Suzanne Casey is the general manager of Velo Coffee Roasters and runs the Cork roastery alongside Rob Horgan.
Velo was established in a Cork City café to provide customers with a delicious, locally roasted coffee. They’ve maintained the quality since day one, only bringing their customers delicious, multi-award winning speciality coffee whilst continuing to grow in retail. The team is always innovating to bring out new blends and origins as well as sustainable packaging. Even as they grow and develop as a brand, Velo keeps the product at the core of what they do.
In this episode we discuss this growth and going into mainstream retail, the advantages of having a single supplier, embedding their business ethos into all that they do and standing out amongst the crowd.
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Duration: 20:04 mins
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[00:00:00] Geraldine Hennessy: Welcome to the Cork Creative Podcast. With this podcast, we hope to promote creative people and businesses in Cork. To learn more about the podcast, visit corkcreative.ie.
Flux Learning is a company fueled by coffee. We take our coffee seriously. So for our fourth series, we took the opportunity to broaden our knowledge and learn some insights into the coffee roasting industry in Cork City and county.
In this episode, Patrick Kiely chats to Velo’s Suzanne Casey in the fabulous, Iconic offices in Cork city. Suzanne is the general manager of Velo Coffee Roasters and runs the Cork Roastery alongside Rob Horgan. Vilo was established in a Cork City cafe to provide customers with delicious locally roasted coffee.
They’ve maintained the quality since day one, only bringing their customers delicious multi [00:01:00] award-winning specialty coffee whilst continuing to grow in retail. The team is always innovating to bring out new blends and origins, as well as sustainable packaging. Even as they grow and develop as a brand, velo keeps the product at the core of what they do.
In this episode, we discuss this growth and going into mainstream retail, the advantages of having a single supplier embedding their business ethos into all that they do and standing out amongst the crowd.
[00:01:30] Patrick Kiely: And you’re very welcome to Cork Creative, Suzanne. So can you take a moment to tell us how did Velo ome about?
[00:01:34] Suzanne Casey: Velo started in the side of a cafe in Cork City Center. We were using all locally sourced products. Really looking forward to using Irish producers, but our coffee was dark roasted Italian and imported coffee. So Rob went to Germany to learn about roasting so that when we looked for our own roaster in Ireland, we would know [00:02:00] what to look out for if they knew their stuff.
He fell in love with roasting and arrived back with a roaster from Pro Batch. And that’s where the journey started. We did the Grow with Aldi program then in 2018 and got us on the map.
[00:02:18] Patrick Kiely: And in your role, Suzanne, you’re a general manager with Velo, and how did you become involved?
[00:02:23] Suzanne Casey: I started in the cafe when I moved to Ireland, six, just about seven years ago.
I was managing the cafe when Rob went to Germany and brought back the roaster. I immediately fell in love with the roasting side of it, but was holding down the fort in the cafe. I took a break in 2019 and July, 2020 I got a phone call from Rob asking if I wanted to come back. He had just sold the cafe and was roasting in a purpose-built facility just up in Blackpool, and I came on to take over the e-commerce, which [00:03:00] was booming at the time. That role quickly became the general really – all consuming. Yeah. Everything bar roasting is what we tell everyone that I do. So, uh, e-commerce into marketing. And just into general management then.
[00:03:18] Patrick Kiely: Oh, excellent. And your, your website is a credit to you.
Suzanne Casey: Thank you.
Patrick Kiely: You mentioned before that you participated in the Grow with Aldi scheme in 2018, and you’re one of the five winners of that scheme. So what has that done for velo?
[00:03:32] Suzanne Casey: It initially gave us the confidence to go into mainstream retail. It was where we wanted to sit. Um, as opposed to going into food service, which a lot of the small roasters were going into. Um, we learned so much throughout the program. It put us on the map in terms of marketing and visibility across Ireland. We’ve been on the shelves ever since [00:04:00] 2018 in all Aldi stores nationwide. And it’s given us the ability to work with other retailers. We’re in Dunnes, Tesco and Super Valu as well here. Aldi’s been a great support. In terms of learning, in terms of getting the product out there. And we’re delighted to have had the opportunity
[00:04:25] Patrick Kiely:
Brillant.German roaster ,German influenced,German training, in a German supermarket. Yeah.
You source your beans from one supplier, Covoya. Apologies for the pronunciation.
Suzanne Casey:No, that’s alright.
Patrick Kiely: What’s the advantage of having one supplier?
[00:04:42] Suzanne Casey: We’ve built a great relationship with Covoya. They are a division of Olam. They helped immensely keep our supply chain going over the past couple years and grown with us year on, year on [00:05:00] year.
Working with them consistently has also given us the opportunity to work directly with farmers at origin. So we had the opportunity to go to El Salvador this year and meet our farmer there, um, with Covoya and build projects with them at origin. Since we started supplying coffee with Covoya, we have 10 cents of all of our Columbians goes back to origin for local projects.
Building bridges, helping local communities. Our farmer in India is doing a lot of local projects, in education, um, providing for the schools and by working with that one supplier, the relationships that we’ve built. It has been amazing for us to assist locally and keep the side going.
[00:05:58] Patrick Kiely: But you’re realizing the change and [00:06:00] realizing the growth, which was a prior all to which with the supply chain effectively.
[00:06:02] Suzanne Casey:
Yeah. They’ve grown with us really from the start. Yeah. And been there step by step as we’ve grown quicker than we’ve expected. They’ve trundled along with us and made sure we’ve kept coffee in the building.
[00:06:16] Patrick Kiely: It’s important. Yeah. Um, how has climate change affected your sourcing, your business model and the procurement then at source?
[00:06:23] Suzanne Casey:
Coffee regions are immensely affected by climate change, so it’s important for us to work with local projects . To help with education there. Covoya has training projects that they do at Origin to help suppliers learn how to adjust, uh, to climate change. And then here on the ground, we know how important it is for the impact that we can make as small as it is.
So we’ve switched to all recyclable packaging for our coffee. We were the first to do it in Ireland. [00:07:00] Unfortunately, with the timing of when it came in, there was delays in legislation as to what could be labeled as recyclable. But that’s all gone through now. So all of our, our product is in a hundred percent recyclable packaging in retail.
[00:07:17] Patrick Kiely: And at the scale that you’re at, that’s huge. Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant. From the packaging to what’s inside the packaging. So how would you describe the flavor profile of your coffee and the individual coffee varieties and blends? Broad question. I know.
[00:07:31] Suzanne Casey: Yeah. I say that every coffee is a little bit different.
Which means there’s a Velo for everyone. Just pick your favorite color, great marketing. Um, but as an overarching theme, every profile that we are building is to maintain all the natural sweetness in the coffee. So that you’re not getting those traditional, dark, roasted bitter flavors.
They’ll all be a little bit different. Some [00:08:00] are more chocolatey, some are more fruity. Um, some are creamier, some have higher acidity. Our blends we have in retail are more crowd pleasing. They’re a lot more balanced. They’re gonna have those richer creamier notes. We have a range of unicycles, as we call them on our online store.
And we affectionately call them our “weird and wonderfuls”. So you have some coffees that have notes of tomato and green apple. We have, uh, coffee from Mexico that has an extended fermentation process with added yeast in it. That gives it a whole new flavor profile. So, uh, we cater to everyone. There’s something for everyone there, but our, our main staple really brings out that sweetness. You can have a second cup of coffee, you can drink it all day long.
[00:08:59] Patrick Kiely: It’s a good, it’s a [00:09:00] good business model.
[00:09:00] Music: Yeah. Something for everyone.
[00:09:03] Patrick Kiely: Indeed, indeed. But it’s the fact that you’ve, you go with your crowd pleaser and you also have the unicycle. So have also have the craftier end of things, to furthermore experimental.
[00:09:13] Suzanne Casey: Yeah. It’s, and it’s to show we are growing as a company, but by having some weird and wacky, we can show that we can do it. It’s what we love to drink. It’s what we drink in the office. Those are our favorites and something different to show our customers.
[00:09:31] Patrick Kiely: How would you describe your business, ethos?
[00:09:34] Suzanne Casey: Ambition, innovation, and quality.So we are a young, small, diverse team and all of us are driven to grow. Uh, we’re driven to keep producing a quality product. Um, and none of us are ever happy, so we can always do better. There’s [00:10:00] always something else you can pull outta the coffee.
You can always ensure a more efficient packing process. We’re still doing everything by hand. We still are roasting in small batches, so, How can we keep efficiency? How can we make it better? . How can we keep the quality in the product? And we’re striving for that every day across the team from production all the way up through our marketing department and management department.
[00:10:29] Patrick Kiely: Brilliant.
And when you’re selling such a wide variety of coffee and flavor profiles, have you noticed that there’s been a change in the flavor profile receptiveness in Ireland, or has people’s receptiveness to certain types of coffee changed?
[00:10:43] Suzanne Casey: There’s definitely crowd pleasers that people know and love. So your Brazil’s, your Columbian’s. Those are always the big sellers, but people are definitely changing to those lighter, medium roast coffees. Okay. So we’re [00:11:00] seeing our coffee from El Salvador start to grow in popularity. We have a really amazing coffee from Ratnagiri Estate in India that people are starting to try, which is a little bit different than your typical coffees. Okay. Internationally, the changes in flavor preferences are changing at different rates. But in Ireland, you’re seeing people really love something a little bit different. The lighter roasts, and you see that with the explosion of local roasterys. Specialty cafes.
[00:11:34] Music: Okay, great.
[00:11:37] Patrick Kiely: The, uh, an inevitable tangent is how people are enjoying the coffee or brewing the coffee. Does that impact on the type of beans? So with say, cold press gaining popularity. You’re seeing more different beans being favored. Yeah.
[00:11:51] Suzanne Casey: So you have everything from your traditional French presses through pour overs, which are becoming more popular.
[00:12:00] And there was the espresso machine boom that happened over the past couple years. And each brew method is gonna favor a different coffee. More and more people are getting pour overs. They’re drinking cold brew, so those suit a little bit of a more wacky coffee. So your, your Ethiopias, your African coffees,Kenyans are becoming quite popular and those flavor profiles are beautiful in a setting outside of your espresso machine, outside your traditional French press. So as people are becoming more interested in their home setup, people are investing in their home setup, different types of coffees are really starting to shine, which is great to see.
[00:12:48] Patrick Kiely: And you provide that education on your website as well? You’re schooling people?
[00:12:50] Suzanne Casey: We, we do, yeah. Uh, that’s the biggest piece for us is education without alienation. We don’t want to be the uppity coffee [00:13:00] snobs. We wanna show people that there’s a big range of coffee. It’s accessible to everyone, and that’s what we’ve tried to do in retail, is bring that small batch into, to every customer.
[00:13:12] Patrick Kiely: And you’ve given them the pathway to get the equipment too on your website as well I see. Which is, it’s very inclusive. It’s literally the one stop shop. Yep. That’s
[00:13:21] Suzanne Casey: Yep. That was our plan from the get go.
[00:13:23] Patrick Kiely: Yeah. Yeah. Very good.
There are many coffee roasting companies out there. How would you describe the market? Is it collaborative, hyper competitive? How would you describe it?
[00:13:32] Suzanne Casey: In retail, we’re competing against the Lavazzas, the Illys, the Bewleys of the world, The Maxwell House, the Folgers, we compete against them all. It’s tough in that space to be a little bit different. In Ireland, when you’re working with the smaller roasters, it’s really collaborative. There’s space for all of us in the market here, and everyone’s doing something a little bit [00:14:00] different.
Coffee people are really cool people. It’s a great industry. People have come from the corporate world, they’ve come from marketing, they’ve come from cafes, and everyone has a different skillset and like we worked with Cafe Moly, um, down on Douglas Street to help him get up and running when his roaster was down.
And all the different roasters are like that where we all wanna help each other and see each other succeed.
[00:14:31] Patrick Kiely: Good collaborative approach. Indeed. Yeah. But in that collaborative market space and in the competitive market space, and you mentioned the challenge of going up against the Bewleys and the Folgers and the, the whales shall we say, in that market, how do you define yourself? Um, How did you find yourself when you first started out?
[00:14:48] Suzanne Casey: Small Batch Big flavor was our tagline from the start, and we still bang that drum that we are only roasting a hundred percent Arabica Specialty Coffee. [00:15:00] Which is bringing that small batch artisanal roaster to mainstream retail.
It’s a difficult space to, to show how you’re different. We’ve used our packaging as a way to do it. So we started out in a bright, white stark packaging. That stood out from the blacks and the browns on the shelf. We’ve done it when we did our revamp two years ago. The rainbow of colors. So even if you’re not quite sure how we’re different. You’ll try it, you’ll pick it up off the shelf.It’s bright, it’s fun. And once you try the coffee, it’s so different than what’s on the shelf. It just brings coffee to that next level.
[00:15:47] Patrick Kiely: I have to ask the bicycle of conceit. Where did that originate from?
[00:15:52] Suzanne Casey: Rob is a cycler and, and when he opened the cafe, he wanted it to be a little bit different.
. [00:16:00] Not just. Rob’s cafe, someone else’s cafe. And he made the entire cafe cyclist themed. And that’s where we started. It was taking that little bit of the cafe with us . Um, as we grew and gave us a point of difference.Something to talk about. And we have loads of fun with the names.
So all of our blends are bike named. BMX. Morning Fixie. Tandem. And then all of our single origins are unicycles. So one coffee in there, one wheel.
[00:16:37] Patrick Kiely: No. Solid. No indeed. It was … I had to ask.
Suzanne Casey: Bit of fun.
Patrick Kiely:Um, do you find your sales are affected by seasonal factors? Recent good weather, does that impact on coffee sales?
And do customers favor lighter blends during the summer versus the winter where they might opt for darker?
[00:16:52] Suzanne Casey: In the summertime, everyone’s trying to drink iced coffee, so you get more people trying some of the, the lighter fruitier [00:17:00] coffees for that in retail, you see small changes in the summertime.
That naturally happens across retail because people travel, they’re not home. But the beauty is, People drink coffee all year round. They don’t stop just because it’s summertime. Yeah. And, but they might order more online. So our e-commerce and retail shifts a little bit.
[00:17:23] Patrick Kiely: No, fair enough. Speaking from someone who runs a company that is fueled by coffee, it’s not something we’re gonna be turning off shall we say.
If you yourself had to pick your favorite coffee, what would that be? Tricky question.
[00:17:37] Suzanne Casey: My favorite at the moment and my go-to is our El Salvador, which is in the orange bag. It’s from an amazing firm that’s in a rainforest on the side of a volcano in El Salvador, and his coffee gets better and better every year.
He is doing so much work [00:18:00] to farm sustainably, and in doing so, it’s just creating a better quality product. It’s what I use on my espresso machine at home. If I’m doing pour over, I have about six different coffees in the press at any given time.
[00:18:18] Patrick Kiely: Literally all of the supply.
Yeah. And for velo at large in what are your plans for the future or what, where would you like to be in two or three years time?
[00:18:31] Suzanne Casey: Looking towards the UK, expanding outside Ireland, growing the company in terms of export. We have a new product that is coming to market at the end of September, beginning of October. Can’t tell you all about it. Watch the space. It’s, it’s really exciting for us, a whole new space, a functional space, and we are really looking forward to, to bringing it to market, to everyone.
[00:18:59] Patrick Kiely: Is there ever [00:19:00] temptation to go back to the coffee shop kind of idea or,
[00:19:03] Suzanne Casey: We’ve talked about going back into food service every once in a while. A lot of us who work in the roastery came from the cafe originally. But it’s a difficult space to be in. Uh, working with the public all the time. So for the moment we’re really happy where we are specializing up in Mayfield, roasting coffee.
Nice and quiet.
[00:19:24] Patrick Kiely: So you’ve also moved from Blackpool originally to Mayfield as well?
[00:19:26] Suzanne Casey: We moved up to Mayfield. 2021 to a bigger facility.
[00:19:34] Patrick Kiely: Thanks so much for being here, Suzanne, and educating us on all things coffee and Velo and cycling.
Suzanne Casey: Thanks so much.