Meet Pact: Making the world a better place, one cup of coffee at a time

By Oliver Smith 3 February 2016
Pact's 74-person team at their Bermondsey office in London.

Imagine if coffee didn't just wake you up every day, imagine if it was a force for good. That's exactly what coffee company Pact are trying to do.

Slavery, child labour, prisoners.

Those are just three of the global challenges affecting some 100 million people that Stephen Rapoport is determined to solve, all with the help of a mug of coffee.

The Londoner launched Pact Coffee from his kitchen in Balham 2012, selling high-quality speciality coffee online and delivered to your door the next day.

But Pact is more than just ‘coffee online’.

The business is on an almost evangelical mission to convert the mass market (that’s you and I) away from the cheap, commodity coffee that we’ve become accustomed to drinking, and instead to speciality coffee that doesn’t just taste better, it might actually improve millions of lives.

Today Pact operates at an almost industrial scale from its warehouse in Bermondsey, a veritable cathedral to coffee.

“When I started in my kitchen I was sending maybe 20 packs of coffee on a good day, now we’re regularly shipping more than 5,000 packs of coffee,” Rapoport says as we walk through Pact’s bustling operation. Here the company takes fresh green coffee, roasts, grinds, packages and delivers it the very next day to thousands of caffeine addicts.

And while Pact today has evolved from its homegrown upstart roots from 2012, Rapoport says the company’s mission, which hangs in huge letters on the wall of Pact’s warehouse today to “make coffee a force for good”, hasn’t changed.

Fair trade, bullshit

“Basically fair trade is bullshit, and it does a huge amount of damage,” is Rapoport’s sharp response when I bring up fair trade.

“Growing coffee is a horrid way to make a living for almost every one of the 100m people who are involved in the industry, we want to make their lives better.”

This is mainly because the commodity price of coffee – the price that say Starbucks, Pret a Manger or your supermarket might pay – is set irrespective of the quality of the coffee being produced, and is often lower than the cost of production.

“Which means children, prisoners and slaves are used as part of a low-cost agricultural labour force,” Rapoport tells me.

While the Fairtrade Foundation claim their coffee farmers don’t use child labour, indeed they inspect nearly all of their suppliers every year to make sure they are up to scratch, the Foundation told The Memo that 96% of fairtrade suppliers are told in advance of when an inspection will take place.

Beating Starbucks

Rapoport’s mission is already well underway in the UK.

Last year Pact paid an average of $3.40 per pound for its speciality coffee, more than double the $1.30 paid by most of the coffee industry for commodity coffee and about 51% higher than even the fairtrade price.

But ground fresh coffee is only the start, Rapoport told The Memo that Pact is expanding, both with the launch of its own espresso pods today and with Pact’s first international expansion in Europe planned later this year.

Rapoport wouldn’t say which country exactly that Pact was looking to expand to, only that it would be close to home. On Pact’s espresso pods Rapoport says he expects they will quickly help to at least double his sales.

“This will turbo-charge our growth trajectory and make speciality coffee accessible in offices and homes which have never tasted coffee like this before…. I’m just so excited by this.”

With thousands of packs of fresh coffee, and now fresh espresso pods, flying out from his Bermondsey warehouse across the UK every day, Rapoport says it’s not just the millions of people involved in the production of coffee who are benefitting.

“We’re also improving thousands of people’s mornings, one cup at a time.”