Ethiopia Blazes Branding Trail; at Long Last, Ethiopia, Which Produces Some of the World's Finest Coffee Varieties Has Taken a Leaf from the Western Marketing and Branding Manual and Decided to Trademark Its Unique Coffee Crop, Thus Earning Much Higher Retail Prices

Article excerpt

An exhibition of photographs--mounted in London by one of the UK's top brand architects, Brandhouse--depicting life in Ethiopia marked the completion of one of the most significant trade marking exercises for an African commodity.

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The commodity is the humble coffee crop as grown in Ethiopia; the exhibition was to celebrate the successful international branding of three of its coffee varieties.

Once all the marketing and branding efforts kick in these three varieties will no longer occupy the same shelf space as other mostly anonymous African coffee varieties. They will move to the gourmet, fine coffees sections on supermarket shelves and speciality stores. Here they will fetch high prices from discerning coffee lovers and some of the premium income will go to the growers back home in Ethiopia.

"The objective is to elevate the position of Ethiopian coffee--easily some of the very best in the world--to its rightful position among the high value, finest gourmet coffees in the world," said Crispin Reed, managing director of Brandhouse. "In the process, the livelihoods of around 15m Ethiopians who are engaged in the coffee industry in Ethiopia will improve." Since independence half a century ago, Africans have complained bitterly that while they produce massive volumes of commodities such as tea, coffee and cocoa, their take of the retail prices the finished articles yield has been negligible. The distributors who brand and market the commodities take the lion's share. All the profitable value addition is done outside Africa.

"Now the developing world can play Western nations at their own game," said Reed. "The West has used intellectual property (IP), branding and marketing to its advantage and made huge profits. The developing world--especially Africa, complains about this but has done very little itself to promote and brand its own products. This could well be the start of something very exciting for Africa."

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One must admit it is amazing that so few African countries or companies have made any attempts to capitalise on intellectual property or market their unique products as unique products. Instead, a variety of middlemen have taken on this task and made vast profits while the producers and growers face declining prices.

Three Ethiopian coffee varieties--Harar, Yirgacheffe and Sidamo--will carry an umbrella brand as fine coffees and will be marketed as such in the US and Europe. Reed told me it was essential that the brand identity, including the legal documentation, be completed in time for the Specialty Coffee Association of America's annual conference in Minneapolis, US, so that the brands could be unveiled to licensed distributors.

When the project was first started in 2004, a number of distributors had objected, demanding that producers concentrate on growing the coffee and leave the distribution and marketing to them. When it became clear that Ethiopia was unlikely to buckle, most of them accepted the new deal.

It is also likely that some of the world's biggest retailers such as Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Monmouth Coffee and Taylors of Harrogate will sign up in the near future.

The story goes back to 2004 when the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, with assistance from the Washington based Light Years IP began the initiative in conjunction with the Ethiopian Fine Coffee Stakeholder Committee which is made up of unions of coffee farmers, private coffee exporters and other bodies involved in the coffee sector.

The demand for gourmet and fine coffee has been growing all over the world. In the US, demand been growing at an annual rate of over 10% and new markets have opened in India and China. While coffee connoisseurs know that some of the finest coffee in the world originates in Ethiopia, less than 2% of the world's population is even aware that Ethiopia is one of the globe's leading producers and exporters of coffee. …