HUSKEE SWAP INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MCFARLANE

HUSKEE SWAP INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MCFARLANE

Right after the release of the article about the 8 BEST CHANGES FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE COFFEE SHOP, Michael McFarlane, the operations manager of HuskeeSwap reached me out and we decided to do an interview about the brand and the project, sustainability panorama in these hard times, consumer awareness, and more.
Huskee Cup is a company found in Australia through an start-up accelerator. Australia is well known for its mature market of specialty coffee, so it could not be founded in a better place.
Their HUSKEE SWAP project is very interesting in the way that it brings convenience to the customer. You can swap your cup in places that are participating: for example, you can get your coffee to go in a cafeteria, and later change it for a new clean one at another partnered coffee shop in town. Besides that, their product has a great termic protection that can keep your coffee hot for longer and great grip delivered by its great design.
Initiatives like that are very welcomed in the world of specialty coffee because it usually has a more aware base of customers, and can be a way to spread the message to other less conscious types of markets.
The cup itself uses coffee husks from one founder´s farm in China, as an alternative to reduce coffee waste in farms, and adding value back to the producer that so many times have few options to escape from speculation.

1) How and when did the idea of producing cups from coffee husks come from?

Our founders come from a diverse background. One of which owns and runs a specialty coffee farm in Yunnan, China. At one point there were 150 tonnes of husk on his farm with limited options for use. The idea came from wanting to find a more sustainable and environmentally positive way to reuse.

2) Did the system of getting one cup in one place and letting it in another (Huskee Swap) started as soon as the product was launched?

 We started as Kickstarter back in 2016 and didn’t launch HuskeeSwap until the end of 2018. It was a natural evolution as we quickly recognised the challenges of individually owned reusable cups and their limited impact.

3) How many disposable cups of coffee do you guys estimate that were not consumed with Huskee Swap?

 Lots! We have over 300 swaps sites globally ranging from 5 – 150 swaps A DAY. I’d conservatively extrapolate 100,000s.

4) Do HuskeeCup see the post coronavirus world as being more concerned with environment issues? And how companies like Huskee can improve awareness of that matter?

Climate change will be a threat for a lot longer than Corona so we can’t lose sight of the impact we have had on our environment and the ways we need to change. Reducing single use disposables with the use of reusables is one of the ways we can achieve positive change. Increasing convenience of reusables whilst simultaneously improving hygiene standards through HuskeeSwap, is a further pursuit of positive change.
It’s through sustainable, unwavering messaging that companies can improve awareness.

5) What are the biggest challenges to implement the Huskee Swap in cafeterias and restaurants?

You register via the Huskeeswap Cafe Portal on our website and purchase cups from your nearest wholesaler. From there you’ll receive a starter pack with everything you need to know to get started.

Again the key to success, and sometimes the biggest challenge, is messaging. You need your customers to understand the why and engage them.

Some tips;

  • Train all staff and explain not just the environmental benefits but the hygiene and workflow benefits.
  • Merchandise your retail shelf. You need to have a HuskeeCup to Swap so make the display stand out.
  • Consider your marketing material and it’s placement. Do you display what we provide or do you communicate with your brand.
  • Consider a launch and promotion.

6) How is exactly the method of producing the cups? And where do you guys collect the husks from? Do you have a specific farm or country?

A lot of our husk comes from one of our founders’ farms in Yunnan, China. We bind it with food grade Polypropylene and the outcome is a world first biopolymer that is durable and safe.

7) Could this method of production be enlarged to dishes and other kitchen appliances for the future?

Certainly.

8) Which design prizes have you won? And how the forms of the cup were born?

We won the Good Design Australia Award: Best in Class, 2018.
The design process itself was a collaboration with Vert Design, an environmentally conscious product design studio based in Sydney.

9) Do you think the Huskee Cup project can go beyond the specialty coffee world? How is the fit in the market that does offer specialty coffee, that price sensibility is even higher? Or the idea of Huskee is to keep niched?

Huskee is designed in Australia but made for the world. We work with independents, chains, corporates, universities and councils.

Specialty coffee is certainly where we achieved the most early traction as there is an awareness around provenance, direct trade and sustainability. Independent businesses are also more agile and quicker to respond to market demands and trends.

10) We know that companies like Huskee and many others make tremendous efforts spreading the sustainability culture, but what do you think the regular consumer himself can do? Is this person willing to pay more for sustainability, or when it comes to price all the beauty of it vanishes? I heard many people saying that for a 10 cents discount it is not worth it to have or use a reusable cup (and in this case there is even a value reduction offer)

We can all take ownership. There is no insignificant positive change.

Discounts for reusable cups is certainly the industry norm and customer expectation. Making a choice to reduce waste should be motivated by more than just discounts though. It’s also arguably not a sustainable practice for the cafe.

Reduce where you can and engage with a much positive change as you can.

11) I see many places lack indoor communication about which products or services they offer. In my opinion it is a free marketing tool they have in hands but not used, or poorly used. Do you agree that it would help improve awareness, or does it have marginal effects on that?

In store communication is how a customer can experience your business. Merchandising is difficult though, it’s why high end retailers employee visual merchandisers. Lead with your own brand and keep messaging succinct.

12) What are the future plans for Barcelona, and Spain?

We’ve recently partnered with Green Vida so you’re likely to see a lot more HuskeeCups around and hopefully some Swap sites.

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