Illy Classico Ground Coffee

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Malavika Padmanabhan
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I start every day with a cup of coffee, but I’ve found it challenging to find coffee that is both delicious and ethically sourced. The complexities within the supply chain means that individuals involved in the procurement of coffee are often overlooked from the profit-making potential of coffee. Furthermore, the increased demand for coffee beans worldwide has knock-on effects on the environment, causing serious damage to plantations. Considering all these factors, Illy’s Classico Coffee is a good example of a product that assures high-quality ground coffee made in an environmentally and socially responsible supply chain. It is currently available for $14.99 for 250g.

What it's made of:


Illy Classico is medium-roast ground coffee with notes of caramel, orange blossom, and jasmine. The coffee beans used for the Classico, alongside their other products, are exclusively made from 100% Arabica beans. Illy sources these Arabica beans from growers in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The coffee is packaged using a unique pressurization system involving nitrogen, and then is pressed into a recyclable metal can. I like their packaging because it goes beyond typical plastic as the metal cans can even be reused - I have seen quite a few DIY’s of Illy Classico Cans becoming plant pots! However, but there isn’t much information on their website about recycling or a recycling program other than their coffee pod capsules. Illy encourages consumers to bulk-order the Classico coffee to reduce the environmental impact of shipping by offering free-shipping above a minimum order total. While it may seem like just a marketing strategy to sell more, bulk buying is better in the long run as it reduces packaging waste by using less cardboard.

How it's made:


There is a lot of information regarding Illy’s production chain – the cultivation of coffee beans, inbound logistics, roasting, packaging, and distribution to consumers. The coffee beans are grown by producers in coffee plantations. Most of Illy’s beans come from Brazil, as the region has ideal conditions for growing Arabica beans; however, Illy Classico is made from a blend of nine Arabica coffees from four different continents. So, the most obvious problem is the transportation costs involved with bringing coffee beans all the way from four different regions. This is the reason for coffee’s high carbon footprint (around 12-16 kg of CO2), depending on the region. However this seems to be inevitable for Illy as they mention that the high quality coffee is reliant on places like South America or Africa which have the best growing conditions. Illy’s website features the names of several of their producers/suppliers, which shows how they acknowledge those involved in the production chain by highlighting their work. Surprisingly, the coffee is not certified Fair-Trade which is expected for most ethically cautious coffee franchises. Illy argues that certifications like FT require franchises to buy from FT coffee growers only, who compromise on the quality of coffee beans even if consumers pay more for it. While I feel like this is somewhat valid to an extent, Illy tends to dismiss the certification entirely. As conscious consumers, we want a product that is both quality and an ethically sourced coffee that the FT-certification can ensure. I do acknowledge that Illy is paying their suppliers the same or even more than typical FT prices, which is great to see. However, the FT-certified makes it easier for consumers who may not already be familiar with Illy’s detailed sustainable initiatives to buy Illy when shopping for coffee.  

Regarding the people who make the coffee, Illy does mention that they follow and control a strict code of ethics with all their suppliers – this includes actively monitoring issues involving child labour, forced labour, human rights violations, and wages. Illy has conducted over 300+ audits in coffee plantations located in several other regions (including Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Rwanda); they were transparent enough to note that they found some nonconformities by several suppliers and have implemented a corrective programme or blacklisted the suppliers. After the beans are collected, they are sent to Trieste - the only Illy production region in the world. There are three separate production sites located in Trieste. The sites are environmentally certified and monitored continuously for environmental impacts in neighboring areas (including biodiversity and toxicity).

Who makes it:


Illy, also known as illycaffe, is an Italian coffee company founded in 1933 and has since then been headquartered in Trieste. Their website is a great resource for researching several of their achievements including founding a free training program called “Università del Caffè” which offers training for all workers to being named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by Ethisphere for six consecutive years. Illy has also become a B-Corporation in 2021, which means that Illy meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance regarding transparency and responsibility. 

However, the highlight of my research was Illy’s impact report. While I usually take sustainability reports with a grain of salt, I can’t help but acknowledge the effort gone into making an extremely detailed report (100+ pages!) showcasing the commitment Illy has to sustainability. It is split into several sections, including people, the environment, the corporation, and even an entire section dedicated towards the relationship between the corporation and the growers. Most of the claims in the report included statistics, tables, and graphs to back up evidence, which is encouraging and avoids blanket statements from being made. Illy goes into detail on each aspect of the production chain and seem to acknowledge their shortcomings in most stages; I would have liked some more information on recycling and packing, though. Illy’s main commitment is to become carbon neutral by 2033, and they are following a Sustainability Action Plan and Lifecycle Assessment to help achieve this goal. Other ambitions include a fully circular production chain and improving energy efficiency/resource consumption. Some of their progress includes reduced greenhouse emissions from 0.55 to 0.15 tCO2eq/t over the past decade (2010-2020) and utilizing almost a 100% of renewable sourced energy for consumption in their production sites. For the most part, Illy is doing a good job as a franchise in sticking to its sustainability policy and holding themselves accountable when things go wrong. While Illy could have easily neglected to mention some outliers in their ethical supplier list, they chose not to – this transparency is appreciated for all coffee consumers.