Coffee with a splash of sunshine

Coffee with a splash of sunshine

The coffee roasters at Ray & Jules have come up with an innovative way of roasting coffee beans without the CO2 emissions produced by the traditional process. Their ambitions go far further, however: they want to be the catalyst for making the global coffee industry 100% petrol-free by 2050. Few companies from the Start it@kbc stable have set their sights so high.

Everything began around 10 years ago at a sister company of the current Ray & Jules, recounts Gert Linthout, partner and market researcher at Ray & Jules: ‘CEE, which stands for “Creative, Economical and Environmental experts in energy efficiency”, is an engineering and construction company that carries out efficiency projects to reduce CO2 emissions. The people at CEE were wondering why the food industry was clinging so tightly to old technology instead of evolving towards more sustainable processes. This proved to be an issue for the coffee industry in particular. The sector is a huge polluter, producing around 15 million tonnes of CO2 a year just from roasting coffee.’ 

Slow and steady wins the race

Coffee beans are traditionally roasted in a drum roaster using hot air heated by natural gas or petrol. Industrial roasting machines roast the beans very briefly at a high temperature. This type of ‘batch process’ wastes an enormous amount of energy. The alternative process created by CEE engineers is based on a continuous, circular process that slowly roasts the beans on a moving bed with different zones. ‘You can compare it to the traditional toaster in your kitchen, which toasts two slices at a time, as opposed to a conveyor belt system like you often see in hotels,’ Gert explains. This slow roasting process requires only a third of the energy,  which makes it feasible to harness solar energy to supply the required heat.

The new system did not come about overnight, of course. It was preceded by years of research and development, and while the CEE engineers may have known all about building machines, they lacked the knowledge about coffee itself. In Gert’s words: ‘We knew what the kitchen should look like, but we didn't have a chef.’ It was the takeover of an artisan coffee roasting company in 2017 that provided the expertise required.

In 2019, the system was patented and CEE was rebranded ‘Ray & Jules’, a reference to rays of sunlight and joules, the unit of energy. With all the pieces in place, it seemed the time had come to storm the coffee market, at which point the company joined start-up platform Start it @KBC to support the launch. Their first target audience was the SME market, where the demand for quality coffee was high. Or at least it was, until the arrival of the pandemic. From one week to the next, Ray & Jules lost almost all its customers.

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Our solar-powered coffee roaster is entirely carbon-free and fully supported by Start it@KBC.

Gert Linthout, Ray & Jules

Coffee, coronavirus and communication

The pandemic forced the new start-up to change course and refocus on private customers. Coffee ordered from their website was delivered directly to customers working at home, which proved to be a hit: sales skyrocketed, multiplying fortyfold in just two years. Gert explains: ‘We not only had a lot of expertise, we also had a unique story that was given a lot of press coverage. In addition, we did lots of partnership marketing with organisations such as CERA, Natuurpunt and Velt, who appreciated our approach to sustainability and who could offer our coffee at a discount to their many members.’

‘We see a cup of coffee as a means of communication,’ says Gert. ‘We want coffee drinkers to know that they too can help change this complex chain of processes and at the same time also send an important message to other producers that things can be done differently. A production process without fossil fuels is possible. Until now, the sector had little incentive to innovate, but now that energy is scarce and costs a fortune, our approach is starting to make waves. Producers are also starting to realise the value from a marketing perspective. What’s more, we’re offering something particularly unique because our roasting process makes it possible to easily scale up artisanal roasting – resulting in much better quality – to very high industrial volumes. Put simply: everyone wins.’

Want to know more about Ray & Jules’ ambitions? The sunny kind of coffee – Ray & Jules (ray-jules.com)