We feel honored that the Orlando Voyager magazine featured us as a local story, allowing us to share our journey with the world—a story we also want to share with you. Today, we'd like to introduce you to Peter Kuria.
Hi Peter, thanks for joining us today. We'd love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born and raised on a Coffee Farm in Solai – Nakuru, in the Rift Valley province of Kenya. I am a second-generation farmer to my parents, who started our farm in the 80s. My whole life revolved around coffee farming, with this business being the primary breadwinner for a family of nine.
My parents had involved us in this business at a young age and taught us the processes of coffee from A to Z. About ten years ago, I relocated to the US and was amazed by how deeply ingrained coffee is in American culture. Kenya produces the best coffee globally but consumes more tea and exports about 90 percent of the coffee. I had just experienced such consumption and love of the coffee beverage.
I remember going to Starbucks during my early days and paying 3 dollars for a cup of latte. I would later call my dad to share the experience, and I recall mentioning the price I had spent for the coffee. Immediately, my dad did some quick math and responded that he barely fetched 2 dollars for a kilo (~2 pounds) of green bean coffee. My conversation with my dad made me realize how big the gap was between the farmer's share of the value of coffee versus what the consumer paid for it.
In the same discussion, we revisited the struggles farmers were going through in the coffee farming business. He noted that his friends were turning away from coffee farming and were venturing into other businesses. These struggles are still evident today and have gotten worse over the years. Young generation farmers are not attracted to the industry because of the low returns, and most parents wish that their kids get an education and get white-collar jobs away from farming.
How was Solai coffee born?
My dad dreamed of exporting his coffee without going through intermediaries one day. He intended to get as close to the consumer as possible, create a feedback channel, and enjoy representing himself in the coffee market. That vision allowed him to continually put efforts into expanding his farms and involving us in the business, hoping that if he did not attain his dream, one of us would. We struggled through this business as our returns were insufficient to take us through school. My mother had a corn milling business, and my dad maintained his low-paying government job to ensure we could pull resources together for farming and sustaining a livelihood.
I KNEW I HAD A ROLE when I got an opportunity to be in the US. I started educating people about the coffee process and what it takes for a small-scale farmer to produce coffee. I would gift people our Kenyan coffee, and the feedback on the taste of the coffee was always great. It was then that I realized that I was the anointed one to fulfill my dad's dream, but this time, it was not just my dad but everyone else who shared the same struggles as we did. I started studying the value chain, understanding the coffee market, and accessing the gaps. I began investing myself and resources into the farm. I started establishing myself in the market, which is how Solai Coffee was born.
We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I wish it had been a smooth road, but it has not. Our challenges are our daily attributes to success. Reflecting on my conversation with Dad in 2013, I knew we had much to accomplish. However, the challenge was where to start. I had just arrived in the US, uplifted all my life, and being in a new country, my priority was to learn how to settle in, get a job to sustain myself, pay bills, and support my family back home. Without a doubt, this was my biggest hurdle, knowing that there was so little I could do then. When I started assessing the gaps, it took a lot of work to get the data on how the Kenyan Auction system works and understand why the farmer ended up with so many deductions from the actual selling price.
Getting the coffee export license was also a nightmare; the whole process is not for the faint-hearted. There were many requirements and few resources to guide you through the process. I learned that many people give up very early in the application process. It was also tough to compete with the big importers of coffee in the US. The mid-sized roasters mostly use Kenya coffee for house blends with other cheaper or lower quality coffees, which allows them to compete with the big coffee commodity companies.
Consumers never get to experience authentic Kenyan coffee. 80% of our first-time customers had not tried Kenyan coffee before, so little is known in the US compared to Europe. Those who have tried it before mostly say it is just like any other coffee because there are companies that are bold enough to market their blended coffee as 100% Kenyan coffee. With a low marketing budget, educating about Kenyan coffee and the importance of direct and fair trade took a lot of work. However, the good side is that once our consumers try our coffee, they never look back and are happy to pay the price for the quality and know that a great share of the price goes back to the farmer.
We've been impressed with Solai Coffee LLC, but for folks who might need to be more familiar, what can you share about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Solai pronounced [Saw-lie-e] means Joy, and coffee brings joy to our lives. Coming from Solai Village, it was easy to go with that as a brand. I founded the company in 2019 and officially registered it in 2021. I would later bring along Lameck Omariba, our Chief Operation Officer. He shares my vision and comes from a coffee-farming family. We launched this business to create Direct Trade and Fair Trade for small-scale farmers in our country. Our mission is to ensure we get quality coffee to consumers at a fair price, pay the farmer fairly, and create sustainable community initiatives.
We import coffee directly from Kenya and operate in three business models;
- Wholesale Model- offer green beans and roasted coffee to roasters, cafes, and resellers.
- Online Store, Farmers Markets, and Events – We carry coffee in packs and offer brewed coffee at events and farmers' markets.
- We work with private labels and drop shippers, where we handle the backend, and they run the marketing side.
What do you think about happiness?
I drive my passion from seeing the love small-scale farmers have for coffee even though, at times, they barely break even to attain a good livelihood from this business for many years.
I am part of the farmers' story and wake up daily to improve their business. I have a moral obligation to ensure that as many consumers drink quality coffee as possible.
I am always excited and humbled at the same time by the compliments we get from our consumers, who love and cherish our coffee and are willing to go the extra step to help us drive our mission.
With all the world's changes, we must adjust and remain agile. I support Fair and Direct trade, green energy, and innovation of ideas and practices. I advocate for the farmer and the notion of growing together. Fair share for the farmers and quality coffee to the consumers.