Introducing Tom Blackwall, the BCA’s new Chair
09 Jul 2019.
We sit down and speak with Tom Blackwall, our new Chair, to discuss his objectives for the Association as well as what he gets up to in his own time.

What is your go to coffee, at home and whilst on the move?

I’m a big fan of East African coffees which are full of bright acidity and fruity notes. I have travelled a few times to the lake Goma region of Western Rwanda and Eastern DR Congo – the coffees that are produced there are spectacular. I am also partial to a bold, juicy Sumatran coffee, when these are fresh they are fantastic. I never travel anywhere without my Areopress and Hario Skerton coffee mill. With these two small pieces of kit you can make great coffee wherever you go.

 

What’s your background, how did you find yourself in the coffee business?

I have always had a keen interest in food and drink, my mum was a fantastic cook and my Dad used to brew his own beer. I also grew up on an old farm in a rural farming community so from an early age I understood the value of agriculture in the supply chain. I went on to read food science at University then worked in a bakery for a while before answering a job post for a very glamorous sounding job in the coffee industry.

 

What will your key responsibilities be as Chair of the BCA?

My role will be to head up the BCA Board and help drive the policy and strategy for the BCA making sure that members views and needs are represented. The ultimate success of the association lies with the Chair and Executive Director so I look forward to maintaining and furthering much of the good work that has happened over recent years, while making sure that the BCA starts to face new challenges and responds to the ever changing, dynamic coffee industry.

 

What are your aspirations for the organisation?

I’m passionate about the next generation of leadership within the coffee industry. Under my chairmanship, I am very keen to create and embrace this – the many young men and women working within the smaller roasters and independent businesses who are passionate about what they do. I am keen to create a platform for these people and help them define the future of our industry.  

 

How are you looking to expand the current membership?

We currently have over 60 members, representing the whole sector, involving some of the biggest players within the industry but I’d really like to see some of the smaller roasters and independent specialty coffee shop operators come on board, as well as more of the coffee shop retailers on the high street. We have a structured membership fee, which bases the cost of joining on annual turnover, to make it affordable for smaller businesses to join, so we’d love to hear from you if you are interested!  

 

What are the most pressing issues facing the coffee industry today?

As a commodity on the Futures Market, the price of coffee can fluctuate wildly, which is always a challenge, and at the moment this has resulted in prices being very low which means it’s difficult for farmers at origin to cover costs of production. Coffee companies and consumers need to make greater efforts to ensure they are paying a fair and proper price for their coffee, which isn’t an easy task as the cost of production varies enormously in every country but we need to strive to create a sustainable supply chain. Recycling, waste and sustainability is also something we are working hard to address, as are many other industries, and it’s something which we are taking very seriously here at the BCA.  

 

Where do you see the biggest opportunities?

As well as being a challenge, I also think there is a lot of opportunity within the sustainability sector, both here at home and in origin countries. We’ve already made big strides in fostering a collaborative environment for the industry on sustainability and I want to progress this further, alongside our brilliant sustainability committee, by working closely with Global partners and wider European coffee associations too.  

 

And what about Brexit, how are you navigating this with your members?

Campaigning and lobbying is a big part of our remit and we are fighting against a no-deal Brexit as it would have a huge impact on the UK coffee industry, for two key reasons. Firstly, it will see a return to World Trade Organisation tariffs, which means tariffs of roasted and processed coffee imported from the EU will increase, adding a massive cost to the supply of coffee in the UK. Secondly, migration and labour movement into the UK will be affected, a no-deal suggests free movement will end in favour of EU visas, favouring highly skilled workers, which will be to the detriment of younger European workers, who are the sort of people working in retail and coffee shops.

 

Finally, what keeps you busy in your spare time?

Having a young son keeps me very busy and I do travel a lot for work so I try to spend as much time with my family as I can when I am at home. Other than that myself and my wife seem to have become serial house renovators (but I’m hoping we’re coming to the end of that phase of our lives now!). I find nothing more relaxing than spending a few hours on the allotment or on a sailing boat and watching a bit of rugby of course!

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