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Partnering with Change Please to offer bespoke coffee onboard

By: Dave Gunner

June 24, 2019

We’re delighted to announce a brand new partnership with Change Please, an award winning coffee company that provides employment to the homeless.

The initiative will see the introduction of a bespoke blend specially designed to meet changing flavour profiles at altitude. From autumn 2019 the coffee will be served in our Clubhouses and in every cabin on all Virgin Atlantic flights worldwide, alongside our award winning range of complimentary food and drinks.

Founded by Cemal Ezal in 2015,  Virgin StartUp Change Please tackles the number of rough sleepers within the UK through education programmes and barista training, enabling employment at the company’s multiple mobile coffee locations and fixed sites across the UK. Coffee provided onboard will use beans from farms that support local communities; improving working practices and increasing farmers’ living wages.

The programme helps trainees open bank accounts, navigate housing and secure employment. Change Please has won several coffee awards including the Great Taste Awards’ ‘World’s best social enterprise’ and, in 2019, the Queen’s Award for Enterprise promoting mobility.

The Heathrow tasting. Matt Lord, head of wholesale for Change Please, Cemal, Julian Burnham, managing director at Change Please and Dominic Thomas, our Heathrow Clubhouse operations manager who views serving coffee to our customers early in the morning as administering medicine.

Darleen Poe, one of our customers who took part in the taste test, found it hard to choose between the two delicious coffees. She eventually opted for blend B.

How it began

Cemal was a high flying, high earning commodities trader when a chance encounter with a philosophical American on a bus in Vietnam changed his thinking. The stranger asked him to consider whether, when he was old and sitting in his rocking chair, he’d be able to look back and say that he’d left the world in a better place. It was a moment he described as ‘painful’.

Back in London, he came across a homeless person with a coffee cup and a cardboard sign that simply said ‘Change please’, and was struck by the power of the word ‘change’. ‘What kind of change are they looking for?’ he pondered, wondering if a change in perception or a change in society could be as valuable or life-altering as money.

Soon after, Cemal handed in his notice and set about becoming a social entrepreneur, with the aim of empowering the homeless community by training them to be baristas and paying them the living wage. With his life savings and a grant from Virgin StartUp, he launched Change Please in 2015 with a single coffee van in London’s Covent Garden.

Since then, the not-for-profit company has gone from strength to strength, and now has 32 retail and partner sites across London, Manchester and the Virgin Trains UK rail network. It’s in the process of expanding further across UK and is in discussions with bodies in New York about bringing the programme across the Atlantic.

Joining forces

“Homelessness is at a record high and we all want to help but don’t know where to begin,” Cemal says. “I can’t think of a more suitable collaboration than with Virgin Atlantic, working together to serve the best coffee available in the skies. Passengers can enjoy award winning coffee on board safe in the knowledge they’re making a difference to the lives of homeless people across the UK – and soon in New York, LA and San Francisco.”

And in case you’re thinking, ‘that’s all very well but how good is the coffee?’, we recently enjoyed a blind taste test at our Heathrow Clubhouse with Cemal, John and Julian, during which we tried two very different blends – a 100% Aribica and a 70% Aribica called Adventurous and Vanuatu. The overwhelming consensus was that both were delicious, but there was a clear winner, that was enjoyed both as an expresso and with milk, and this will be the blend served in the Clubhouses and onboard.

“We’re renowned for being the airline that doesn’t serve ‘airline’ food or drink, and we’re excited to raise the bar again,” added Daniel Kerzner, vice president of customer experience. “Working with Change Please means we can take coffee culture to new heights, providing all of our customers with the best coffee in the sky. This unique partnership allows us to further enhance our customer experience, whilst positively impacting the lives of our local communities. It’s win-win and our customers are going to love it.”

Matt Burnham from Change Please buy on the coffee machine at the Heathrow Clubhouse

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Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

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