Food Manufacture Podcast

“I want your voices to be heard in the rooms where decisions are being made.”

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture speaks to Blue Turaco founder Wycliffe Sande in this month's podcast
Food Manufacture speaks to Blue Turaco founder Wycliffe Sande in this month's podcast

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Food Manufacture hears from Wycliffe Sande, the founder of Blue Turaco, a 100% speciality Ugandan Robusta and the first Black-African owned coffee brand to be listed in UK supermarkets.

Whilst no start-up journey will be smooth sailing, Wycliffe Sande’s journey is particularly inspiring.

Growing up in Uganda, Sande’s life was turned upside down at the age of eight following his father’s death.

“Until I was eight my life was amazing. Even in the abject poverty that we lived it, it was beautiful,” ​he told Food Manufacture on the podcast.

He was eight years old when he began his work in coffee to support himself and his mother, who he had said fell into a deep depression where she “could not talk for a year”.

Sande explained he had “no time to crumble.

He added: “We had no food, but I also wanted it to go to school […] I started looking for opportunities.”

The opportunity he found was picking coffee.

“In the UK you’d call it child labour, but it was a means of surviving,” ​he continued.  

“Then at the age of 12, my mother dies.”

Sande recalls being brought into a room after his mother’s passing, where a group of 10 villagers were asked, ‘who will take this young man?’. 

“Silence,”​ he recounted, “no one put a hand up.”

Sande explained his childhood brought with it a harsh learning of rejection, but it also cemented the importance of remaining positive no matter what – a lesson he has held onto.

Despite his difficult childhood, Sande remained determined and went onto become the first person in his village to go to university, pursuing a law degree.

Sande had always wanted to attend university and before his mother died, he recalled her telling him not to get his hopes up, but if it did ever happen – he was not to forget the village.

And he didn’t. The words stuck with him, and he felt coffee calling him back.

By this time, Sande had met his soon-to-be wife, and explained to her that he was going to leave law. 

“She said to me: wow, I thought I was marrying a lawyer. But looks like I'm going to be married to a farmer!”​ He laughed, remembering the conversation.

Sande returned to Uganda, set on bringing the Ugandan Robusta bean – which to his dismay was not widely available in the UK – to the British consumer. But convincing the farming community in his village that his vision could be realise was another challenge. 

He told Food Manufacture of one early conversations he had with a member of the community, where he told them he wanted to make their coffee internationally. “I want your voices to be heard in the rooms where decisions are being made. [She replied] We have heard and we have listened, but I don’t believe it’s possible because none like us have ever been able to do it.

He added: “That creates a starting point, a catalyst, but also it can demoralise you.”​ 

For Sande, with his ever-positive outlook and infectious enthusiasm, it did not.

Since that dialogue, Blue Turaco, which officially launched last year, has secured listings in Waitrose and Co-Op.

Today, he uses his brand to educate smallholders on better ways to grow and harvest high quality Robusta, buying directly from the farmers and paying 30% more than traditional coffee trade routes. Moreover, each Blue Turaco purchase provides two lunches; help to fight hunger in Ugandan village schools and help children stay in school.

On the future, he added: “I'm championing a single origin 100% Robusta coffee – we want to reach millions more because the more people we get to, the more impact we can have.

“We have a lot of products that are in the process and that we’ll be bringing to market, but also so many ideas of how we can collaborate. There is someone who's going to hear me, my story, for first time in your community [Food Manufacture] and there is someone who will say, you know what I can help.

“I think at the future is very bright.”

This podcast is sponsored by Amber, Aptean & Tracegains as part of Food Manufacture's Business Leaders' Forum June 2024.

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