Big Issue: ‘Coffee partnership has helped battle brand misconceptions’

The Big Issue’s director of distribution Peter Bird says the ‘Change Please’ coffee initiative has helped raise awareness of the brand and battle people’s lack of awareness on “what the brand is about”, as it launches a renewed marketing push for the project.

Last November, the charity partnered with advertising agency FCB Inferno and coffee brand Old Spike Roastery to launch Change Please, which aims to tackle the cycle of homelessness.

As part of the scheme, homeless individuals are housed in temporary accommodation and trained as baristas to sell premium coffee from custom-made coffee vans. Since then, Change Please has sold more than 78,000 cups of coffee, expanded from one to five sites across London and employed 12 formerly homeless people as expert baristas. Of those 12 employees, four have gone on to other employment.

READ MORE: The Big Issue starts new coffee brand for vendors and says food ‘could be next’

The brand has now released a video showing the life journey of one of its baristas Jatinder, who has gone from sleeping rough to being in charge of his own coffee van.

According to the Big Issue’s director of distribution Peter Bird, the initiative has helped the brand battle one of its biggest problems – a lack of awareness on how the charity operates.

He told Marketing Week: “We are one of the UK’s most well known brands, but no one knows it. Change Please hasn’t only helped our vendors but also our profile. Our struggle for 25 years has been to get the public to understand what we’re about. So the partnership has helped build the public perception of what we do.

“Lots of people don’t get that we’re about giving a hand up and not a hand out, and that the magazine sellers are all entrepreneurs because they buy the magazine and sell it at a slight profit. [Change Please] has helped our profile in the fact that it’s awakening people’s knowledge of us.”

According to Cemal Ezel, co-founder of the Old Spike Roastery, the initiative has been a big success so far as it tapped into people’s “daily needs”. The Big issue and Change Please are currently in discussion with a major UK retailer to stock the coffee in its stores, as well as in its cafes.

“While some people might not buy the magazine as often, they would buy coffee on a regular basis. It’s a dynamic product that people really purchase on a habitual basis, so it’s tapping into a daily need.”

Cemal Ezel, co-founder, the Old Spike Roastery

At the time of the project’s launch, the Big Issue’s chief executive Adrian Willard told Marketing Week that food could also be sold through the vans if the project went well. While Ezel confirmed this is still the case, the project is still focusing on coffee for the time being.

He explained: “We’ve had quite a few offers from other food partners and international opportunities in the US and Australia, but at the moment we want to try and concentrate on coffee.

“At the time of the launch, we saw food as a great option because you can do more vans and connect a new range of products. But we were surprised by the range of opportunities just within coffee, so for the moment we’re going to continue down that route.”

The Big Issue is keen to continue the partnership “forever”, as it provides a “win-win situation” for everyone involved.

He concluded: “We should extend our brand, because for 25 years we’ve tried to show the public that the homeless are not invisible through our product, which is the magazine. But to have a different brand involved is important because it spreads the word that homeless people are not hopeless and have something to offer back to society.”

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