Nespresso, Clooney Promote Coffee in War-Torn South Sudan

  • Coffee is diversification for country dependent on oil exports
  • Nespresso to invest $2.6 million by 2016, CEO Duvoisin says

George Clooney. Source: Rainer Hosch via Nespresso

Nespresso, the world’s biggest single-serve coffee brand, will start selling coffee from South Sudan, in an effort proposed by George Clooney to help rebuild an industry that nearly disappeared during decades of civil war.

This marks the first time the four-year-old country starts exporting coffee, according to Nespresso Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Duvoisin. Nespresso’s limited edition capsules will go on sale in October in France, the company said Wednesday. The Nestle SA unit will invest about 2.5 million Swiss francs ($2.6 million) in South Sudan by the end of 2016.

Nespresso has been working with non-profit organization TechnoServe since 2011 to set up mills and train farmers in the country, which borders Ethiopia, where arabica beans are thought to have originated. Clooney, the actor who stars in ads for Nespresso in Europe and who’s been politically active in the Sudan conflict for years, suggested to the company it could find high-quality coffee in the country. The project is fully financed by Nespresso.

“Coffee farms have a great history of building peaceful pockets in very volatile areas,” Clooney said in an e-mailed statement. “We drank our first cup this summer and it tasted just a little bit better knowing that it was from people who have worked so hard for normalcy and peace."

The efforts have yielded several tons of robusta coffee each year since 2013. Nespresso and TechnoServe are working with about 500 farmers and plan to increase that to some 15,000 in the next decade, according to TechnoServe CEO Will Warshauer.

New Export

"We believe coffee can become the second-biggest export from South Sudan after oil," Warshauer said in a phone interview from Washington. "Having said that, we should recognize that it’s still the early days and volumes are very small and the political situation very fragile.”

The East African nation is trying to end almost two years of war, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and forced about 2 million to flee their homes. The disruption also slashed oil production, the country’s primary export, by a third. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a 21-year civil war.

The country’s economy is projected to shrink 7.5 percent this year after expanding 31 percent last year, according to the African Development Bank. Some 99.8 percent of South Sudan’s exports are oil, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

"We do not expect to make a return on investment for the next few years," Duvoisin said by e-mail. "The development of our coffee revival project will obviously remain dependent on the evolution of the situation locally."

Nespresso’s coffee project is located in the southwest Yei region, which is not affected by fighting, Duvoisin said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.