Dormans Coffee Ltd (Dormans) is a stable in Kenya’s coffee industry and arguable one of the largest beverage companies in Kenya and the region. It boasts a portfolio of over five coffee products sold both locally and internationally.
The company which has been in operation for over 7 decades has grown to become Kenya and East Africa’s premier coffee roaster. Dormans supplies its diverse range of freshly roasted coffee blends to hotels, coffee shops, supermarkets and wholesalers across the country.
Dormans also runs ‘The Nairobi School of Coffee’ which offers Barista skills training and other bespoke coffee courses.
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In this article, WoK takes you through the journey of how the company was founded 70 years ago, and how it rose to become an industry leader.
Dormans was founded by Charles and Ellen Dorman in 1950. However, Charles was already in the coffee business from the mid-1930s. Unfortunately, Charles died in 1960, ten years after founding the company, and Ellen assumed leadership of the business.
Mrs Dorman ran the company for over two decades until she delegated management to one of her employees. The employee operated the business for months but opted to sell it. That is when Jeremy Mark Block stepped in and offered to run it.
“I got involved in 1986 in partnership with an English multinational and it was just by luck, being at the right place at the right time. I knew nothing about coffee. Initially, they had one of their employees running the business, who after about 3 months thought he couldn’t make it work and opted to sell. I called him and offered to try to run it.
“They wanted me to commit for at least one year, which I thought was fine and so I started,” Block told CEO Business Africa during a past interview.
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With time, Block fell in love with the business and began to understand it. After 3 to 4 months he started learning how to taste the coffee.
“Mrs. Dorman was adamant that it would take at least 3 years to acquire a liquoring license, but I guess it wasn’t to be because I managed to get it within one year. That was just the license; one has to continually learn about tasting coffee. That’s how it really began,” Block recounted.
He later bought the company from Mrs. Dorman.
By the time Block joined Dormans, the company had an annual turnover of 12,000 bags. He was determined to succeed at the coffee processor and worked long hours to ensure its success.
The company had a good reputation, and so he leveraged it to grow into the regional markets of Tanzania and Uganda. By the mid 1990s, the company had reached an annual turnover of 500,000 bags.
“I had great financial support and the trust of my partners. We controlled our costs and I think we understood the market better than most,” Block says.
He notes that Arabica coffee, particularly in East Africa, has such an incredible range of qualities that one must really understand in order to be successful in the coffee business.
“I believe that to do that one must love the industry.”
Block noted that Kenya produces about 600,000 60kg bags of coffee annually which is a drop in the ocean compared to Brazil’s 60-65 million, Vietnam’s 33 million and Colombia’s 16 million. However, Kenya produces the very best coffee in the world. Kenyan coffee, compared to these other countries, receives and achieves by far the highest price of any coffee in the world.
He added that the superior taste gives Kenya its competitive advantage.
The acreage and volume in the production of coffee in Kenya has dropped over the years. According to Block, Kenya produced about 2 million 60 kg bags in the mid-1980s, but several factors have led to the decline.
Some of these factors include urbanization, climate change, limited education and financial ability among coffee farmers. Where Dormans’ headquarters, storage and processing facility is located in Tatu City, Kiambu County was once a coffee plantation.
The company relocated to the new plant years after operating out of Industrial Area in Nairobi.
“What I inherited was a factory in the Industrial Area of Nairobi, an office in the center of town and then we had at one point a business of coffee shops. We then developed a business in the agri-sector at a farm in Ruiru,” Block stated.
“Logistically that made things difficult. Getting from the CBD to Industrial Area could take half an hour or three hours. I can remember a couple of our senior traders taking 5 hours to get home after the auction; leaving at 6.00 pm and getting home at 11.00 pm. I have always wanted to be out of that chaos and to be in this part of the country.”
Dormans produces a lot of coffee products for local consumption. However, since the country’s larger population cannot afford the drink, the company sells to other richer countries.
“One of the things I am extremely proud of is developing certain blends for the local market which are the very best that Kenya can provide. However, the market for that is tiny on the World scale.”
Block believes the Kenyan coffee market will grow, but it will only grow at the level of Kenyan’s disposable incomes.
“If you earn US$500 a month, you’re not going to spend US$10 of that on a single cup of coffee; it is just logic.
“In time it will grow, but slowly. So, when someone says we have to roast all our coffee and sell it roasted, they don’t really know what they are talking about,” Block says.
In 2002, Dormans set up Africa’s first Coffee Training School, Nairobi School of Coffee. The NSoC certificate is well sought-after by employers seeking to recruit qualified Baristas at their restaurants and coffee shops. Through this initiative, the company has contributed to the employment of thousands of youths in the hospitality sector.
In 2003, the company pioneered the introduction of the Kenya National Barista Championships in Nairobi. The event has helped enhance awareness of a Barista as a professional coffee maker. Winners compete at the World Barista Championships, an event organized by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe and the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
Dormans opened its first Coffee shop in 2004 after which a chain of shops followed.
In 2005, the company introduced ‘Coffee on the Go’ serving delightful coffee from a Mobile Coffee Cart, the first ever in the region.
In 2007, Dormans becomes the first company in the coffee industry to successfully pass ISO 22000 audits.
The company sold the assets of their coffee shops in 2013 to a Partner who continues to operate a successful chain of coffee shops.
Dormans set up their own syrups manufacturing line in 2019. The range of syrups complements the company’s coffee blends.
Dormans supply coffee-making machines and accessories such as French presses, brewers, tampers, and knock-boxes among other accessories required by hospitality customers.
The company’s coffee products portfolio includes; Dormans Espresso, Dormans AA Blue Mountain, Dormans Safari Fairtrade, Dormans Gourmet Coffee, and Dormans AA Kenya.
Dormans was the first coffee roasting company in Africa to be accredited with:
SSC 22000 (incl. ISO 22000)F – A fully recognized Global Food Safety Initiative based on ISO standards.
HACCP – Affirms our commitment to food safety and hazard controls
FLO Fairtrade – Provides assurance that farmers receive a fair share of industry benefits, workers along the chain have good working conditions and apply practices which prohibit child or forced labour. This initiative aims at making a positive impact on the livelihood of farmers and workers.
UTZ Certified – Guarantees sustainable coffee production from farm to shop.
The Coffee Kenya Mark – Certification of 100% pure Kenyan coffee.
Dormans is headed by Jeremy Mark Block who serves as the Group Chairman. He holds a BSC in Agriculture Economics as well as an MBA in Finance from Cornell University. He also holds several Directorships in various companies across the East African region.
Robert Whitwam is the Group’s Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director. He is a qualified Chartered Accountant with over 14 years post-qualified experience in both external & internal audit as well as Financial Management and Reporting. He is a Fellow of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and holds a BA Honors in Accounting & Financial Studies from the University of Exeter.
Whitman joined the Dorman Group in 2012 as Group Chief Financial Officer. In 2019 he was promoted to the role of Chief Executive Officer.
Rozy Rana is the Managing Director of Dormans Coffee Limited, the group’s Roasting Company. She holds a Bachelor of Education (Honours) Degree from Kenyatta University, an MBA from Strathmore University and a Doctorate of Business Administration from the United States International University.
She joined C. Dorman Limited in 1992 as a PA to the Managing Director and progressively rose up the ranks. She also holds Directorships across the East African region.
Kennedy Keya is the Trading and Operations Director at Dormans Coffee Ltd. He holds a master’s degree in strategic management and business administration.
He has worked for C. Dorman since 1993. He started as an assistant in the shipping department and later became the shipping manager. In 2007 he moved to the trading desk as a trading assistant and was later confirmed as a trader in 2010.
He is a certified licensed liquorer by the Kenya Coffee Directorate and a Certified Arabica Q-Grader.