There is no denying that this year has been a difficult one for us as a business but our commitment to operating sustainably and with integrity has not been shaken. In this section, we will look in closer detail at how we and our partners have adapted to the pandemic, in particular how it has affected our coffee sourcing, our employees, our environmental impact, and our engagement with our coffee community.

Our Commitment to our Coffee Partners

The COVID-19 outbreak has really brought to the forefront of our minds that strong partnerships and wider connections in business often underpin economic resilience. Conscious that many of our coffee suppliers have been facing the same, if not worse, COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdown restrictions in their regions, our aim has been to be a reliable and transparent partner to our suppliers.

The existing forward coffee contracts that we held in March when the UK and Ireland entered its first lockdown have provided us with enough coffee to cover our operations for far longer than we had initially anticipated due to the marked fall in demand in the out-of-home sector. It has been crucial for us to carefully monitor this and continually revise our forecasts based on more recent sales and the changing Government restrictions.

Despite this sharp fall in demand, we are pleased that we have not cancelled a single contract with our suppliers during this time. Furthermore, when there has been an opportunity to buy, we have remained committed to buying from existing suppliers with whom we have built long term relationships.

We have kept in regular contact with our supply chain and though travel restrictions have prevented us from carrying out our normal visits to origin, we have reached out to suppliers remotely to better understand the position that they are faced with and how they are addressing the challenges. We have also shared resources with them which could help them to understand and limit the spread of the virus, including Producers Direct’s COVID-19 Communications Toolkit for Farmers.

To reassure our suppliers that we are doing all we can to protect our business we have shared updates on how COVID-19 has affected our operations. Our hope is that we can come back stronger and in a position to be able to continue to source from these producers for many years to come.

How Fairtrade has been Helping Farmers

Approximately 85% of the coffee that we source is Fairtrade certified and it has been a comfort to us to know that these suppliers have benefited from additional support from Fairtrade during the pandemic.

Of particular significance is the new guidance which was released by Fairtrade International in April. This confirmed that the Fairtrade premium earned by producer groups could be spent more flexibly to help prevent the spread of the disease. Cooperatives can now use the premium to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, to buy and distribute PPE or running hygiene communications campaigns.

Furthermore, in a deviation from the normal rules governing the premium spend, these actions can be taken without waiting for approval at the annual general assembly meetings.

Fairtrade have also committed more than €15 million to their Producer Relief and Resilience Funds which were first launched in May as an immediate response to the pandemic. The overall goal of the support is to mitigate the impact of virus on the health, well-being and economic sustainability of Fairtrade producers and their communities.

Insight from Peru

Peru has been hit hard by the virus which coincided with the start of their busy harvest and export period. Sol and Cafe are Fairtrade certified and the minimum price mechanism along with the more flexible use of the social premium implemented at the onset of the pandemic will inevitably help the cooperative and their farmers. However, like much of the supply chain, it is still too early to gauge the full impact.

Bernardo Córdova Calle (pictured), a dry mill employee who has worked many years at Norandino Mill in Piura explained... "The impact of Coronavirus has been huge. The crop of coffee 2020 has started and with it the first shipments.

The quarantine started in Perú on March 16th, and from May 4th the dry mill set up new procedures, protection equipment and staff training. Staff schedules have all changed and all visits are strictly controlled - be it tracks, containers, people from the government, customs agents, etc

Life has changed a lot for all the people here but one of the biggest concerns is that if the workers get coronavirus the mill may close. The quarantine also seems never-ending. Naturally, people also fear for their families becoming sick.

But not all is bad. Coronavirus is making us closer to our families. We are also working with more structure, making a schedule of all our activities. We are also introducing new ways of work like remote working. We know this kind of work is common in another countries but for us is really new.

This is big challenge for us, but we are staying positive an believe that we will overcome it."

Supporting Employees

Matthew Algie provides additional support to colleagues through our Employee Assistance Programme. This allows all employees access to a free confidential support package, which provides a 24/7 counselling service as well as expert advice on a wide variety of topics, including financial concerns, mental wellbeing, substance addiction and more.

In light of the Coronavirus outbreak we introduced a new online platform, LifeWorks, which makes the Employee Assistance Programme more easily accessible.

Lifeworks also provides additional benefits to our employees, including:

  • A recognition scheme which allows Matthew Algie staff to recognise and thank their colleagues for going above and beyond. Online articles, resources and toolkits on subjects such as coronavirus and personal growth have been particularly beneficial, with so many of our employees now adjusting to remote working.
  • A wellbeing hub which includes extensive information and toolkits on topics as diverse as family relationships, mental and physical health, finances and work. The toolkit provides relationship advice, communication, substance abuse, dealing with grief, financial worries and taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing in these difficult times.
  • Discounts, cashback and perks on everyday items, as well as holidays and restaurants.

Where possible, our employees have adapted to the COVID-19 outbreak by transitioning to working from home. To understand how they have felt about this and what could be improved, we conducted an anonymised engagement survey in August. The results have helped to shape our approach and people strategy as we look to the months ahead.

Environmental Impact

There was much discussion and excitement at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak as environmentalists pointed out that a silver lining of the lockdown restrictions could be the global reduction in pollution and green house gas emissions. For example, scientists from organisations such as NASA and the European Space Agency were able to capture satellite images proving that there had been a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions, a major air pollutant.

At Matthew Algie, we have experienced this impact on a much smaller scale with minimised activity in our offices, and a reduction in employees travelling for business purposes. As detailed in the detailed Data Report, we have seen absolute decreases in the amount of electricity (-25%), gas (-27%), water (-47%) and company mileage (-40%) associated with our operations in 2020 compared to 2019. This will have had a significant bearing on our overall organisational footprint for 2020 and we will publish the full details of these results later in 2020 when the calculations have been completed and independently verified.

Nevertheless, the pandemic has also caused some challenges for our environmental management system. For example, we have had to rely more heavily on our waste contractors for data collection in this area and we have also had to adapt the way that we carry out employee engagement on sustainability. The incentive to increase our online engagement with employees has lead to four webinar training sessions for our sales and marketing teams on topics such as the new Rainforest Alliance standards and our partnership with One Carbon World on carbon neutrality.

One benefit which currently sits outside the scope of our data collection is that many employees are now working from home where possible and therefore will be saving the carbon, money and the time associated with commuting to work. With our roastery’s position near to the motorway and without especially convenient links to public transport routes, we are confident that the majority of our employees that are now working from home would live beyond the 4 mile “tipping point” for commuting by car suggested in a recent study by the Carbon Trust. Therefore, their reduced emissions from commuting will balance-out the average increase in home energy consumption required for working from home.

Resilience in our Coffee Community

Coffee and community are often a perfect match for one another and the instinct for different actors in the hospitality sector to come together and offer support to communities in need during the initial lockdown was overwhelming. In our case, we were especially pleased to be able to donate £20,000 of grab-and-go food products to support key NHS sites in Scotland, England and Wales through our partnership with Aroma cafes. Similarly, in May we were happy to be able to donate Espresso Warehouse products to the Simon Community​, a charity combating homelessness right on our doorstep in the Gorbals area of Glasgow.

The restrictions posed significant challenges to our Training Grounds’ community of coffee professionals who in normal times are busy providing expert training at our Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) accredited coffee schools. We have been unable to run face-to-face courses due to social distancing measures but some creative thinking and a lot of hard work from our training team has allowed us to create an all-new e-learning platform.

The platform enables trainees to take comprehensive courses at their own pace, with modular content, engaging videos, interactive animations and helpful quizzes. We plan to expand the library of courses available over time but to start with we have published our entry-level course ‘Introduction to Coffee’ containing 23 modules of essential barista know-how. The courses are accessible to anyone through our website and we are delighted to be able to provide this expertise and knowledge to our wider coffee community completely free of charge.