Twin Trading rescued by Sustainable Harvest

Twin Trading worked with co-ops around the world – but went into administration last month

US coffee importer Sustainable Harvest has taken over UK-based Twin Trading, in a deal that will ensure farmer co-ops they work with still get paid for the produce supplied.

Twin Trading, which went into administration on 22 October, was an alternative trading company wholly owned by the Twin charity, founded in 1985 by Robin Murray and Michael Barratt Brown – economists, political activists and innovative thinkers who sought to find alternative supply chains, based on collaboration and supportive, long-term relationships. 

In 1988, Twin Trading began to import coffee, sold through Oxfam and Traidcraft, and was instrumental in the founding of Cafédirect. In 1993, the organisation helped chocolate farmers in Ghana to found the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative, which later formed Divine Chocolate.

On 18 October Twin announced it was unable to continue due to “significant financial pressure over the past year”. The charity posted a loss of £1.5m for the year ending 31 January 2019.

But the deal with Sustainable Harvest will now allow the former Twin Trading team to continue their work and enable Sustainable Harvest to open a London office for European customers. Sustainable Harvest will also use the producer relationships that were built by the Twin Trading team to expand its offer to customers in the USA, giving them access to new coffee from East Africa. Likewise, Sustainable Harvest says its European customers will have deeper access to coffee-producing origins in Latin America.

David Griswold, founder and CEO of Sustainable Harvest said Twin had been an inspiration for him. “We are committed to maintaining Twin’s spirit and I have no doubt that together we will dream up new ways to use coffee to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.

“In this new chapter, we integrate immense talent and history as we combine forces to champion sustainable sourcing models and certifications that provide dignified livelihoods for farm families at the foundation of the coffee industry.”

Aurora Izquierdo, leader of ASOANEI, a co-operative of over 600 indigenous farmers producing organic coffee in Northern Colombia, welcomed the move. “[As a long-time partner of Twin Trading and Sustainable Harvest] we are convinced that this new combination of Sustainable Harvest and Twin will produce synergies that will result in more meaningful impact,” she said. “This is an organisation that will promote the best for humanity and for the planet.”

Matt Earlam, former head of Twin Trading, will lead UK and European operations for Sustainable Harvest. He said: “Sustainable Harvest fully embodies the ethos of Twin, while providing the global platform, experience, and tools that our staff need to continue building a brighter future for all in the coffee world. We are pleased to resume full service for all of our partners with a renewed energy.”

The move was also applauded by Kim Ionescu, chief sustainability officer for the Specialty Coffee Association. “As a board director for Twin Trading since 2016, I have admired the staff at Twin and Twin Trading for pursuing new strategies for growth,” she said. “To see Twin Trading and Sustainable Harvest, two long-time champions of producer-focused coffee trading, join forces is a boon to all who believe in different ways of doing business.”

Ed Mayo, secretary general of UK sector body Co-operatives UK, said: “I want to applaud the long line of talented and extraordinary people who have worked at Twin Trading and thank them for their efforts for producer co-operatives around the world. Theirs is a long history of entrepreneurship and success, even if the end of Twin, in such tough market conditions, is a failure that will be bitter to all involved.”

He confirmed that Co-operatives UK had reached out to the administrators for Twin and the board of Twin Trading to offer to support a transition of Twin Trading to direct ownership by producer co-operatives, converting their debt into equity.

“We forwarded an offer from a leading Canadian turnaround specialist, John Kay, to work on this in a pro bono capacity, but it was not an option that the board responded to,” he said. “Instead it is positive that the liabilities to producer co-ops will, we hope, be met and if the operations can continue in a values-led business, with Sustainable Harvest, then the underlying service to producer co-ops may continue and we wish them all the best for the future.”

But he also warned that there needed to be a “strategic rethink”. 

“Both the UK pioneer businesses behind Fairtrade, Traidcraft and TWIN, have faced troubles in recent years,” said Mr Mayo. “Ultimately, I do believe that a fully co-operative supply chain, with farmer ownership at every stage is the most resilient and appropriate model for social impact and economic success in the future.”