Coffee with its roots in sustainability

Victoria Poon is CEO of Alpaca Coffee. In this Q&A, she tells SME how the company was started, its recent rebrand and what she hopes with happen next.

When did you form the company and where did the idea come from?

Alpaca Coffee was founded in 2020 during my travels in South America. After experiencing specialty coffee during the trip, this turned into a quest to bring delicious coffee to people’s homes in the UK. When Alpaca Coffee was born, I knew from the get-go that I didn’t want my business to contribute to a world with over 320 million tons of plastic pollution, hence why when we launched the Kickstarter campaign we were dubbed the 100% plastic-free coffee company. After a successful campaign, we’ve grown to address a variety of issues in coffee and sustainability beyond packaging, including sourcing direct trade coffee and ensuring we are a carbon neutral company. The name is inspired by South America’s native animal, the alpaca!

What were the challenges in the early days?

There were many challenges, but I’d say the biggest one is figuring out how to become a better company in terms of environmental footprint and the ethics of sourcing coffee. There is a lot of information out there, and it was quite challenging to find out who the most sustainable supplier was to work with when it comes to packaging, for example. This ties in to the fact that when you start a business, you don’t have any answers and you have to basically figure it all out by yourself through trial and error.

You’ve recently gone through a rebranding. Tell us what you did and why.

We went through a rebranding because we had to ask ourselves some hard questions: namely, what do we aspire to be as a brand? We realised early on that we had the makings of a coffee challenger brand, and the rebrand was a way for us to examine why we existed and what we hoped to bring to the world and our customers. The process has been extremely fun and challenging, and allowed us to draw out the personality of the brand whilst ensuring we created something that would stand out, be easily recognisable and feel more approachable. Particularly as specialty coffee is not necessarily the most approachable product for people to get into, just like fine wine. We wanted to break down the barriers there and create something that didn’t sacrifice on quality and experience, yet could resonate with more people. We want to ask the awkward questions of the F&B industry, and create conversations around improving how the industry operates.

Sustainability is central to what you do. How does that show itself? 

We see sustainability and being a mindful business as a bare minimum. Carbon offsetting, cutting plastic, sourcing responsibly, these are all things businesses should be doing anyway. We want to take the approach that yes we are sustainable, but hey that should be a given, and we are so much more than that because we have personality and a great product. We also don’t believe that perfection exists, but we are always trying to do the best we can and ensure we stick to our values. We have just joined 1% for the planet.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?

To just go for it. The first step is always the hardest and scariest. You almost have to numb yourself to your doubts, the fear and the unknowns and just dive in. A journey of a thousand miles always start with the first step.

What’s the best thing about being your own boss? And the worst?

The fact that you are always constantly learning about yourself and others – it is extremely fulfilling. Being able to carve your own path is exciting. The worst part of it is finding balance between work and rest – it’s easy to get completely absorbed with the company and nearing points of burnout is scary. Knowing that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, is key.

Where do you hope the company is in five years’ time?

Our goal is to become a well-established coffee challenger brand in the UK. We can’t wait to grow our customer base further and get people involved in the journey, and drinking better coffee too! We are looking to also explore scaling into retailers and growing our product range.

Alpaca Coffee