An opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting for the Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday at 220 N. Walnut St. in Grand Island.
According to Mary Berlie of the Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp., the event will include opening remarks, a tour of the facility, an auction demonstration, a time of recognition and freshly roasted coffee directly from the coffee farmers of Kenya.
“There will be a great number of visitors from Kenya, including government officials from the national and county levels and the coffee farmers, without whom none of this would exist will be present,” Berlie said.
Also on hand will be state Senators Dan Quick and Curt Friesen. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley will be there when the first lot of coffee is sold to the buyer at 9:05 a.m.
Berlie said Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction is a platform, both physical and online, for the sale of farmer-owned specialty green (unroasted) coffee on a wholesale scale.
“Zabuni is the first and only regularly scheduled specialty coffee auction in the world,” she said. “The mission is to change the way specialty coffee is supplied and traded around the world by empowering disenfranchised coffee producers to act as their own brand ambassadors and facilitate direct trade connections between farmers and roasters in North America.”
According to the Grand Island Economic Development Corp., this will enable the more than 52,000 coffee roasters across the United States to have access to premium Kenyan coffees here in Central Nebraska.
During the opening-day events, there will be a live auction, both online and on-site at 9 a.m. Coffee roasters and green bean coffee buyers will have their first opportunity to purchase coffee during the live auction. Cupping and tasting will be open to roasters before bidding at starts at 8.
Berlie said participants and spectators can follow the live auction at auction.zabunicoffee.com. The Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction free app is also available on Google Play and Apple.
Laban Njuguna of Grand Island owns Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction.
According to Dave Taylor, president of the economic development corporation, he first met Njuguna and learned about his entrepreneurial vision in 2017. That led Njuguna and GIAEDC officials to host a trade mission from Kenya to Grand Island, and a trade mission from Grand Island to Kenya.
GIAEDC has been a vital resource for the opening of Zabuni.
In June, the Grand Island City Council approved a resolution authorizing the city to enter into an economic development agreement with Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction/Sycamore Investments, LLC.
Zabuni Specialty Coffee submitted an LB840 application for a forgivable loan for $100,000 over four years.
At the June City Council meeting, Njuguna said that Zabuni would host monthly online and in-person auctions to sell green bean coffee (raw) to the North American market. The coffee would be sourced from small farmers in Kenya.
The idea of Njuguna’s business is to buy directly from the small family farmers, and then auction the raw beans here in Grand Island. It would be premium coffee being auctioned for further processing. It eliminates the middle man so the farmers can capture a better price for their coffee.
According to Taylor, Zabuni would create economic opportunity here in Grand Island. The LB840 funding will help create 10 new jobs with an hourly wage of $18. Zabuni is requesting $50,000 for job creation, $25,000 for job training and $25,000 for infrastructure.
Taylor said the LB840 funds would be disbursed incrementally through 2022.
“The road to import food-grade products from another country into the U.S. has not been an easy task, but Laban has persevered,” Taylor said about Tuesday’s ceremony. “It has been an honor to walk alongside Laban and his wife, Cora, through this journey.”
Njuguna said his operation is the first specialty coffee auction in the world.
He said coffee grown by farmers is often blended with poorer-quality coffee to improve it for mass distribution. By eliminating the middleman, the farmers can directly ship their unroasted beans to Grand Island.
With a specialty coffee sold directly by Kenyan farmers, he said the producers could capture a more significant market share and increase their profitability.
According to E Imports, the United States imports more than $4 billion worth of coffee per year.
Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world. The market Njuguna is targeting is the 31,000 independent coffee shops in the U.S. that have $12 billion in annual sales.
“We want this to be an opportunity, not only to sell their coffee here in the U.S., but to grow this relationship to other things that will help the Kenyan people,” Njuguna said.