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MARKUP Supporting Uganda Coffee Producers to Improve Branding and Marketing Communications

Poor packaging strategies are part of the main reasons for the failure of locally manufactured products to compete favourably in different market places and with multinationals. Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) face issues in identifying suitable packaging material, suppliers, packaging machines, graphic designers, and in understanding how to develop greener packaging systems.

The coffee sector in Uganda is no exception. While many coffee businesses are venturing into packaging coffee for sale at the local, regional and international levels, market entry and brand acceptance remain a challenge due to poor branding and packaging strategies.

Rogers Wasibi, the manager of Mount Elgon Coffee and Honey Cooperative, has experienced this challenge first hand. In 2017, the cooperative ventured into packaging coffee to diversify its product offering after experiencing high price fluctuations for green coffee. “We started with high hopes of capturing the growing market of coffee consumers in Uganda, says Wasibi. “However, the performance of our packaged coffee did not meet our expectations. Our sales were low.”

Many coffee enterprises face similar challenges. To address this problem, MARKUP in partnership with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) is working with coffee enterprises in Uganda to improve the marketing capacities of small coffee-producing firms such as Mount Elgon Coffee and Honey Cooperative.

In February 2021, MARKUP organised training on branding, communications, and packaging for coffee products for SMEs in the coffee sub-sector in Kampala. The goal was to enable firms in coffee production to improve production capacities, improve the relationship with suppliers, and improve the perception of the quality of finished products by retailers and customers.

“The training will enable you to improve your production capacities, improve your relationship with suppliers, and improve the perception of quality of your finished products by retailers and customers,” Frederic Couty, the Lead Trainer, and a Packaging Expert at ITC told the participants during the training.

MARKUP further supported the enterprises to develop or improve their value proposition and define priorities for their brand. They created or improved their logos, developed brand design guidelines, created marketing brochures or improved their websites to give the right information about their coffee brand. Following the training and coaching support, firms like Mount Elgon Coffee and Honey Cooperative started seeing a turn-around in their fortunes.

“For the first time in March 2021, we made monthly sales of one million shillings. We had never sold this amount of coffee. Previously, our average sales ranged between two hundred and three hundred thousand shillings only,” Mr Wasibi says with delight.

According to Mr Wasibi, the marketing prospects of the cooperative now look bright. Their customers appreciate the new changes the cooperative has put in place following the training they received. This is the secret to the recent rise in sales.

“We used to package our coffee in packs of one kilogram. However, following the advice from MARKUP, we started packing the coffee in smaller packs of one hundred grams and two hundred and fifty grams. We discovered we were targeting the wrong person [with the bigger packs],” Mr. Wasibi adds.

The cooperative has improved its logo, developed new labels for its coffee packages, and revamped its website to give customers a unique experience.  “We are ready to tell our coffee story and this will translate into more sales,” Mr Wasibi says.