Dison Kareng, the founder of Bros Coffee Ltd says quality is everything to them
On 27 October 2021, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA, in partnership with the Uganda High Commission in London and the British High Commission in Kampala, held the inaugural UK-Uganda Specialty Arabica Coffee Cupping competition. The UCDA call for samples attracted 52 samples including giants in the market. This the highest number of samples ever received for a cupping competition, according to UCDA.
The competition which aims to increase Uganda coffee exports to the UK was won by Bros Coffee Ltd, after beating the five other finalists.
Business Focus had an exclusive interview with Dison Kareng, the Managing Director and Founder of Bros Coffee Ltd, a small and young Kapchorwa based company, on a number of issues including how it beat big companies to win the competition.
Below are the excepts of the interview;
Q: Congratulations upon winning the recently concluded Uganda-UK Arabica coffee cupping competition. To many, the winner was new to them. Briefly tell me about Bros Coffee Ltd
A: We formed Bros Coffee in December 2016 in Kapchorwa as a company with the main objective of processing speciality coffee that can stand a surprise cup to coffee lovers- both national and international.
To achieve this, we created a coffee farmer network system based on specific locations and altitude. This is managed by leaders who collect coffee- fresh and parchment to our operating station. Then our coffee is added value through second party factories on contract to process. We then export it to buyers.
Q: What does this win mean to a young company like Bros Coffee Ltd?
A: It surely means a lot to us. Being an SME, we have not been doing much exports of Arabica coffee but we believe through this win, we will have our coffee exported to the UK and other markets. As a young company, we have proved that we can offer the best of great coffee which connects great people. It’s also a good road map towards lifting SMEs in this country.
Q: 52 samples were submitted for this competition and you beat all of them. What makes Bros Coffee Ltd unique? What makes you stand out?
A: We are strictly guided by our culture of speciality coffee principles. We follow those principles. That is our game.
We do right and end right. This means we have our standard factors set that we don’t compromise and we are committed to them.
We have good practices of post harvest handling. In summary, we harvest good ripe cherries, float the cherries, pulp, ferment and dry.
Q: How does Bros Coffee Ltd support farmers especially in getting better prices?
A: The most important thing is quality; we handle coffee with quality from harvesting, processing and milling. We train farmers the best agronomic practices, connect them with good agro-input dealers. We also submit coffee samples to different coffee buyers who will in return buy our coffee depending on what they receive as a sample. We are currently working with 262 coffee farmers.
Q: The demand for specialty coffee is on the rise globally. What does this mean for Ugandan farmers?
A: That is a very good advantage to farmers for as long as they guarantee quality, loyalty and volume.
Q: How better can Uganda exploit the market for specialty coffee?
A: We should showcase Ugandan best coffees at all levels; conferences, events and advertisements while sticking to speciality coffee parameters. I thank UCDA; they are doing a good job on this. I personally want to see Ugandan coffee advert running on the football billboard at a time I am watching Premier football. Seeing an advert like reading like “Drink Uganda Speciality Coffee” would be great.
Q: Uganda wants to hit a target of producing 20m 60kg bags by 2025. In your opinion, what more needs to be done by UCDA and other players to achieve this target?
A: UCDA has done a perfect job on ensuring that farmers get free seedlings for production. We have already seen the fruits as coffee production is increasing. We only need to spice this increase with tough quality management standards especially at lower level. At the farm level, farmers should strictly pick ripe (red) cherries. This will automatically generate a huge demand for our coffee.
Q: Domestic coffee consumption is visibly picking up as evidenced by more coffee shops and cafes. In your opinion, what needs to be done to get more Ugandans drinking locally produced coffee?
A: An example is myself in Kapchorwa town. I realized there was no place here to drink coffee and where people could comfortably sit to talk business while having a cup of coffee.
I started a coffee social center called Royal cafe. I have promoted it and now people love coffee over tea in my area.
The only problem is that coffee machines are still expensive but we will get there through local initiatives.
We should promote coffee drinking in all foras i.e conferences, offices, TV talk shows, events and publicize the health benefits of drinking coffee.
Q: In your opinion, what key challenges are facing Uganda’s coffee sector?
A: Quality remains a big issue. UCDA that is responsible for quality checks is understaffed or resources are limited. An example is my area, where we have only one UCDA staff member. This is tough to handle the whole region. I request the government to look at this and perhaps add more funding to the coffee sector. I believe coffee is second in command in terms of revenue to this country, so the government can put more money here. Value addition, acquisition of equipment and post harvesting tools are still a challenge. I have seen a few farmers being supplied with few tools through UCDA but the coverage is small.
Government should boost SMEs in the coffee sector. In most cases SMEs are home based, they are starters in coffee but we produce the best that can attract the market and this leads me to another challenge of financing. Banks are not willing to finance SMEs because of limited collateral. One time I got a coffee contract for two containers from Germany after submitting a coffee sample that won the hearts of one coffee company in Germany. I took the contract to one of the banks for financing but it was pushed aside on grounds that I had no sufficient security and finally the buyer shifted the contract to Kenyan coffee. I did not lose alone, even the country lost. Government needs to create a financial line of credit that can easily be accessed by SMEs.
I don’t know if UCDA as an authority can create an opportunity to stand for coffee contracts that are difficult to be financed by banks so that they are executed. it’s my request that MoUs can be developed other than turning down such coffee contracts or failing to fulfil.