Startup To Scale

145. The Story of Uncharted Coffee, a Black-Woman-Owned Ethical Coffee Roaster

October 30, 2023 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 145
Startup To Scale
145. The Story of Uncharted Coffee, a Black-Woman-Owned Ethical Coffee Roaster
Show Notes Transcript

Today’s guest is Jasmine Neveles, co-founder and CEO of Uncharted Coffee, a Black-woman-owned ethical coffee roaster with rare and limited-edition coffee bean drops produced by multi-generational coffee farmers across the globe.

Starting as a way of connecting with their ancestral roots and mother – Jasmine learned more about the disparities amongst coffee farming communities and the negative impacts of the primarily white-dominated industry. To reclaim the BIPOC narrative around coffee, Uncharted was founded and now produces ethically sourced and single-origin beans that are environmentally sound with a 1% promise for the planet, farmer equity, and transparency.

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

The Story of Uncharted Coffee, a Black-Woman-Owned Ethical Coffee Roaster

Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] Today's guest is Jasmine Neveles, who is the co founder and CEO of Uncharted Coffee. It's a black woman owned ethical coffee roaster with rare and limited edition coffee bean drops produced by multi generational coffee farmers across the globe. Jasmine, welcome. 

Jasmine Neveles: Thank you. Excited to be here. 

Jordan Buckner: So, you know, I'm always interested in learning the story of founders and especially who launched in certain categories like coffee, as you know, it's a very kind of crowded market.

There's a long history of coffee. And there's a lot of both really great things about it. And there's also challenges within the industry. So I love to learn what inspired you to launch a coffee business. 

Jasmine Neveles: Great question. So my background is not in coffee. It's actually in marketing. But during COVID, my sister and I recognize that we were stuck indoors together and we really began to connect and deepen our relationship as sisters over this like weekly routine of going to get a coffee.

And as we started to [00:01:00] reflect, we recognize that like coffee was. It was something that we remember doing with our parents before they ran off to work every morning. And so, in some ways, during this moment of darkness during covid, we were able to grow our relationship as sisters. And also reconnect or remind ourselves of, like, the importance of family.

And so in that moment, coffee. Was a reminder of connection and how we've become so disconnected. And so we wanted to introduce a coffee brand that really helped bring people together to really remind us that no matter how different we are, we all have great memories that we've shared with someone we care about over a coffee.

Jordan Buckner: I love that you were able to start this with your sister and have that as a point to kind of bring this together. I'm always curious, like, , without having , any experience in the CPG industry, you know, what was that like in terms of your first steps getting started from how did you come up with the idea that , you know, you want to sell this product?

Are you selling on e commerce? Were you trying to launch in retail? What was your kind [00:02:00] of vision of what you'd be able to accomplish in turning this into an actual business? 

Jasmine Neveles: So I didn't have a lot figured out. So , full disclosure, but 1 thing that was really important to us was the customer experience.

 At that time. I was living in Brooklyn. So I was like, you can run into any coffee shop and just grab something and go. It felt like very transactional. So for us, we really wanted to have a deep customer experience. We wanted to bring our farmers into the households of our customers.

And so initially, when we launched this idea, it was just like direct to consumer. How can we have a really cool e commerce? Based business that , really bring something different into consumers homes. And as we began to like, dig deeper into what our mission and vision became, we recognize that we couldn't only be.

Ecommerce and so we began to consider other sales channels, like retail, like wholesale to really. Drive conversation and transform what we really would like to see happen in this space, which is to recognize and pay homage to coffee farmers that, like, produce and harvest this amazing being that we've just come to [00:03:00] enjoy and take for granted

Jordan Buckner: 1 of the. Things I love as a shining star amidst all the chaos of the pandemic is that it created an environment where a lot of people were like yourself and your sister were able to start a business and find that support online as a lot of people were looking for discovering like new products and new people and new stories , to really uncover how has that both helped and maybe created challenges for your business? 

Jasmine Neveles: I think you're right during Covid I think we all just became more intentional and hyper focus. And so I think for us, we recognize that we wanted to bring forward a coffee brand. That was different. And so, as we began to lean into the industry to learn more, we recognize that like, coffee was really rooted.

In exploitation, there were some, so still economic disadvantage groups, but then environmentally, it didn't have a great impact on the planet. And so we want it to be a coffee brand that did none of that. So I think that's 1. And then I think, so I would say that's the good that came out of what we learned during this [00:04:00] period.

And I would say the bad is. It's to your earlier point, it's a very crowded market. So, you know, we're lucky to learn from a lot of other brands and players in the space. But during we were all stuck at home. And so I think people quickly. Began to try different coffee brands and quickly adopted subscriptions and began to consume coffee at home, which I think has created an opportunity for us to insert ourselves as a better.

Coffee option, but has also created even more competition. So those are the things we kind of wrestle with every day, which is how do we remind people that, you know, great coffee is still available. You can do it in an ethical, sustainable way in the midst of such competition. 

Jordan Buckner: I love that part of , your story and your mission is around working with these multigenerational coffee farmers around the globe.

How did you go about finding your suppliers and your partners? 

Jasmine Neveles: Great question. So , my sister and I. Love to travel. We've been traveling together. Like, once a year, we do a sister trip. And 1 of our trips we took in Columbia a few years ago, and we got to tour a coffee farm, [00:05:00] build a relationship with those farmers.

And that was really the moment. Like, we didn't know at that point, like, fast forward 2 years later, it would actually come full circle. And so to answer your question, how we started was really just. Our travels doing some interesting activities, like, really rolling up our sleeves and working on coffee farms and building those connections and relationships and appreciation for, like, the main will extreme labor intensive process.

That is coffee. And from there, , we recognize that we wanted to directly source from farmers where possible. So our grand vision is to be that partner to be our own importer where we can build kind of this, like, network of farmers that we can directly source from. Right? And so. The benefit there is to provide them with tools and education and allow them to be a key decision maker in our sourcing process.

We've identified a great importer today who really helps us. Find the right farmers we directly source from them in a. Very like, small capacity and what that means is we don't source, like, from big, large commercial [00:06:00] farms. We only source from really small micro lots and we make sure that everything that's done on that farm is done in a responsible, ethical way.

And in most cases, , those farms are organic or regenerative farming. So, again, just to make sure that, like. The end product that comes to the consumer is premium that it's free of, like, toxins and chemicals and people feel good about what they're consuming in terms of the impact that it has on the farmers.

Jordan Buckner: So this month's drop is from Peru. I'm kind of curious on how you decided to go with the limited edition drop model and how it's working for you. 

Jasmine Neveles: So we decided to go with the limited edition drop model purely based on quality. We wanted to be able to source from small farmers. We wanted to create A sales channel for them and a distribution pathway.

Some of them don't produce enough coffee to make it to the U. S. market. And so we wanted to create a pathway for them. So we try to source, like, whatever is available there are over 70 coffee producing countries [00:07:00] and there are some interesting dynamics in terms of, like, whether season rain and so we created.

Kind of a schedule that helps us to plan and forecast based on when coffee is harvested and when it's at its optimal stage. And so, from there, we really identify which countries, which farmers align with our values and then we source from there to answer your question like, why these limited drops?

These farmers don't have a lot of inventory. So we tried to purchase what they do have and then bring our customers something unique and different in the US. I think we very often consume coffee from. Brazil or Colombia, and they have amazing coffee, but there's so much more. So this idea of a limited drop is really to help you on chart your path, right?

To experience and explore coffee from 1 of the 70 coffee producing countries across the globe. And it just so happens that this month is Peru because it's prime and ready and. You just have to stay tuned for what's next. 

Jordan Buckner: I love that. I know this journey can be really challenging. I'm curious to know, what's been one of the biggest highlights of starting the company for [00:08:00] you?

Jasmine Neveles: One of the biggest highlights I think has been, I've been really surprised by the amount of founders who are struggling with different challenges and the overwhelming support that people offer because they want to see us succeed. I think my own imposter syndrome felt like I was in this by myself. It was just me and my co founder.

And there's so many people here willing to help and support you. And so that's been a learning for me. 

Jordan Buckner: I definitely agree, and that's part of the reason why I well, the core reason I started the Foodbevy communities to connect founders with the inspiration, education and partnership through other founders to really make this journey a little bit easier.

Right? Like, starting any business is hard, but especially starting a food business is especially difficult. And so it can get lonely at times that there can be self doubt that creeps in. And so it's important to have that network , of people around you who can share, not just in the, the low moments, but then also in the high moments as well, to celebrate together.

And then what's been some of the challenges that you've experienced in giving the brand and the products off the [00:09:00] ground? 

Jasmine Neveles: Oh, my gosh, Jordan. Now you're bringing back my trauma and PTSD. I'm sorry. No, no, no. It's all good. Because , I mean, like, I love this community. And I think what's great about connecting with other founders is learning from their mistakes so that you don't make the same mistake.

And when you're an early founder, you're probably bootstrapping and every mistake you make really can cost you a lot of money. So, you know, I just try to share my experience in hopes that someone else doesn't make the same mistake. And so I think for me, the biggest point of friction. What's packaging so again, I don't come from a CPG background.

And so my initial reaction was go to a creative agency design, something that looks beautiful. And twice, I worked with 2 different creative agencies, 1 that designed a color palette that ultimately couldn't be printed. So we had to like, re, scope, new colors. The 2nd, creative agency ultimately found a manufacturer, like, offshore.

That couldn't ultimately deliver to the US and so it caused us, like. A 6 month delay and fast forward, like, full [00:10:00] circle, everything happens for a reason. We found a great packaging partner. That's US based. They are local. They specialize in coffee. And so they're able to share a lot of. Just industry knowledge and learnings, which I think is a great mentorship opportunity for me, but secondarily, they work really fast and they own all of their own manufacturing.

So we were able to get our packaging complete in, like, less than 6 weeks and the best part is they actually were cheaper than everyone else that we looked at. So, in terms of like, margins, it really gave us, the best margins, I think that we have been able to build into our unit economics so far. And so what I would say to someone else just starting in CPG is find the right manufacturer.

1st, someone who can meet your timelines who you can build a cohesive working relationship with and then find out what their specs and requirements are and then go concept with an agency. Don't do the reverse because I find that those are just 2 very different. Levels of expertise, like creative design and [00:11:00] packaging design and very often there can be a disconnect, which can cost you a lot of time and money.

Jordan Buckner: Well, I definitely can relate to those challenges that you had. And I'm happy that you found a great partner. Are you able to share who that partner is that you work with? 

Jasmine Neveles: Sure, they're actually called package. So, but it's like an acronym. It's like P. C. K. G. they are based out of New York and Fort Lauderdale.

Jordan Buckner: Oh, that's amazing. You know, when I started my energy bar company, T easquares initially went with, like, Beadaholique. beading

supply needs! Get started small, but really like order the bags on Amazon printed out the labels at FedEx office and my co founder designed the labels and we had no idea what we were doing and somehow ended up on the shelves of Whole Foods in our 1st couple of months, which is like amazing. We were like, I don't know how this happened.

But then when we got on the shelf, you know, I had no experience before that. And quickly realized so many issues with the product and the [00:12:00] packaging on shelf, things like our logo was too small and you couldn't see it in all of our, the logo and the descriptor of the product was actually in the shadow from the shelf above.

So, even if you could kind of see the packaging, right? Like, we didn't account for the shadow from the shelf. Like, how would we know? And quickly needed to move to a new version. After that, and continuously made changes and so there's so many things that are specific to selling with CPG product packaging that it's hard to do alone.

And so I love your advice on 1, working with other people who know, and then starting with the manufacturers that you can get the product specs 1st before working with an agency because. Especially if someone that doesn't work in CPG, they'll say like, Oh, let's do all these really creative things. And it can't actually be done.

It's a waste of time and money, which neither or both are in short supply. 

Jasmine Neveles: Totally 100 percent agree with that. 

Jordan Buckner: Oh, my goodness. I love that. Where are you looking to go next? I know we've talked a little bit around, like, some of the challenges, but, you know, in working with this coffee [00:13:00] space, how have you really created your own point of differentiation?

And what have you learned about telling that story in a way that resonates with your customers? 

Jasmine Neveles: I think we, where we're different is we just want to be brutally transparent and authentic. And so we want people to understand the coffee process from start to finish all the way from, like, the farm all the way to your home.

I think where we really differentiate is we are like, farmer driven. So everything that we do centers around improving the livelihood, the socioeconomics for farmers. And so we call ourselves like an ethically. Find a coffee brand, because we truly believe in, like, radical transparency at every step of the way.

I think where we are looking to go next. There's. 2 components, I think, as a business, as an entity, we're looking to find better ways to include farmers and part of our selection sourcing process. And so 1 thing that we are looking to stand up is. A separate entity, which is like a co op that [00:14:00] is owned by farmers that really gives them a seat at the table and has them in mind when we think about profitability and distribution of our assets and allowing them to partake in that, I think, from a sales perspective, where we're looking to go next is retail like, we would love to find ourselves into a natural grocery store, like, You know, whole foods or something like that.

I think there's a lot of. Coffee brands in the space, and I think 1, our coffee is premium because we don't mass produce 2, we do it in a very ethical, sustainable way. And you can always learn about the farms that we source from on our website. So, there's just from a flavor profile, we are a step above what you would probably see in the grocery store.

And it seems like being adjacent to natural grocery is like, the best next step. But I'm very receptive and open to feedback. Yeah. 

Jordan Buckner: Are you selling in any retail grocery stores yet? 

Jasmine Neveles: We are not. So we are e commerce only for now. Yeah. 

Jordan Buckner: You know, it's interesting because there's a lot of talk about [00:15:00] being on the channel and a lot of founders got started doing e commerce during the pandemic.

And then some e commerce sales for certain categories of definitely slow those people's buying behaviors change. And so retail kind of looks like this next best opportunity. And the one thing that I share with founders and seen this firsthand is that. With retail stores, there are a lot of expenses and investment up front, especially in the 1st year to 2 years that you're working with a new retailer, especially a larger 1 where you see things like your distributor, there's large chargebacks, or maybe you only get paid.

70 percent of the invoice that you send them or there's promotional fees that you have to send and so think retail can be a really great opportunity, but I always recommend founders go in knowing that it's a longer term investment before you'll see profitability kind of from those channels as , you're building them up.

And then the other. Success. I've seen brands do really [00:16:00] well, especially there's a brand called Bomani that does a almost like an espresso martini in a can. And what they do is saturate the stores that they're in with demos and really build up those loyal customer bases. And that's a really great way of launching and retail.

So it's not just getting on the shelf. But you have to sell to every single customer, because especially in a sea of other competitors, you need a way to literally jump off the shelf and into their basket. And if you're there doing demos or have a promotional strategy to do so, then that goes a long way in terms of giving that sustainable kind of repeat purchase there.

Jasmine Neveles: I agree. I like that example, because it really enhances the customer experience. Someone is there to answer questions, help them try the product. And I agree. I think you know, we're in it for the long term. We're not looking for, like. You know, an easy exit, like, we really want to build something that's sustainable and different.

So I appreciate that feedback. Have you 

Jordan Buckner: looked at selling in food service channels? 

Jasmine Neveles: No, we have not. 

Jordan Buckner: So, [00:17:00] especially pre pandemic, but even now still is coming back. I would recommend looking and for everyone listening and looking at how your brand can play in food service channels. So we talk food services very broad includes everything from quick serve restaurants and make coffee shops.

You might actually just be buying and selling your coffee or talking about your brand to colleges and universities offices. And type of universities back of house kind of restaurants. There's a lot of opportunities to get your products into the hand of customers outside of e commerce and retail.

And what's really great is that if you can find an avenue to play in, in the food service channel, then usually the margins are much better. There's the volume they're easier partners to work with. The challenge is just. It's hard to get in with some of , those players, but I would definitely recommend that you and our listeners kind of reach in, look into how your brand can play into the food service channel, because there's a lot of great opportunities there.

Jasmine Neveles: I appreciate [00:18:00] that. That's the value of life, this community, right? Because that's something that we hadn't considered and we'll definitely go explore after this chat. 

Jordan Buckner: So what's next as we're coming up to the holiday period, do you have any, now you're a marketer kind of in background, do you have any good holiday?

Promotions plan for the brand. 

Jasmine Neveles: We do, we actually are about to launch a new holiday gift box. So you'll receive our latest being, you'll have to tune in to learn more about which 1 it is. And you'll be able to receive that in a light rose, a medium rose and a dark rose. And so it's a really nice gift for someone who has their pour over or their Chemex or whatever to really brew it and grind it in a lot of different ways.

So we're really excited about that. We'll be doing some partnerships with different. Content creators and other CPG brands so that we can really unveil this like nice box as a holiday offering. 

Jordan Buckner: That's really exciting. Well, Desmond, I'm excited for you to end the year strong. And thanks so much for joining me for this conversation.

I really appreciate it. 

Jasmine Neveles: Thank [00:19:00] you for having me. And it's been an absolute pleasure. I appreciate your advice and your feedback. Thank you.