The Bean Cartel explains its journey through the coffee industry

The Bean Cartel

The Bean Cartel’s packaging and attitude may be flamboyant, but great coffee is still the heartbeat of the Melbourne-based roaster and distribution company.

The Bean Cartel’s evocative packaging, featuring a fun-loving skeleton caricature, is a far cry from most office environments in Victoria’s corporate world. For The Bean Cartel Managing Director Stacy Visser, that contrast showcases the dramatic change that has spurred his roasting company to new heights.

Stacy says he faced a fork-in-the-road decision several years ago: continue supplying coffee to major corporate, office- based clients, or find a way to concentrate on Melbourne’s highly competitive café scene.

“We started [working in the office coffee space] 12 to 14 years ago, and that was a slow grind,” he says.

“We were working with [large financial institutions] – we’d look after 40 floors, put automatic machines in, clean them three times a week and replace the stock. I pivoted away from that because I didn’t feel like it was healthy or sustainable to have all our eggs in one basket, and it was capital- intensive for the return.

“At one stage we thought, ‘let’s diversify a bit more,’ and we dove into the café market, while still continuing with the office coffee side of things.”

The Bean Cartel started to supply more cafes, and Stacy realised just how emotional the tie is between coffee and cafés in the marketplace.

A key turning point was Stacy’s decision to refresh and update the company’s brand into something bolder and edgier.

“We changed our name from Organico Prima to The Bean Cartel and it made a massive difference,” he says.

“The coffee was exactly the same but we became a little bit more sexy. Prior to that, it was a bit boring.”

At the end of 2021, The Bean Cartel undertook a website overhaul, redid its whole strategy and moved into the specialty coffee space, one which Stacy had always wanted to be in.

“In the last 12 months, we’ve really found how sticky [an informal measure of how well a brand resonates with consumers] our brand has become,” Stacy says.

A major reason behind this change has been the eye-catching visuals splashed across The Bean Cartel’s website, packaging and merchandise.

The company put out a tender for artists to help create new graphics and discovered Alejandro Giraldo, a Colombian artist who, in Stacy’s words, “understood the crazy stuff in my head”.

Alejandro’s creations, featuring striking images of a colourful cartoon skeleton, has allowed The Bean Cartel to stand out from the crowd, according to National Sales Manager Melissa Glentis.

“I came on when the rebranding was happening [and when I saw the imagery] I thought ‘this is amazing’,” she says.

“Initially we were worried the graphics would be polarising. However, this was far from the case – the positive comments and acceptance took all our anxiety away. It allowed us to have more conversations [with potential customers] and was a far cry from our standard original black and white branded bags.

“There are great coffees out there, and we certainly produce some amazing coffees ourselves, but what makes us stand out is our branding.”

Stacy says the graphics have been such a hit with clients that some have asked to work with The Bean Cartel without tasting their coffee.

“We’ve never had cafés or business owners say, ‘we want to work with you’ without even tasting the coffee,” he says.

“Historically, it was all about the coffee first and everything else was secondary, but we’re getting some reversals in that area.

“Some cafés have even approached us to produce co-branded clothing with their café on the front, and our designs on the back. That’s when you know you’re getting sticky and starting to get some traction. It gives us more confidence to keep going.”

While Stacy and his team are thrilled at the way their updated look has been received, coffee is still the most important element of the business.

The company has clients throughout Australia. The Bean Cartel produces capsules, sells coffee machines and merchandise, and holds barista training courses in its roasting facility in Notting Hill, Melbourne.

Stacy sources beans from across the globe. The company produces blends, showcases around 18 to 21 single origins at any one time, and recently purchased three microlots in Colombia. Staff regularly perform blind cuppings to assess new blends and beans, led by Master Roaster Alan Chan, who has won multiple national roasting awards.

Stacy met Alan by chance and quickly realised he needed the experienced roaster on his books.

“A café Alan used to own was getting towards the end of its lease, and he didn’t know what he was going to do once it wrapped it up,” Stacy says.

“I was doing the roasting here, and the packing, and pretty much everything really, and one of my green bean suppliers said at one point ‘you can’t do this by yourself’. They knew [Alan’s previous] café was about to close and knew about Alan. I asked, ‘where’s the café?’ It was just around the corner, literally 80 metres from where we were located.

“I went and saw him the next day and I asked, ‘can you come in and do maybe two or three days a week roasting?’ He said ‘no, I need to work full-time.’ I got him in for a trial and trained him on our machine, which he learnt to use in two days. I’d seen enough, and said straight away ‘you’re on full-time. Let’s just go’. That was six years ago the rest is now history.”

Stacy and Mel consider Alan and all of their staff part of one big family, which displays the brand’s commitment to operating with what their website claims is ‘cartel-like intensity’.

“The term ‘cartel’ has got this terrible stigma about it but really, a cartel is just an organisation and our cartel is about fun, playfulness and being a little bit cheeky, a bit sexy,” Mel says.

“Our intensity is what constantly drives every single one of us – we’ve all got this huge personal investment in the business, which makes us want to drive harder and faster towards our goals.”

Stacy agrees and says, “once you are a part of the cartel, you never leave”.

“That’s our philosophy, whether you’re a staff member, café or a client, we don’t want you to ever leave, in a good way,” he says.

“It’s a play on the fact that cartels don’t let you leave. We’re the same but only with good intentions.”

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This article appears in the February 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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