This bakery, most densely populated in London, is known for its delicious, handmade, traditional artisan baked goods and unbelievable coffee. First opening in 2005, they now have 74 stores around the South of England. Gail’s has baked treats ranging from plant-based chocolate & hazelnut buns to waste-less sourdough and roast tomato soup; but this review will focus on their coffees. I was relatively impressed by the amount of information they have on their website about their history and sustainability practises, although unlike their cheaper (albeit far less tasty) competitor ‘Pret a Manger’ - Gail’s coffees are not organic, which is very disappointing. Additionally, Gail’s are pricey! A flat white with oat milk costs roughly £3.20 meaning it’s not particularly accessible as a daily drink for many people. Then again, responsible and sustainable coffee production is expected to be quite expensive as corners aren’t being cut at the expense of people and planet. But just how sustainable is this delicious coffee? Is it really worth the price?
Most of the coffees on offer at Gail’s, with the exception of Mocha and Chai latte, are only made from water, coffee beans, and a milk of some sort. Gail’s makes their coffees with a ‘House Blend’ of beans that come from Fazenda Ambiental Fortalenza, Candelaria, Cocagi Gashonga, San Jeronimo – their filter coffee blend changes seasonally. According to Gail’s, blending the coffee beans from multiple sources makes it more sustainable than having to seek highly exclusive, small areas for beans – but they haven’t explained why. Depending on the type of coffee you choose, you might also have milk or a milk alternative. Gail’s gets their milk from Brades Farm, which is a small family farm that allows the cows to roam outside all day. However, it doesn’t appear to be organic. Additionally, Gail’s offers only soya and oat milk although these are not noted on the website, nor are they shown to be organic. It may be considered unsustainable that these milks aren’t organic, as will be explained in the ‘how it’s made’ section.
Gail’s are great about their waste – they set aside any leftover food from their bakeries and donate it to 95 charities in the surrounding neighbourhoods. All of their packaging is described as sustainable or at the least recyclable or compostable. For example, Gail’s go a sustainable step further with their take-away coffee cups. In the UK, almost all take-away coffee cups are either lined with polyethylene or Poly Lactic Acid. Although both are recyclable, they require specialist recycling plants and so usually end up in a landfill. Gail’s instead invest in cups lined with BioPBS, a sustainable resource made from sugar cane waste. These cups can biodegrade at room temperature, making them a better choice for the environment.
Gail’s are somewhat open about the sourcing and processing of the beans but significantly lack detail. For example, the Cocagi Gashonga are ‘washed and sundried’ while Fazenda Ambiental Fortalenza beans are ‘pulped natural’. Unfortunately, there is no further description of how the beans are grown or processed, so this required further investigation. Coffee beans are the seeds of cherry-like fruit from a coffee tree. The seeds are extracted from the fruit, washed, dried and roasted to a temperature depending on the desired darkness of the bean – the higher the temperature the darker the coffee. For Gail’s House Blend, the beans are medium roasted in East London before being transported to their stores across the south of England. The roasting is done in small batches, which is said to ‘develop sweetness’, although the energy efficiency of this is not touched upon. Gail’s have also not mentioned the carbon costs of transporting the beans from source to London or from London to their stores nor the method by which this is done. Neither have they discussed the carbon cost of brewing the coffee or the type of energy used to supply factories and stores. Coffee-making using coffee machines is a carbon intensive activity; with one expresso machine’s energy consumption ranging between 5,000-20,000 kWh per annum depending on the model and how frequently it’s used. There are many methods to increase the energy efficiency of coffee machines but Gail’s do not appear to look into this.
To help reduce the carbon footprint of the dairy milk, the cows are fed a natural supplement called ‘Mootral Ruminant’, which reduces their methane output by up to 38%. While this is super interesting and should be encouraged, the fact that their milk is not organic raises concerns about pesticides and fertilisers use as well as animal welfare standards. For example, Soil Association Organic animals are treated with the highest animal welfare standards in the UK while at least 60% of the cows’ diet must be from foraging. Why are Brades Farm, and thus Gail’s, not taking steps to ensure their products are up to Organic standards?
Currently, the coffee industry itself is very unsustainable as farmers are paid incredibly low prices while huge, competitive corporations such as Nestle, JAB and Lavazza take home very high margins. Farmers from many countries are paid so little that they are unable to even cover their cost of production, never mind make profits to generate a decent livelihood. This is a deep social and economic crisis and is incredibly unsustainable.
However, Gail’s coffee beans are sourced straight from the farmers under ‘Union Direct Trade’ which is said to improve the livelihoods of farmers and the quality of coffee by setting long term partnerships. Union Direct Trade provides farmers with a living wage rather than a minimum wage that always covers the cost of production. Union Direct Traders paid their farmers 35% more than the minimum Fairtrade price and 69% higher than the world market price in 2019, therefore facilitating farmers’ livelihoods sustainably. Union Hand Roasted Coffee say that the farmers they source from are committed to sustainable agricultural practises and labour rights, while a Code of Conduct was created that’s said to set responsible social, economic and environmental standards for farmers. Having said that, what these sustainable practises are remains to be seen on their website. Furthermore, Union Hand Roasted Coffee are incredibly transparent meaning you can find out where, how and by whom your coffee is produced. Gail's mean gender pay gap as of 2020 was -4%, meaning the average female employee is paid slightly less than the average male employee. To build on this, the mean bonus for men was 24% higher than that for females.
Overall, Gail’s could increase their transparency about their energy usage and staff. Gail’s have also made significantly more effort than other coffee shops to be sustainable, but some areas are still lacking. It would be a major improvement if Gail’s could commit to Organic dairy and alternative milks, as well as the beans themselves. Also, if they could introduce a search function on their website it would make information easier to find, as certain articles and news pieces are hidden from public access unless found directly on google.