21 novembre 2022
by Ilaria Conti

The coffee of happiness


In each of the 8 million cups of Illy coffee consumed every day, there is a pinch of love, happiness, relationships and care for the world’s Southern populations. Andrea Illy, CEO of the company that bears his name, conveys all his passion and commitment when he talks about the ambition and “dream of offering the best coffee in the world.”

“Our slogan is 'live happily',” he explains, “because coffee is the drink of happiness, it's good for the soul, it's good for the body, for human relationships, it's the drink of success at work and in society. It is the drink of altruism because it contains all the generosity of the gesture of offering and drinking together, of sharing. The well-being that coffee gives to those who drink it and above all the development it creates for those who produce it in the southern hemisphere. This is why a tub of Illy could be one of the best Christmas gifts around and, even if it is one of the more expensive coffees, I challenge you to find a more affordable gift.”

According to Illy, the most popular drink in Italy is based on three values, lessons that were passed on to him by his father, Ernesto Illy, from whom he inherited the company: “The concept of ethics, our freedom ends where the freedom of others begins – even of future generations – the love of knowledge and the idea that, in the company, the real boss is the consumer, not us.” The shareholder, he says, “is at the service of the company. With 8 million cups of Illy consumed each day, the cash flow comes from consumers' pockets. Profit is a means and not an end. Our 'purpose' is to help improve the quality of life.” And coffee is only one means, “but there are many others.”

The only way to make production truly sustainable is to pay farmers well

To achieve the best results, the company has for decades sought the finest Arabica in the lands where coffee grows and establishes direct, individual and lasting relationships with the farmers, in a logic of virtuous cooperation. “We have a system of direct supply,” says Illy, “which consists of the selection of the best producers, the transfer of knowledge and finally direct purchase, paying them a significant premium which averages 30%.”

Indeed, one of the pillars of the company is to reward quality and guarantee a profitable price: the only way to make production truly sustainable is to pay farmers well. A fair margin is added to the price based on the international market quotation, which takes into account production costs and rewards the grower for the greater effort made to obtain quality.

This philosophy also led to the foundation of the 'Ernesto Illy Coffee International Award', which has now been going for 7 years. Illy explains how it works: “To select the best coffees that nature can give, we need to work hand in hand with the producers in the nine countries from which we buy the origins of our blend. The award is the best way to attract them and select those who are truly committed to the best possible sustainable quality. The prize rewards their work. It is a very important motivational and aspirational tool for everyone.”

The other key issues are sustainability and the fight against climate change. One of the most important projects of the company is soil regeneration, which, Illy emphasizes, “derives from two imperatives: to ensure continuous production and to make the business carbon neutral, as we all must do by 2050 as dictated by the targets of COP 16.” So how do we do it?  “I didn’t think that offsetting was the right choice for us to pursue,” he says, “that is, to offset emissions with reforestation-type carbon sequestration programs, but instead I thought we needed to offset within our own value chain.” Hence Illy’s idea of regenerative agriculture, which consists of “enriching the soil with organic carbon that feeds the earth and nourishes its biodiversity. The soil microbiota is responsible not just for fertility, but also for resilience to adverse factors.”

Coffee is the drink of happiness, it's good for the soul, it's good for the body, for human relationships, it's the drink of success at work and in society

Regenerative agriculture differs from traditional agriculture for the biodiversity and the transition from agrochemicals to microbiology. “It is a revolution, which we hope will ensure the agroecological transition for all crops, not just coffee.” The co-benefit is self-explanatory: “If we have more sustainable agriculture that uses fewer agrochemicals, we will have fewer contaminants in products and a healthier body with fewer toxins.” In short, agriculture becomes virtuous because it is “regenerative for the environment and beneficial for health.”

Finally, the challenge of climate change which “is literally a question of survival.” The extractive model “is wrong and has caused significant environmental damage. We need to change the model and use the regenerative approach, but also to heal the damage of the past because the environmental damage is not yet irreversible.” “The three transitions: energy – essential to zero carbon emissions – agroecology and industrial – from the linear to the circular economy – have been initiated. Now it's up to us to carry them forward.”


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