We went to meet the CPRESS team at their cafe in Fitzrovia. CPRESS is a London-based cold press juice bar and untraditional plant-based coffee shop. We arrived mesmerised by how colourful and delicious all the goodies looked… especially, since they were packaged in a sustainable way 😉 In between glass jars filled with original salad recipes and soups, glass bottles for their lemonades and origami-style flat-pack boxes for their sweet treats (which you can read about here), we were really excited to hear about how the team was moving away from plastic to these new materials. We sat down with a Recover-me blue spirulina lemonade and a blueberry kombucha, then kicked off the interview with Tim Stevenson and Laura Fele.
For starters, could you introduce the brand, what you sell, and how you started?
Tim: I’m Tim, I’m the CEO of CPRESS and this is Laura who does Creative Direction. I started the business in late 2014 and the idea we started with was: how we could bring a healthier product, with an exclusive focus on organic, to the market. We started mainly as coffee shops, like the one we’re in now, and we’ve expanded to build a strong local delivery business with Deliveroo. In 2019 we also expanded to wholesale. So you can now find a selection of our products in supermarkets like Wholefoods, Planet Organic and As Nature Intended. More recently we’ve been testing with Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and next month with Ocado. We’re obsessed with quality, integrity, and feel that there are no short-cuts in life. Every single day my job is to make sure that we don’t take any short-cuts; sometimes you do and you have to go back and ask “why did I do that”? I think as humans we’re attracted to short-cuts, but most short-cuts are just a short-term win for a long-term loss, which is borrowing something that you’re gonna have to pay back later.
What is the guiding principle behind CPRESS?
Tim: So it loops back to going down the road of not compromising and getting excited about elevating the space in general. This puts us in a niche space but with time and perseverance, we get better at what we do and see that actually, we can compete with other larger companies. It requires different skill sets and rules, but there is a clear path for healthy and clean products to be available and accessible to the masses. I think somewhere along the lines we’d forgotten how to do it, and companies like ours and many others now, thank god, are going back to the basics and figuring out how to take advantage of what’s close to us, what’s healthy, good, and nutritious. A big part of that is obviously steering away from highly processed and also heat pasteurised products. I think — not saying anything bad about them — when you exclusively eat pasteurised and processed foods, you’re not getting optimal nutrition, and that’s the gap I’m trying to fill.
You’ve decided to transition from plastic bottles to glass ones, despite initially being publicly apprehensive to their use in your business. Can you talk us through this shift in preference?
Tim: There are a few different reasons. I think there’s no excuse for our coffee shops not to be fully sustainable. It’s an environment that we control and it’s upon us to make the right decisions to make that happen as quickly as possible. You’re going to find customers who come and fight back but it’s not the end of the world, its something that we can handle. On the wholesale side of the business, you’re pushing products in other peoples’ environments so you have to play by their rules. That means that they expect to have a long shelf life, they prefer products in plastic because it doesn’t break, it’s not as heavy, its easier to manoeuvre. I mean when you have a supermarket with thousands and thousands of products to stock and restock on the shelves, they do have a tendency to prefer plastic, at least they did.
Now, sustainability is becoming a sales driver and that’s wonderful because that’s when good intentions are aligned with the trend and it becomes commercially viable. I always loop that into our organic obsession, we’ve never had an explosive adoption for being organic, its almost as though we impose it on people because we believe in it. We’re not seeing a crazy appetite for organic, people like organic but at the same time I don’t think people go out of their way to buy it. Whereas in the last 12 months, we’ve seen the plastic-free trend really take the lead of sustainability initiatives and you do have people who will go out of their way to stop buying plastic.
So our sustainability umbrella started with organic and all the goodness that’s linked to it from a sustainability perspective and now it’s including the plastic-free initiatives. Essentially, we saw overnight, the appetite for plastic-free skyrocket — and we’re not going to compromise on organic — but it’s the first time since we started that we see a sustainability initiative not be something that’s expensive to the business, but on the contrary is something that is driving sales and retention. After 4 years of working with organic, it’s really refreshing to see something like that happen. I think that’s one of the key successes, not only for us but for everyone in this space, to shift away from plastic — including supermarkets. You’ll see places like Wholefoods and Planet Organic who will lead the pack, and then that will trickle down to some of the larger grocery stores.
Isis: It’s hard for major retailers. I don’t know how they will manage to change in the time we need them to change.
Tim: I always tell the supermarkets that plastic isn’t the answer, they just forget. How many bottles of beer do you sell that are glass bottles? How many jars of jam do you sell? How many jars of pickles? They work with narrow boundaries, but you have to remind them that it isn’t that difficult. At the same time, we’re not here to fight, we just present the commercials and we think the commercials are sexier for sustainability and the supermarkets are responding quite positively. Do they want to be the first to take advantage of this and that? More often than not they do.
Isis: Yeah that makes sense, especially now with Sainsbury’s announcing their net-zero 2040.
Tim: I mean, net-zero 2030 would be nice [all laughing]. I think it’s about being bold. Everyone is scared, including us. We’re scared of change. We’re making some bold changes with our coffee cups. You want to do it and you don’t want to do it at the same time. We want to get rid of all single-use cups and we’re like: “What percentage of our business are we going to lose? How many people will get outraged by this initiative?” I can understand why businesses and retailers, where the stakes are 10 times higher, are taking their time. But alright, 2040.
Also, to loop back to the question, right now the main technology you have to extend shelf life is a technology called HPP, which is high-pressure processing. Essentially what it does is you fill up your bottle and they squeeze it with pressure which shocks all harmful bacteria. If you keep that product cool, then you can slow down all bacteria growth for a couple of months. This makes the product viable for supermarkets, but obviously that pressure would shatter the glass. So that’s a limiting factor in our transition. But, there are other technologies that we are playing with, testing and investigating that would allow for a longer shelf life product in glass to be available.
Now personally, I am trying to find the halfway point and I am trying to encourage people we work with to not request a three-month shelf life but to request a one-month shelf life. When we look at our operation, we produce every day, we have the ability to produce every day, and we want those supply chains to take advantage of that. You have fresh products, obviously, 3 months is better than 3 years, but at the same time you need to bring back that relationship of something that is made not so long ago. Even though there are great technologies to retain the nutrition and the enzymes, there’s something quite seducing about just keeping things fresh and shorter. Anything less is not commercial since you start creating waste; you don’t want to reinvent the wheel completely. When you create a product, you need to go through a series of distributors, wholesalers, and warehouses. By the time it goes through that whole process, I think 3 weeks to a month is a good place to be. You’re not even reinviting the wheel, supermarkets do it already…its called a dairy section! It’s just going in and saying: “guys, don’t look at us like a Tropicana juice with a 3-year shelf life, look at us like a pint of milk.”
What’s the biggest sustainability challenge your brand is facing? Something you guys are working on right now that’s proving difficult to achieve?
It’s expensive and you can get a lot of things wrong. The supply chain of glass is much longer-term with much larger quantities required than plastic — especially if you want to get a good price. You end up having to deal with larger upfront capital to get those orders through and you need storage space as well as changes in logistics and transportation. I mean, you’re not shifting mountains but you know, we do operate in an industry with very tight margins. Unless you’re surfing above the wave and have 10, 20, 30 stores and you have a much bigger organisation with more significant resources. It’s much harder for a smaller coffee shop to do it without taking significant cuts on its margins. I think that’s a bit of a shame. It’s getting better and it's all about having demand. As demand for glass increases I think we’ll see better supply chains and better pricing, but as I said a beer bottle doesn’t cost that much and same with tonic water, but they do millions in quantity. Slowly, I think, as smaller individuals take an interest in that, they’ll be able to take advantage of better prices.
But you see guys who think out of the box. I saw the other day in Paris, there was a brand that used those tall jars in which you put your olives for their juices. For them, they were asking who does it the cheapest way? You have beer bottles, but that’s not such an easy shape to fill with your juices, but those jars were a good alternative. That’s a smart thing and it looked cool.
Laura: What’s also cool is that glass is reusable for consumers. They can wash them and reuse them.
Tim: Yes exactly. Laura is working on this roadmap to use our jars for planting succulents and cacti to show that this is an opportunity to get creative with our packaging. But we sell more juices than there are opportunities to get creative, so the goal is to have the bulk of the glass recycled. The good news is that London is quite good at it. It’s easy to identify, you know, there’s no risk of saying this is not glass. Most of what we put in the glass recycling bin, probably 99% of the glass that goes into it, ends up getting recycled. Whereas with plastic the recycling rate is pathetic. I think the councils need to get more involved to standardise recycling. We recently moved from Kensington and Chelsea to Westminster and saw a huge difference— we’re in the same city guys — what the hell is going on? Why is everything different? Kensington and Chelsea started this home composting scheme, which was great, but then you get to Westminster and they say “ah no we don’t do that.” So you just want people to get on the same page. You can tweak things if you get things wrong, but you need to be in a unified direction. Decisions can be made that have the potential to trickle down everywhere in the country and in Europe even. Why would Belgium recycle 88% of its glass and France 75%? Guys, what’s the difference? You’re part of Europe. Find countries that do things best and implement those strategies.
Wherefrom is building a community of conscious consumers, what’s something you do, as an individual, to lead by example in the realm of sustainable consumption?
Tim: So first of all, I discovered the composting bin in Kensington and Chelsea and it’s an amazing way to have trash that doesn’t smell. You have these little bins that are sealed, and even if you’re not into composting I don’t think anyone is into smelly trash. So if you’re not doing it to save the planet then do it to have a clean and smell-free bin. You end up having less trash as well when you have no more food waste in your main bin. So that’s a little thing that we do.
In terms of community, we didn’t talk about it much but we’re discovering this coffee cup community called Huskee. We’re trialling in Shoreditch at the moment. We think its a smart initiative that helps us make the jump. If you go to our place in Shoreditch you’ll see we’re not offering any more single-use cups, just Huskee cups as our takeaway. With that community, you can gain more customers even if you might lose others. If you can think in the long-term you can work with communities and apps to make this work.
Fabiana: I find what’s nice too is that, if you don’t have a reusable cup, you can take 10 minutes to sit down and drink your coffee.
Tim: That’s the sign that Laura made which says “Here are your 3 options: Bring your own cup, sit down and relax, or take a Huskee cup.” So that was kind of nice.
Laura: In Italy, nobody has this issue, everyone takes their sweet time and sits down to drink their coffee [all laughing].
Tim: Another thing we did for the business recently is we discontinued still water and now each store has a filter. It inspired me to get a Berkley charcoal water filter at home and since then I haven’t bought any bottled water. Laura, what do you do?
Laura: Well since I travel a lot I think my footprint with all my flights is a mess. But, its been 6 years now that I don’t buy fast fashion — all my clothes are second-hand. I was the very first in Milano hosting an Airbnb experience around fashion. I would bring people on a tour of vintage and second-hand stores. People usually come to Milano for fashion, but they end up buying H&M and stuff they sell in a lot of other cities. I met the founder of Airbnb in San Francisco and he told me to do that. So yeah, everything I’m wearing right now is second-hand. If it’s not second-hand then it’s Everlane, which offers traceable garments. It’s an American company where everything is conscious and you can trace everything they’ve made. Actually, the coat I’m wearing was made from plastic bottles.
Last year, I did a month challenge of zero waste and after that, I tried to be as zero waste as possible. But there are certain things that are really hard like cosmetics and creams, and I really couldn’t do what influencers do. I couldn’t burn almonds to make eyeliner because I need to be presentable [all laughing]. I don’t really have that much time. I think it’s awesome but if you do that you need to have a lot of time.
Tim: What’s interesting is that in this space there are so many trolls that just focus on what’s bad. I think it’s about switching the conversation. If McDonald’s does something good, praise it, don’t just look at everything that they do badly. It’s like a positive feedback loop. At the end of the day, nobody is going to be perfect. If everyone is imperfect, it can make a huge difference. Everything we have here is plant-based but we never promoted ourselves as being vegan. We have some people who come in and get angry that a certain product isn’t vegan because there’s some vinegar that has a fish chemical and I’m like “time out”. At some point, you have to realise that we’re on the same team, and that’s a nice starting point to incentivise people to make the change. With straws we used the compostable ones and it backfired, people said it was so bad, so then we said OK we’ve learned, and then we got pasta straws and people said: “ugh it’s not gluten-free”. Why don’t you just drink out of the bottle, why do you need a straw?
Fabiana: Yes definitely! It’s about changing habits. Is there anything else you guys want to share?
Tim: Our goal is to be plastic-free by the end of the year. We’ve got a lot of work, but besides those smoothies in plastic bottles, I think we’ve pretty much done 90%. So it’s been a busy 6 months. We’re gonna change to glass bottles in the next couple of months.