In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Lane Mitchell, the marketing manager for Cafe Femenino Coffee. Cafe Femenino Coffee sells roasted coffee sourced exclusively from women-owned and operated farms, is based in Hillsborough, North Carolina, has been in business for sixteen years, and has sold coffee for one year.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Lane: I had been working in the specialty coffee industry for a number of years, and I had developed a deep understanding of the supply chain inequities involving women coffee producers.
You may know that specialty coffee is grown in places where women historically have not been able to own land. So although women do between 40% – 60% of the labor involved in growing, harvesting and processing coffee, they typically do not get paid for their work. This has created conditions of extreme poverty for women and their children.
Café Femenino was founded to disrupt coffee’s traditional male-dominated economic system by bringing ownership rights to women coffee producers. When women own the land, they have assets and an income: and with these things comes empowerment, decision-making authority in their homes and communities, and control over their own lives.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
L: We began by working with one coffee farming region: The Lambayeque region of northwest Peru. This relationship began in 2004. Today, Café Femenino Coffee also represents women coffee producers in Guatemala, Mexico and Sumatra. We hope to expand our line even further in 2020 by including women from other coffee growing regions.
R: How do you make your coffee? What’s your process like?
L: Once the coffee is grown, picked and processed in its country of origin, the unroasted coffee beans are shipped to our roasting facility in Hillsborough, NC. Our team works together to develop a perfect roast profile for each crop of coffee. When we arrive at the optimal roast profile for a particular crop, we are able to reproduce that quality level for every bag we send out.
R: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
L: I remember this well! Café Femenino Coffee was launched on Thanksgiving Day 2018. We started selling on our own website.
R: Where do you sell your product now?
L: We’ve been honored to have generated a great deal of support in our community and among very high quality, values-driven retailers. Our largest retailer is Whole Foods, where we launched in March 2019.
We are very proud to be served at the award-winning artisan bakery and cafe Guglhupf in North Carolina and Urban Radish in LA’s Arts District, as well as the North Carolina Museum of Art’s cafes and several grocery co-ops including Weaver Street Market in North Carolina. We have also recently done popups at West Elm as part of their local artisan program.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
L: Our goal is to be available at every retailer who shares our values by selling high-quality, ethically sourced products.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
L: Because we are so new, almost every moment of every day is dedicated to marketing in some way. That includes everything from one-on-one meetings, to sampling events, media relations, and retail collaborations. Social media is important to get our word out and to harness the enthusiasm of our advocates.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with Cafe Femenino Coffee?
L: Everyone knows that packaging is important in retail. And when it comes to specialty coffee, it’s essential to have well-made packaging that preserves the quality of the roasted product. Since launching 10 months ago, we’ve had to weave our way through three packaging upgrades because we weren’t exactly happy with either the look or the fabrication of the coffee bags.
We needed to make sure that the packaging was built to look sharp on the shelf and also had a high quality, one-way valve that’s necessary to keep the beans at their best. We tried several packaging manufacturers and several shapes before we landed where we are now. We’ve had good feedback from retailers on the current packaging, so we’re definitely going in the right direction!
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
L: My advice to those who want to launch their own product or to sell a product is to find something that you love. That’s because your first year or more will be dedicated to your product. If you don’t love your product, it will be too easy to get distracted or to become disenchanted along the way.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
L: Just do it. That may sound cliche. But when it comes to business, success starts with simply showing up.
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
L: Making a difference.