Caribou Coffee Embark on New Sustainability-led Journey of Growth across Middle East

Caribou Coffee Embark on New Sustainability-led Journey of Growth across Middle East

SME News interviews Caribou Coffee CEO (Middle East Africa & Turkey), Mejbar Mohammed, on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai

Expansion lies at the heart of any business leader’s goals. Mejbar Mohammed joined Caribou Coffee as CEO for the region in September, 2021.

Alongside understanding his ambitious plans to expand the brand in the region and provide it with a new look, SME News’ CEO Sam Khan spoke with the coffee brand’s chief executive at COP28 to learn more about why he’s choosing sustainability as a core pillar of the business goes forwards. Below are the excerpts...

SK: Good Morning Mohammed, it’s great to meet you, and it’s great to hear about some of the work Caribou has done recently on sustainability issues. Why is this important to you?

MM: Hi Sam, thanks for having me today. When we talk about sustainability, this is not a new topic for the brand or its owners. JAB holding have a very strong ESG agenda starting in 2017 and was recognized by Sustainalytics as the number one in the peer group.

Caribou Coffee International is also leading in a holistic approach to ESG in the US and issues a comprehensive report every year. One of many focus areas has been sustainable sourcing from 17 countries of specialty grade coffee and the best 1% coffee beans in the world.

For us in the region, our 2023 sustainability report highlights a focus on a major win in Packaging. We operate 70 stores in the UAE and more than 300 across the region. We plan to open around 40 stores in the region next year and I couldn’t be prouder of the hard work everyone does to ensure our customers have a great experience.

From saving costs on reduced transportation, to having a clear purpose driven agenda which resonates well with our people and our customers; being more sustainable as we grow is just good business sense.

SK: What are the main challenges you’ve had to overcome to become more sustainable?

MM: When I joined the company there were many things to catch up on. I’ve come from a long career in fast moving consumer goods brands, with a focus on finance and developing high performing teams. I am big believer on the saying “You can only monitor what you can measure.

Defining the baseline of our supply chain was the key challenge for me and the new team.

Although we are still working on the carbon footprint baseline for the business, this hasn’t stopped us taking qualitative steps, like optimizing delivery routes and choosing more sustainable packaging, whilst that work is going on in the background.

We are at the very beginning of our journey to reduce our carbon footprint, and I plan to accelerate that in line with our ambitions to grow.

SK: What sustainability led initiatives have you achieved in the last twelve months?

MM: We serve 8,000 cups daily to our customers in the UAE and 33,000 across the region. When we looked at the details of the packaging that we use for the cups, the lids, the straws and cutlery we realized that partnering with our packaging supplier to look for improved recycled and biodegradable packaging was a must.

I was inspired by the approach to the challenge taken by our suppliers, and I’m proud to say we were the first coffee chain in the UAE to source and launch a plant-based straw from Gaia, made of waste from the paper industry.

This will prevent around a tonne of waste going to landfill annually in the UAE alone. We also selected biodegradable plastics for the cup lids and cutlery that would save 10 tonnes of plastic to landfill each year.

The paper cups we use are sustainable sourced, and we have introduced 30% recycled plastics in our cups, which will result in a major reduction in our total emissions.

SK: What is next for Caribou in your journey to lower emissions?

MM: We believe that whatever it is you can do, it’s important to start. Small actions will help and the power of spreading the learning to our partners in the region is amazing. I’m keen to improve our access to reliable, verifiable data next year, which will allow us to identify opportunities to improve in a more informed way, sooner.

In addition to the 55,000 trips and 1.1m km in travel avoided this year through an overhaul of our distribution, we plan to further optimize our supply chain delivery to the stores in the UAE.

I personally have recently become a Non Executive Director of a local UAE business; ‘Zero Carbon Ventures’ who assist businesses like Caribou to deliver on their sustainability goals.

I hope to use this experience to learn more from the team there to bring back to Caribou and continue to translate the small regular steps into large measurable action over time and inspire others to do the same.

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