For over four decades, Hillkof has been a major force behind the burgeoning coffee scene in northern Thailand. Hillkoff’s humble origins saw them being the first merchants to go up to the remote hills of the north to buy coffee off highland farmers. Today, they have extended their reach to cover the whole supply chain from producing, processing, merchandising and consulting. Hillkoff has now become a go-to place for just about anyone who wishes to be in the coffee business.
“We don’t categorise ourselves as B2B or B2C but the way I see it is we’re B2I — business to inspire,” said Naruemon Taksau — dom, Managing Director of Hillkoff. “I want to see people stepping into Hillkoff and feel inspired.” So whether it is a farmer looking to sell and process their beans, a barista who is looking for training, an entrepreneur who seeks equipment and guidance as to how to open a business, the answer is here.
Having succeeded in being the go-to place for all players along the supply chain, Hillkoff has recently taken a step back to reexamining itself and has come to the conclusion that it must change its core business. The change is to become a responsible and sustainable business.
“Our initiative followed the idea that coffee and the agroforestry are the answer. Coffee, alone, does not echo our core which is sustainability,” said Naruemon who inherited the business from her now-retired father. “It was a rough ride for my father many years ago when he started, as at that time there was no market for coffee. His initial intention was not to maximise profit, but to help highland farmers who were struggling with drugs and poverty.”
This sense of social responsibility has been imbued in Naruemon from childhood and since she took over the reins, she has taken Hillkoff beyond her father’s dreams, becoming not only a successful business, an innovator and thought leader, but one which understands and is determined to use its reach, knowledge, and expertise to help the environment as well as the lives of the many farmers and producers.
“The government introduced a free trade policy, but the question is does it really favour our highland farmers?” asked Naruemon who quickly went on to say that her answer to that would be no. “It’s simply because the cost of producing coffee for our neighbours is lower. The reduction of tax with the free trade agreement can also plunge our farmers into real trouble,” explained Naruemon of the impetus for change.
Sustainability for Hillkoff is not just a shallow CSR project that comes and goes but it’s the core value which is at the heart of the business and affects everything decision, plan and execution. For example, the birth of Coffogenic, an award-winning drink extracted from coffee pulp that can significantly reduce cholesterol levels, was initiated from the idea of adding value to the coffee pulp that is usually waste in the coffee process. It offers an additional income for farmers while consumers can benefit from it. A visit to Hillkoff factory shows the complete process of maximising resource and zero waste management which even involves a group of buffalos devouring a mouthwatering meal of the coffee waste.
“The fact is coffee is foreign. It’s a plant we forced the highland people to grow. That’s why the way I see it is coffee is not the entire answer after all. Sustainability stands on the ground of utilising what we have, but currently this is just a response to the demands of city people,” said Naruemon whose idea is to advance the current resources — plants, ingredients, fruits — highland people already have with the help of innovation. “Speaking in common sense, growers would cherish their food resource. So instead of forcing aliens like strawberries, I am talking about prospering from the current resources highland people already have,” said Naruemon speaking confidently from her years’ travelling up and down the mountain witnessing the lives of hilltribe people. “H Innovation for Future” focuses on the local and really identifying what we have and how to make use of it which will benefit the farmers in terms of maximum yield, but also society as we learn more of our native roots. Because after all, highland agriculture health and well-being affects we city folk too. The more sustainable their practices, the more sustainable our produce and resources.