Profiles

Rozy Rana of Dormans Coffee on the potential of Kenyan coffee

Rozy Rana

Dormans Coffee Managing Director Rozy Rana on leading one of East Africa’s largest coffee roasters and influencing a producing community to appreciate the potential of Kenyan coffee.

Kenya has a “long and complex” history of producing some of the world’s highest quality Arabica coffee. Over that time, Dormans Coffee Managing Director Rozy Rana has witnessed two very different eras of production.

“When I joined [Dormans Coffee] in the 90s, Kenya’s crop output was about 100,000 tonnes. At one point, there was a big boom and coffee prices rocketed. Farmers did not understand the volatility, which was a function of global demand and supply. Some years later, the crop was on a declining trend. Farmers came out wanting direct sales and a new window opened to allow for this. Unfortunately, the trend has not reversed, and currently crop output per coffee year is about 40,000 tonnes. It’s a pity,” Rana tells Global Coffee Report.

Kenya is ranked as the 16th highest global exporter of coffee, however, Rana says the decline in production is due to a myriad of factors: escalating property prices causing farmers to uproot coffee production in favour of real estate, price volatility, internal wrangles, mismanagement, an aging population and aging coffee trees, disease, regulatory changes, and changing weather patterns, among others.

For several years, Rana says Dormans Coffee has worked closely with the farming community to offer support, husbandry advice, input, climate mitigation training, financing, certification projects, and initiatives including youth and gender-based training to create more opportunities.

“Being part of the coffee industry in Kenya means contributing to the livelihoods of our staff, farmers, and workers who depend on this crop for their income. It is immensely gratifying to know my work directly supports and uplifts local communities,” Rana says.

Despite Dormans Coffee’s best efforts to support Kenya’s future of coffee production, which is largely represented by smallholder farmers, Rana says consumers still see the commodity product as a “luxury item”.

“Of the last domestic consumption report I saw, Finland had the highest per capita consumption of 12 kilograms per year. Kenya’s is 0.04 kilograms per person, representing 5 per cent of the country’s entire crop. This indicates that a fairly large percentage of the population is yet to be introduced to the coffee drinking culture,” she says.

“At Dormans Coffee, we have never stopped wanting to sensitise and grow awareness for good, locally grown coffee, and that goal remains. The country has faced economic hardships but I want to keep upselling and getting more Kenyans to truly appreciate this beautiful, rich, and diverse product with unique flavour profiles that we have available at our fingertips.

“[Coffee is] beyond just a beverage. It’s an experience that reflects the exceptional quality and craftsmanship of our local coffee industry.”

Kenyan coffee
Image: Paul / stock.adobe.com

Rana says the advent of Kenya’s specialty coffee shops and increased retail and supermarket presence, with support and participation from Dormans Coffee, part of the Ecom Group, has helped increase local appreciation and consumption of espresso-based drinks. This includes education, awareness campaigns, and creating a variety of blends to suit different preferences. Dormans Coffee is also credited with starting the Nairobi School of Coffee and the Kenyan National Barista Championship to enhance the appreciation of the craft and talent of the barista profession.

Business-to-consumer sales represent a small portion of Dormans Coffee’s clientele. It closed its line of retail shops in 2012, instead focusing on the growing potential in the B2B market. The African roaster supplies a range of roasted blends to more than 1000 clients, with the top 20 businesses representing 55 to 60 per cent of Dormans Coffee’s total sales volumes. This includes independent coffee shops, distribution chains, wholesalers, retailers, supermarkets, hospitality clientele including large hotels and airlines, and an emerging third category, institutions, including brands such as pwc, Deloitte, Toyota, to name a few.

“This is a category I feel the company can grow by supplying niche offerings, either by vending solutions or hospitality packages. We definitely have goals to grow this section in 2024,” Rana says.

More than 90 per cent of the coffee Dormans Coffee roasts is sourced from Kenya. Less than 10 per cent of its coffee is sourced from other East African countries including Tanzania and Rwanda.

“Our customers prefer Dormans because we distribute directly and roast fresh daily. We have a unique model where we train and audit how the coffee is made, and take pride in teaching our customers the best practices to get the most out of our product,” Rana says.

“There’s no doubt we are the largest roaster in the region. Because the market is so saturated, other roasters might be more visible by virtue of the fact that they’re in the retail space, but they are limited to Nairobi and urban regions while we distribute nationwide. From a volume perspective, and in line with current economic hardships, we find that people want more affordable, yet quality-driven products, and that’s why we are trusted. We are the leader with the most accessible and consistent range across the country.”

Rana says it is because of this ambition to deliver and control Dormans’ quality output that the company maintains a growth-minded outlook.

“It’s in our DNA. I don’t think anyone doubts that. Over the years, more and more players have come in with the appreciation and belief that coffee is a lucrative business, but in order to compete we believe it’s necessary to be at the forefront of innovation that meets customer needs,” she says.

For Dormans Coffee, this means continually introducing new experiential product lines that meet customer needs. It is one of the only roasters in Kenya to have Food Safety System Certification 22000 and sell roasted Fairtrade coffee. It recently launched biodegradable capsules with a modified barrier, introduced Kenya’s first coffee premix line, and this year will become one of the first roasters in the region to invest in a drip bag machine.

“It is impossible to build and maintain a strong brand without being innovative,” Rana says.
“When I joined Dormans, our tagline was always ‘the coffee experts’, because we’ve always been associated with quality innovation, and that’s only grown over time. Our mission was, and remains, ‘to strengthen communities through every cup of exceptional coffee. At that time, back in 1992, I didn’t know that meant sustainability because it wasn’t even a word we associated with. Today it’s a buzzword, but it’s an area we have remained strong and consistent in and will continue to tighten.”

Rozy Rana
Image: Antony Trivet Photography

From the ground up

Rana joined Dormans Coffee 31 years ago and is an example of where hard work, commitment, and passion can lead. An educator by trade, Rana worked at the United Nations (Habitat) for a year before joining Dormans Group as a PA to then Managing Director, now Chairman, Jeremy Block. Rana says Block’s mentorship and guidance have played a pivotal role in shaping her journey within the coffee industry.

“Dormans was a much smaller company back when I started. I had a quest to do more, and we have. It’s been a progressive journey, but that’s what’s special about working at Dormans. It quickly became evident that working with coffee at Dormans was not going to be just a job – it’s a passion. It’s something that gets instilled in you, like a spirit,” Rana says.

A mentor once told Rana ‘the only thing that grows in your comfort zone is your waistline. If you are too comfortable, you aren’t growing’. Despite the figurative analogy, Rana has experienced different layers of growth, working as Dormans Coffee’s Human Resource Director, Chief Financial Officer, and taking on the challenge of streamlining processes across company departments. Shortly after, in 2014, Dormans Coffee split from its larger entity to run as a standalone roasting operation, and Rana was appointed Managing Director of the Group’s roasting division.

“Comfort can easily breed complacency, especially when you are among the first movers in a market. As a leader at Dormans, embracing this philosophy has been instrumental in staying on top of developments and this has enhanced our competitiveness, even during challenging periods,” Rana says.

Rana says it’s Dormans Coffee’s innovative and creative spirit, along with an unwavering commitment to quality, sustainability, and ethical practices that has kept the organisation thriving for the past 73 years.

“It is no accident that the Dormans brand has gained trust and recognition as a premier quality coffee brand. The rigorous attention to quality and value for customers is non-negotiable in all we do. In my current position, there is nothing more fulfilling than customers lauding the services delivered by my dedicated teams or speaking glowingly about our products,” Rana says.

A born leader

Rana was raised in the village of Muranga in central Kenya, a region renowned for producing exceptional coffee. But like in most of the country, coffee consumption was sparse.

“We drank tea at home, which was seen as less elitist,” Rana says. “I had been to coffee plantations in my region, but coffee had this connotation of only being a product for export. There’s obviously a new generation and appreciation for coffee drinking in Kenya now, but in my early years, coffee was, and still remains, an aspirational product.”

Rana attributes this divide to Kenya’s “big” history. When Kenya gained independence in 1963, coffee was the biggest foreign exchange earner. As a result, Rana says coffee was heavily regulated and auctioned under the Coffee Board of Kenya (CBK) up until 2001. She notes that some of CBK’s regulations were welcome in the early days as many smallholder farmers needed protection and didn’t have the capability or logistical capacity to deal with “big overseas buyers” in the industry.

“At auctions, the dealer who bids the highest price gets the coffee, and this price trickles down to the farmer. That worked well but it also meant there was continued interference and sadly poor governance along the line. There was even greater dissatisfaction when price volatility set in because the farmer didn’t know how to hedge his or her coffee,” she says. “Kenya is renowned for having the best coffee, and perhaps has been in a fortunate position where demand from global players has outstripped supply.”

Rana says recent regulatory changes have imposed restrictions, barring companies from assuming multiple roles within the supply chain. This has resulted in firms that once played diverse roles being unable to maintain direct oversight over the sustainability of the entire coffee chain.

Rana says the government’s perspective to the farm-to-cup approach remains unclear, but what she can commit, is her drive to consolidate Dorman Coffee’s position in the market, and provide the best value and product to customers.

“I find as a woman who has grown up in the industry, many women look up to me and I feel a certain amount of obligation or responsibility. The best way to learn is by empowering. It’s about passing down knowledge and training, which has helped improve communities,” she says.

“That’s growth, and I believe in the power of development. I, myself, am a lifelong learner too.”

This article was first published in the March/April 2024 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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