After a lot of thought recently, we have decided to close the doors to our roastery.
This has been a difficult decision because we love what we do. When we started Sundlaug, we wanted to build a positive and creative small business focused on high quality coffee and reflecting our love of Nordic coffee culture. We have stuck to this approach ever since and are proud to have done everything ourselves – design, production, logistics, marketing and much more – meaning we’ve been able to maintain control over the whole process. We have sourced some really great single origin coffees from around the world and have tried to find the best lighter roast profiles for each of them in order to bring out the natural flavours in the beans.
We have had a lot of success with this approach. We’ve worked with some of the best coffee shops in the UK, our beans have been served in many other countries around Europe and we have shipped coffee to hundreds of people in more than 30 countries all over the world. We have received consistently positive feedback and have been really happy to see our coffees enjoyed by so many people in so many places.
At the same time, we have some concerns about the future of speciality coffee and the challenges of running a small coffee roastery in the current climate, especially when we don’t have our own coffee shop. We thought it would be helpful to summarise some of our thoughts here so that you can understand where our decision to stop roasting comes from:
Green coffee prices. Prices for green coffee beans are rising all the time. This is partly due to greater demand in the market, partly because of conditions in the producing countries and partly due to changes in the currency markets. For instance, green coffee prices went up by about 15% immediately after the EU referendum that took place in June 2016 here in the UK and the market remains unsettled and expensive.
Brexit. The speciality coffee market has become increasingly international and a lot of our retail and wholesale customers are based elsewhere in Europe. As individuals and as a business, we were really disappointed with Britain’s decision to leave the EU and this creates a lot of uncertainty for the next few years. We can see it getting more difficult to supply to other European countries and be able to compete with some of the top roasters in places like Germany and Scandinavia if the UK is no longer part of the EU single market.
Unpredictability. There is more and more choice in the speciality coffee market and in many ways this is a good thing. Customers are able to try new things and competition in the market drives quality, innovation and choice. It is easier than ever to visit a speciality coffee shop and find beans from several different origins and roasters. We have certainly benefited from this and have been able to work with a number of coffee shops on a guest basis. At the same time, this can make it more difficult to plan ahead, manage stock levels and ensure regular sales. It means buying smaller amounts of green beans at a time, profiling and releasing new coffees more regularly, having to be flexible in terms of taking orders, roasting beans at short notice and handling more deliveries and logistics. While much of this is part of running a business, it can be difficult to predict demand and plan ahead from one month to the next.
Fair value. Because we are a small business focused on quality, and because green coffee beans are getting ever more expensive, it can be difficult for us to offer discounts on price. We are not able to offer the same discounts or support packages as some larger roasters and we cannot afford to undervalue or undersell our products. There are some really good people working in coffee who are focused on what we see as the right things – achieving fair value for coffee farmers, ensuring transparency in the supply chain, working hard to create great tasting roast profiles - but also a lot of pressure on some companies to make sales. We’re concerned that the competition to offer low prices is undervaluing speciality coffee and making consumers forget what a special product it is. We’re keen not to compromise on the things that are important to us (particularly quality) and worry this will become increasingly difficult in a very congested market.
We realise that all small businesses face a variety of challenges but thought it would be good to set out our thoughts in case it’s helpful for anyone else running a small roastery or thinking about starting up in the speciality coffee market. These are of course just thoughts and observations based on our experience and how things have affected us in recent times.
We want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way, the people who have enjoyed brewing our beans, the baristas and coffee shops who have showcased our coffees and our friends and family who have heard a lot about coffee over the last three years!
Our thanks in particular go to our first wholesale customers Marmadukes in Sheffield and Greenhood in Nottingham, who supported us at the very beginning, as well as to the many other independent coffee shops around the country who have served our beans. We also want to say thanks to the great coffee shops around Europe who have brought our beans to a wider audience, including places like EMA in Prague, Kontakt in Budapest, Renard in Tallinn and Djäkne in Malmö.
For us, one of the highlights of running the roastery has been developing relationships with people who share our love of coffee. It has been a pleasure seeing the speciality coffee scene develop across Europe over the last few years – promoted by baristas, independent coffee shops and the people behind projects like Standart Magazine and Third Wave Wichteln. At a time of uncertainty in Europe, it has been great to see the coffee industry bringing people together and promoting discussion, collaboration and friendship.
We will be moving back to London soon and are looking forward to some new adventures. In the meantime, if you have any questions at all feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meredith + Matt