Obituary: Lorna Young

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Lorna Young was the first sales director of Cafedirect, the leading "fair trade" coffee brand which guarantees a better deal for coffee growers. Dedicated to improving links between producers in the less developed world and Western consumers, she had played a vital role in its development since it was set up five years ago.

Cafedirect gathered its early momentum among alternative trade outlets such as wholefood and Oxfam shops and Traidcraft stalls. From this base, Young took it into the supermarkets, and thence into homes throughout Britain.

She showed the major supermarket chains that fair trade could work for them as well as for consumers and, most importantly, small-scale producers. This was a massive challenge and no one but Lorna Young, with her unique combination of humour and strength of commitment, could have done it.

A Scotswoman and an independent spirit, she only discovered her talent for selling when she entered the publishing world in 1975, working for the next 15 years first at the medical publishers Churchill- Livingstone and later at Chambers. She loved the challenge of the sale and this meant that, even if she had to go beyond persuasion to gentle arm- twisting, the sparkle in her eye still left the customer a friend.

When in 1990 she became a founder member of Equal Exchange, the Edinburgh- based fair trade co-operative, she found a task to which she could apply her commitment and which was a challenge for her ability. Her expertise enabled Equal Exchange to take products as diverse and unusual as pecan nut butter, Tanzanian organic honey and Nicaraguan tahani to an intrigued national market.

Wholefoods are big business today, but few recognise the diversity of participants, from subsidiaries of multinationals to large co-operative wholesalers and retailers dedicated to a lifestyle rather than a business. Young brought a clarity and directness to Equal Exchange's dealing with them all. She also enjoyed learning from them.

Equal Exchange joined forces with Oxfam, Traidcraft and Twin Trading to launch Cafedirect coffee in 1991, and Young embraced the challenge of taking this new, high- quality product into the mainstream market - something no other fair trade product had been able to achieve. She blended a professional approach to sales and marketing with a commitment to the coffee producers' cause to persuade the multiples to put Cafedirect on their shelves. With her on the other side of the table, even the most reluctant coffee buyer had difficulty in resisting her arguments for a fair deal for all.

By engaging the supermarkets in a partnership Young put Cafedirect promotional activity into a higher gear, achieving levels of trial and awareness comparable with coffee brands spending far more heavily on marketing.

In addition to her sales activities she was heavily involved in developing Cafedirect's distinctive advertising and in working with a national network of committed fair trade supporters. Cafedirect is now an established national brand and the flagship of the fair trade movement. Its success, and the growing consumer interest in ethical trading, has in turn opened the supermarket door for other fair trade products including tea and chocolate.

Young fought for the best interests of Cafedirect producer partners, whether in customers' offices, in Cafedirect board meetings, or with journalists. She loved to tell producers visiting London about Cafedirect's struggle to win its rightful place in the UK market.

Sadly, she never met them on their own ground, but she knew that her biggest contribution would come from concentrating her endeavours where her skills lay, in the markets of the developed world rather than with the coffee farmers in Latin America and Africa. Few would have guessed she was fighting a long personal battle against a series of heart problems.

Ian Lepper

Lorna Young, saleswoman: born Dumfries 15 June 1952; married 1976 Ian Black; died Edinburgh 5 July 1996.