MILANO – Lennart Clerckx, a 35 years old dutch man, founder of Tsu – This side up – , trader of non commercial coffees, tells to Comunicaffè about his particular career and what led him to become closer to Aziende riunite caffè (Arc) , one of the oldest and traditional coffee trading house , throughout his CEO Franco Tesoro-Tess’ idea.
Lennart, your is a particular coffee story, a story of specialty. We can say a strange story. So why are we here to speak about you?
«I think because I don’t come from the same trade background as the other importing company. I came from the development background and I became a trader to fulfil a mission».
How many year have you had this opportunity?
«Four years,- Since the end of 2015. I’m 35 right now».
Can you tell us some details concerning your scholar background and on how did you discover the coffee world?
«I studied Development Economics in Copenhagen and I accidentally run into coffee because of an internship that I did for a Danish coffee farmer in Tanzania. He wanted to sell his coffee directly to the Danish market. I didn’t understand the value change at all, but he needed someone with a marketing background, and I did a bachelor in marketing as well. So I saw the perfect opportunity to combine marketing and development by telling the story of a good producer: this is a man that did well for his employees but it was actually an hobby for him more than a necessity».
«After I finished, this man sold his coffee for three times the price that he went through the normal market because he had direct linkage to buyers. Next to his farms there are farmers cooperatives, and they don’t have these means. They don’t know anyone in Denmark or in Europe. So I thought if I start a company to help these farmers cooperatives to do the same as this Danish man, than I can add more value than if I work for an NGO or something like that».
Aziende Riunite Caffè from Milan, Italy, found in your experience an interesting story, and they presumed that it could be the future. Which will be the future for your trading experience?
«Arc has an important role in that, because I reached the maximum capacity of what I could do, without sourcing experienced help from a third party. Concerning the future, in an ideal world, roasters really have to be engaged directly in what they are doing. They will know everything about their coffee. The will know the price, they will know how to call the producers directly. Let’s say that I disappear, these farmers will still reach the market independently. Another aspect of what I do is helping these farmers with social media, reaching out roasters directly. This means that they will not need the intermediary. In an ideal world, we will have producers that will reach roasters, and with people like us that will help them achieve this like agents».
Do you think that this will be a revolution?
«I don’t think it will be necessarily a revolution. We have a direct trade revolution. All these roasters are realizing that it’s not easy the work the importers do, and so that’s why they happily pay them to consolidate their shipment and to do all the annoying work they don’t want to do. So I think about many people who said that direct trade importers will die and disappear. But actually, the opposite is happening».
Adds Franco Tesoro Tess: «Everybody has to do, in the chain, his work, and everybody has a work to do. So we can not substitute one role with another . The grower does grow coffee and the roaster does roast coffee. However the function given by the trader between them will be forever there because both parties don’t have enough know-how or so big organization to take shortcuts and get connected, especially in that particular non-commercial market sector where Lennart operates, with extremely reduced quantities and not-commercial qualities, the so called microlots and nano lots – where trading know how makes the difference».
It’s interesting Lennart that you was at HOST in ARC’s booth – ARC is quite a big company. You refer to microlots and they to containers. What is your feeling with this strange situation?
«It seems there’s a large difference between our companies, but there is a really good click. We are in the same profession: Tsu product is different, but they have the trading experience that I don’t have».
You talk about microlots, but it seems that you are thinking bigger. How do you see the future of your business?
«Concerning the future, the specialty market, farmers have access to agent, like me, who represents them and helps them to develop and to diversify their product. I see all the 11 origins farmers that I worked with as a part of the company: we exchange informations when something goes wrong, I ask them how to market the coffee etc.».
The language you and Aziende Riunite Caffè speak is different, but the place is the same, and the business is the same too. What is the help that Arc has given to you personally.
«Personally, I have always worked alone. I never knew the trades secret concerning importing. To have access to Franco’s knowledge making good contracts, to being less naïve when it comes to trading. Basically as a company growing up after four years, it’s finally time to take the next step and to grow up».
Franco Tesoro Tess: «Lennart has a dream. He is a dreamer. Almost and utopic one. To bring as he said, all the actors in the coffee chain to become one entity only, as partners of Tsu – sharing all the plus and the minus and work together in a real ethical world».
«My aim is not to let this dream to become a havoc. As an ‘’Angel Partner’’, ARC gives support to Lennart without any economic interest, in bringing their grower friend’s coffees to the market with the less possible costs – granting in a total transparency the biggest part of the profit to go the grower in the origin and not become a waste……ARC’s role is to help TSU to reach this objective in the shortest and the best possible way. ARC’s job is to maintain also Lennart’s virgin way of trading, with an hint of practical handling, logistics, trading without interfering in the TSU dream. I will not wake him up. There will be a time – I hope in 100 years from today, not before – that perhaps he will wake up. I’m hoping however that with ARC help he could have such sweet dreams for the rest of his life. Only time will tell us if he will or he will not».
The claim is to wait & see?
Franco Tesoro Tess: «Not really, because wait and see is something passive. I’m not passive with Tsu – Arc is not passive. I’m on his back, and I’m a guide to him. I’m like a tutor – I am like his sleeping pill now».