True Blue brew

Jamaican entrepreneur wins award from City University of London to expand ethically traded organic coffee business

Sunday, October 15, 2017

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Lauren LeFranc, a Jamaican entrepreneur residing in the United Kingdom, has won a graduate award from City University of London to expand her already established coffee business — JA Island Roasters. As part of her award package Le Franc also secured a location for her business at the university's Cass Business School, and she is looking at commencing operations in upcoming weeks.

Le Franc, a qualified barrister of England and Wales who first set up the company in Jamaica in 2011 while completing her legal education, has been focused on selling roasted coffee through JA Island Roasters under the brand True Blue, which is marketed as 100 per cent Blue Mountain coffee. With this award she is looking forward to importing organic and non-organic Jamaican green beans to the UK from the world-famous Blue Mountains.

She said the award package also covers operational costs, and comes with mentorship and support from the university.

“I'm elated to have such an amazing opportunity to expand my business and to take brand Jamaica a step further into the spotlight,” shared LeFranc. “I already have a distributor who has been contracted to take all my organic coffee. I look forward to continuing the work with the Coffee Industry Board on this venture and I am heading into business with an optimistic mindset and a winning attitude.”

In 2014, JA Island Roasters received approval for the venture from the Certification of Environmental Standards — an international organisation which offers certification for organic farming and food processing. She then got approval from the Coffee Industry Board to export organic, certified Jamaican Blue Mountain green bean coffee. Although she found favour for her roasted coffee in the Asian market, she was in search of additional opportunities for development when she came across City University of London's Entrepreneur Graduate Scheme competition in 2016, and her big break came when she decided to participate.

LeFranc, along with 30 other competitors, delivered a business pitch to a panel of judges on a platform similar to reality shows such as Dragon's Den and Shark Tank. Her practical presentation led to her victory in the competition, which has now allowed her to set up the London branch of her office and receive support from the university and interested investors.

“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,” said LeFranc. She explained that her business idea was based on a social enterprise model which focuses on donating a percentage of the profits from sales to help the local farmers.

“It was important for me to give back and one of the main problems is that small farmers are being squeezed out of the industry. It is my view that if these communities don't develop, the industry will not grow,” she said.

LeFranc said her goal has been to attain certification for internationally certified, organic 100 per cent Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and after achieving this in 2014, she took a break to focus on law, but she is now ready to launch full time.

“I would like to send my first shipment in time for the Christmas season. I am working hard and I have several exciting activities lined up,” she said. “There is a growing demand for a more environmentally friendly and ethically traded coffee, and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is in the perfect position to take advantage of that niche.”

Gusland McCook, acting director of the Coffee Industry Board, endorsed LeFranc, adding that she has done well with the development of her brand True Blue.

“It is good to see Lauren as a young entrepreneur capitalising on the unique opportunity presented by Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, using her resources to build her brand and simultaneously highlighting brand Jamaica in the international spotlight,” said McCook. “Lauren has demonstrated unwavering commitment and resilience in getting her certifications, and identifying and serving her niche with the best- quality products; we wish her all the best.”

LeFranc added that her vision is to assist in developing local communities invested in coffee farming, and to inspire other women to embrace the coffee industry.

“Support and mentorship are critical to personal and business growth; I want to share my knowledge and to inspire other women to take the bold step,” she said.

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