donate .20p from our coffees and try to raise awareness to their mission and cause.
L'OA: Tell us about your plans for the Middle East store opening.
LLF: The Middle East has a huge coffee culture. I had many buyers from the Middle East who couldn’t get enough of our coffees. Our Jamaican coffee was constantly selling out because it was hard to get the quality that we had.
I want to focus on building the brand, getting to know our consumers there and tailoring our products for the market. We are in negotiations now with one of the biggest distributors in the region to help us with the work on the ground.
I am also passionate about entrepreneurship and will be connecting with other women-owned businesses in the Middle East I have some plans in the works so watch this space!
L'OA: Have you been to the UAE? If yes, how was your experience?
LLF: I haven’t been to the UAE but I am excited to go there there are many opportunities and I know this next chapter is the right step for my company.