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by Dan Ragan

Office Coffee Service in Transition

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Office cof­fee ser­vice (OCS) is in tran­si­tion. Although this is not a new state­ment, OCS oper­a­tors in the north­east United States can attest to the office prod­uct indus­try threat. W. B. Mason has suc­cess­fully lever­aged their cus­tomer rela­tion­ships to add the break room ver­ti­cal. Office prod­uct deal­ers have offered break room prod­ucts for many years, although most did not offer a com­pre­hen­sive equip­ment pro­gram. The tran­si­tion is under­way; some office prod­uct deal­ers now offer equip­ment, and com­pete against OCS oper­a­tors around the country.

The office prod­uct indus­try becomes more com­pet­i­tive as whole­sale clubs and Amazon pro­vide more prod­ucts, and deal­ers are look­ing for dif­fer­ent ways to grow their busi­ness. The office prod­uct dealer has con­sid­ered the break room a legit­i­mate add-on seg­ment to grow their busi­ness; how­ever, they pro­vided prod­ucts, but not equip­ment. Approximately two years ago United Stationers, the largest whole­saler to the office prod­uct indus­try, stated: “Own the cof­fee, own the break room (para­phrased).” Owning the break room requires a free equip­ment pro­gram, so some office prod­uct deal­ers now offer free equip­ment and ser­vice. The office prod­uct indus­try has seen W.B Mason add a com­pre­hen­sive cof­fee pro­gram, and grow their busi­ness substantially.

Verticals such as vend­ing and bot­tled water com­pa­nies have com­peted with OCS oper­a­tors for many years. These indus­tries under­stand the cap­i­tal expense required to own the ser­vice. Many office prod­ucts deal­ers do not have a strat­egy for lever­ag­ing cap­i­tal, but rather employ large sales teams and use sophis­ti­cated mar­ket­ing pro­grams, i.e. “the easy but­ton”, “tak­ing care of busi­ness”, “who but W.B Mason”. Two rea­sons office prod­ucts deal­ers pen­e­trate OCS cus­tomers are price, and the buyer. So how do office prod­uct dis­trib­u­tors offer such low prices, and what influ­ences the buyer?

By con­sid­er­ing the monthly office expen­di­ture on all con­sum­able prod­ucts, and under­stand­ing the seg­ment expen­di­ture, the office prod­uct dealer has found a way to build their busi­ness. Approximately 20% of an office’s expense is break room, and 80% includes remain­ing con­sum­ables. These num­bers may be manip­u­lated in many ways, and are pro­vided as a base­line to under­stand pric­ing. As com­pe­ti­tion in the office prod­uct indus­try increases, the deal­ers are seek­ing a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage ver­sus other office prod­uct deal­ers, not ver­sus OCS oper­a­tors. The method is to price the 20% break room seg­ment at or below cost, to cap­ture the 80% remain­ing con­sum­able office prod­uct seg­ment, and pro­vide cof­fee equip­ment and ser­vice at no-charge.

OCS oper­a­tors, in many cases, believe Office Product com­pa­nies can­not pro­vide the required level of ser­vice to keep the busi­ness. Staples rev­enue in 2003 was 11.6 bil­lion, and by 2013 increased to 24.3 bil­lion. Was the increase at Staples due to poor ser­vice? Perhaps the ser­vice is accept­able and the com­pany employs good mar­ket­ing and sales peo­ple, although the ver­ti­cal strate­gies employed may be more com­plex. Office prod­uct deal­ers have become legit­i­mate com­peti­tors in the office cof­fee seg­ment, and OCS oper­a­tors need a strat­egy to com­pete. Some strate­gies require new or dif­fer­ent prod­ucts that must be sold to the buyer.

The end-user buyer is ulti­mately inter­ested in con­ve­nience. The buyer may be a facil­ity man­ager, office man­ager, admin­is­tra­tor, or recep­tion­ist. Too often the buyer does not drink cof­fee, and an appeal to qual­ity of prod­uct is not a sell­ing point. Because the buyer does not drink cof­fee, the sale is now based on cost, and ease of pur­chase. However, the buyer also has an oblig­a­tion to pro­vide a prod­uct accept­able to the rest of the office pop­u­la­tion. Therefore, using a national brand prod­uct becomes a legit­i­mate pur­chas­ing strategy.

Too often a sales­per­son is faced with a price-only strat­egy because of a pro­pri­etary prod­uct, although the sell­ing strat­egy should have a qual­ity story. Scheduled cof­fee tast­ing con­tin­ues to be a suc­cess­ful OCS method to prove a qual­ity prod­uct. The on-site tast­ing allows an oper­a­tor to dis­play national brands, locally roasted cof­fee, and pri­vate labels in the for­mat the cus­tomer wants. The strat­egy for the oper­a­tor is to exploit their indus­try exper­tise, and dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from other sup­pli­ers. To be clear this is a sell­ing tech­nique, not a pric­ing strat­egy. Additionally, a suc­cess­ful tast­ing strat­egy is embraced by own­ers, man­agers, and employ­ees of OCS Companies.

Many oppor­tu­ni­ties exist to be edu­cated in cof­fee, and to under­stand the com­pet­i­tive advan­tage an OCS com­pany offers. The indus­try con­tin­ues to inno­vate, and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing prod­ucts are avail­able to oper­a­tors. OCS man­agers should spend an ade­quate amount of time at trade shows and edu­ca­tional sem­i­nars as part of their strat­egy. Many shows are avail­able through­out the year, and are typ­i­cally in a tourist des­ti­na­tion, so atten­dees can unwind. Choosing a show to attend should be based on rel­e­vance to the operator’s goal, and will pro­vide max­i­mum suc­cess if atten­dees have tar­geted ven­dors to visit. Office Coffee Service is in tran­si­tion; take advan­tage of the opportunities!

Keeping up with Industry Demands

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The cof­fee indus­try has expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the last decade. Not only is the indus­try being affected more and more by the impact of cli­mate change, but there is also a notable shift in con­sumer demand and pref­er­ences. Consumer demands have been increas­ing expo­nen­tially as con­sumers are look­ing for more pre­mium cof­fees and are no longer sat­is­fied with just a hot bev­er­age but are seek­ing a dis­tinct taste. Coffee com­pa­nies, in turn, are focus­ing on pro­vid­ing a “cof­fee expe­ri­ence” when offer­ing pre­mium grade cof­fee.  Coffee com­pa­nies address this demand in a num­ber of ways; by sourc­ing pre­mium grade cof­fee, pro­vid­ing a com­bi­na­tion of con­sumer desired blends, and pack­ag­ing and pro­vid­ing the sin­gle serve option. Each can be equally impor­tant to the con­sumer in pro­vid­ing a great cof­fee expe­ri­ence. A roaster can have the most appeal­ing pack­ag­ing, but it’s the cof­fee con­tent that will keep con­sumers return­ing for more of the prod­uct. At the same time, if cof­fee fresh­ness isn’t present, repeat orders will diminish.

In order to pro­vide the fresh­est cof­fee pos­si­ble and pre­serve the qual­ity of their cof­fee, cof­fee roast­ers pack and seal their cof­fee imme­di­ately after roast­ing in a pack­age that has a one-way degassing valve.

As freshly roasted cof­fee cools, it releases car­bon diox­ide gas.  The degassing process can last up to a week depend­ing on the roast as well as other fac­tors.  Without the proper mech­a­nism in place to release the car­bon diox­ide, degassing cof­fee inside of a sealed pack­age will cause the pack­age to swell and poten­tially burst.  Freshly roasted cof­fee can be bulk degassed; how­ever the prob­lem with this approach, in addi­tion to tying up inven­tory and time, is that envi­ron­men­tal oxy­gen and air­borne con­t­a­m­i­nants cause the cof­fee to rapidly lose its fresh­ness and qual­ity taste.

The solu­tion is to use one-way degassing valves that are placed on cof­fee pack­ag­ing. The pur­pose of one-way degassing valve is to allow car­bon diox­ide gas from freshly roasted cof­fee to escape from the pack­ag­ing while keep­ing envi­ron­men­tal oxy­gen and con­t­a­m­i­nants from com­ing in.

The direct ben­e­fit to cof­fee roast­ers is giv­ing them the abil­ity to pack­age freshly roasted cof­fee imme­di­ately to enable and enhance preser­va­tion of qual­ity. Additionally, not hav­ing to bulk degas decreases time to mar­ket and pro­duc­tion costs.
PLI-VALV® patented one way degassing valves vent roasted coffee’s nat­ural car­bon diox­ide gas from sealed pack­ag­ing while pro­vid­ing an effec­tive bar­rier to degrad­ing oxy­gen enter­ing the pack­age. PLI-VALV® prod­ucts afford the cof­fee roaster a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage by pre­serv­ing fresh­ness and ensur­ing the high­est level of cof­fee qual­ity while also increas­ing pro­duc­tion through­put and elim­i­nat­ing degassing hold time for sig­nif­i­cant cost sav­ings. Valves also enhance the aes­thet­ics of cof­fee pack­age by vir­tu­ally dis­ap­pear­ing into the graph­ics, offer­ing flex­i­bil­ity in valve place­ment loca­tion. Its flex­i­bil­ity elim­i­nates the heat-seal scar­ring and exposed vent hole required by tra­di­tional molded valves as well as increas­ing line speed.

One-way degassing valve tech­nol­ogy has devel­oped immensely. It has evolved to include var­i­ous enhance­ments that improve prod­uct func­tion­al­ity and ease of use. Roasters pre­fer to have smaller, thin­ner trans­par­ent valves that will not inter­fere with prod­uct pack­ag­ing and pro­vide the low­est oxy­gen lev­els pos­si­ble. In other words, one-way degassing valves should per­form the func­tion but be as unob­tru­sive as pos­si­ble. Plitek has con­tin­u­ously worked towards enhanc­ing per­for­mance fea­tures of one-way degassing valves over the last twenty-five years with great success.

One of  Plitek’s patented inno­va­tions recently intro­duced to the mar­ket is PV-25-FV; a one-way degassing valve with an inte­grated fil­ter­ing base that will addi­tion­ally enhance valve effec­tive­ness and help with prod­uct fresh­ness and qual­ity preser­va­tion. Its care­fully designed struc­ture inhibits cof­fee grounds from enter­ing the valve and inter­fer­ing with its func­tion­al­ity. It is one in a line of many prod­uct gen­er­a­tions that help roast­ers pro­vide the best qual­ity cof­fee to their customers.

As a response to indus­try demand for sin­gle serve, Plitek devel­oped PLI-VALV Mini Valve; a one-way degassing valve for frac­tional pack­ag­ing. The new valve is trans­par­ent and com­pact, at 0.50”x 0.50” in size, with sig­nif­i­cant cost advan­tages over stan­dard size valves. The appli­ca­tor for the new PLI-VALV Mini Valve can apply up to 150 valves per minute. A cus­tom engi­neered option is avail­able to dou­ble the rate.

As cof­fee indus­try demands and con­sumer pref­er­ences are chang­ing, all of the indus­try play­ers are shift­ing along. Producers are doing every­thing they can to pro­tect their crop, roast­ers work on con­tin­u­ously offer­ing great qual­ity cof­fee demanded by the mar­ket, and pack­ag­ing com­pa­nies offer inno­v­a­tive pack­ag­ing solu­tions. The addi­tion of an effec­tive degassing valve adds the secu­rity that all this effort to pro­vide the best cof­fee to con­sumers is not spoiled by the effects of oxy­gen on roasted coffee.

Plitek con­tin­ues to develop cut­ting edge solu­tions for the cof­fee roast­ing mar­ket­place, from faster, more stream­lined appli­ca­tors with fea­tures like valve detec­tion, auto­matic splic­ing and oil detec­tion, to improve­ments to the valves in areas like increased adhe­sion and improved valve func­tion­al­ity, all of which will aid roast­ers in pro­vid­ing pre­mium, great qual­ity coffee.

Tea Sales on the Rise

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

I spend a decent part of each day research­ing all things relat­ing to the tea indus­try. One thing is cer­tain: the chal­lenge is not in find­ing infor­ma­tion, but in con­vert­ing an over­load of infor­ma­tion into use­ful strat­egy and stay­ing cur­rent in an indus­try where growth and change seem to be occur­ring at warp speed!

Statistics on the growth of tea sales and ris­ing con­sump­tion are every­where, punc­tu­at­ing count­less arti­cles with fore­casts pre­dict­ing that the demand for tea will con­tinue to grow, fueled by increased health aware­ness and new prod­uct offer­ings. In short, the call for busi­nesses to take notice is get­ting pro­gres­sively louder and louder.

In response, the spe­cialty tea indus­try in North America has exploded. What we are see­ing in the tea sec­tor as the com­pe­ti­tion increases, is the bar being raised across the board in areas such as prod­uct inno­va­tion, qual­ity, envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness, and com­mit­ments to con­sumer health and well­ness. Distinctions that were not so com­mon a few years ago are rapidly becom­ing the new stan­dard: loose leaf, spe­cialty, organic, non-GMO, directly and eth­i­cally sourced.

It’s a won­der­ful thing to see con­sumers ben­e­fit­ing from this grow­ing selec­tion of eth­i­cal and qual­ity prod­ucts and new and exist­ing tea com­pa­nies are prof­it­ing from increased demand.

However, it is not only the tea busi­nesses and con­sumers who are ben­e­fit­ting. For exam­ple, cof­fee roast­ers, nat­ural health indus­tries, and food ser­vice indus­tries are also posi­tioned to profit from tea’s rise in pop­u­lar­ity as tea con­tin­ues to be added to menus, food and drinks, and health and beauty products.

While facts and fig­ures on growth and trends in 2014 are abun­dant and com­pelling, what is not as obvi­ous is what real advice exists for busi­nesses look­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the growth of the tea indus­try in 2015 and beyond.

I asked the Principles at Garden to Cup Organics to offer addi­tional insights on what the right tea part­ner can do for your busi­ness, as well as how to eval­u­ate a tea com­pany as a poten­tial partner.

Dave Diogo, CEO, Garden to Cup Organics:
“Adding tea to your prod­uct mix while main­tain­ing your core busi­ness becomes a dif­fer­en­tia­tor to your cus­tomers and increases both loy­alty and pur­chase size, when done with­out sac­ri­fic­ing qual­ity and ser­vice. Bringing on a tea part­ner can be one the most effec­tive ways of accom­plish­ing this.”

There is always a risk in bring­ing on new prod­ucts into your port­fo­lio. A true tea part­ner rec­og­nizes this and has a strong under­stand­ing that their own suc­cess is entirely pred­i­cated on the suc­cess of their clients.  As such, they will work with you to under­stand your busi­ness and your clients to ensure that the tea pro­gram they develop with you will be a success.”

An excel­lent tea part­ner will under­stand how the mar­ket is evolv­ing and how con­sumers, and most impor­tantly, your cus­tomers, are choos­ing their teas. So, look for a tea part­ner that pro­vides a com­mit­ment to col­lab­o­ra­tion and inno­va­tion to pro­vide your cus­tomers the best selec­tion of teas and acces­sories to com­pli­ment and enhance your over­all brand.”

Raj Teja, President, Garden to Cup Organics
“IBISWorld iden­ti­fied four impor­tant key suc­cess fac­tors in the tea indus­try. I would say this cri­te­ria is bang-on when eval­u­at­ing a poten­tial tea part­ner:
1. Product dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion
Building your pro­gram from a wide selec­tion of organic sin­gle ori­gin teas, award-wining teas, exotic blends, well­ness and func­tional teas, which are eth­i­cally and directly sourced, will allow you to dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self from your com­pe­ti­tion.
2. Ability to adapt to change
A tea part­ner should be able to antic­i­pate and adapt to changes in the tea indus­try and con­sumer pref­er­ences in a timely man­ner to ensure that you can stay cur­rent to your cus­tomers.
3. Supply con­tracts in place for key inputs
Ensuring that your tea part­ner has reli­able con­tracts with their sup­pli­ers will reduce risk and volatil­ity.
4. Economics of scale and scope
From there, it comes down to sup­ply chain. As com­pe­ti­tion increases, find­ing a tea part­ner with a reli­able, sus­tain­able and scal­able sup­ply will become increas­ingly important.”

Greg Lui, Tea Master/Tea Blender Garden to Cup Organics
“My pas­sion is tea. I’m excited to see tea gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in North America. I will always advise those look­ing to add tea to their mix to cut through the crowded tea mar­ket by part­ner­ing with a sup­plier who is com­mit­ted to uncom­pro­mis­ing qual­ity, tech­ni­cal sophis­ti­ca­tion and organic tea.”

Organic should not be con­sid­ered a buzz word. Organic agri­cul­ture pro­motes the sus­tain­abil­ity of the envi­ron­ment and the health of every­one who farms and con­sumes the products.”

Organic qual­ity should start at the plan­ta­tion level and a part­ner that offers plantation-direct organic teas will not only have bet­ter con­trol over their sup­ply, but also qual­ity. It’s not good enough to sim­ply pur­chase from a plantation-direct sup­plier. I would want to know that my sup­plier vis­its the plan­ta­tion of every prod­uct that they pur­chase. When prod­ucts arrive to their facil­ity, each pal­let should be inspected and every sam­ple taste-tested and sub­jected to a full micro­bi­ol­ogy screen­ing from a gov­ern­ment accred­ited food lab­o­ra­tory when required.”

There is an art and sci­ence to both sourc­ing and blend­ing teas to deliver con­sis­tent qual­ity, aroma, and taste for the new and astute tea con­sumers. A tea part­ner should com­mit to deliv­er­ing all of these things, so that you can focus on your core business.”

World Tea News fore­casts the emer­gence of 8,000 tea-specific retail out­lets in America by 2018 (in 2003 there were only 1,000). Yet, much of the growth in sales is expected to come from cof­fee retail­ers and other busi­ness that are will­ing to expand their offer­ings to meet chang­ing con­sumer demands.

For busi­nesses look­ing to par­tic­i­pate in this growth, indus­try experts advise seek­ing out a tea part­ner who will become an exten­sion of your busi­ness and guide you towards profits.

Here’s to the year ahead!

Is Our Current System Sustainable?

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

As I was sit­ting in Brazil hav­ing break­fast with some new cof­fee friends, one of them asked, “Marty, how did you get started in Coffee?”

Well it’s kind of a long story. But if we go back to the late 60’s early 70’s, I was down at the Pike Place Public Market and the piers to just mess around for the day. Well, I walked into a place on the piers called Wet Whiskers and they had an old John Deere Royal Roaster. Some great ice cream, too. As we were wait­ing for our ice cream, they were roast­ing some cof­fee. As I walked away, I remem­ber look­ing back at the piers and it looked like it was on fire, with smoke bil­low­ing from it. This was because they vented their roaster down­ward below the pier.

Move for­ward about 6 years to late 1977, when I was dis­charged from the USAF. I came back to Seattle to visit fam­ily before head­ing to Oregon to fin­ish my school­ing for Electrical Engineering. Well as things turned out, I decided to go work with my Dad. He was work­ing on installing gas lines for a com­pany called Starbucks. As I was help­ing put the gas lines in, a Semi pulled up and on the out­side it was marked scrap metal/junk. So Jerry Baldwin, Gordon and Zeb were stand­ing there like lit­tle kids wait­ing to open the con­tainer. Once it was open I asked them what it was.  They then informed me it was a German-made cof­fee roaster and that they were going to put it together. As we talked, I found out that they had no one to assem­ble the roaster, or draw­ing or dia­grams. So I spoke up, “I can do it!” Six weeks later we had a run­ning roaster. Now, it may have not been 100% cor­rect, but it was turn­ing and get­ting hot. So over the next few years, I worked in Starbucks’s roast­ing plant build­ing roast­ers and silos and a way to fla­vor cof­fee using a unique turntable sys­tem, among other things.

As I worked more and more in the cof­fee indus­try, I was con­tin­u­ally run­ning into peo­ple who just wanted good cof­fee. Then I was asked by Grady Saunders of Heritage Coffee to give a course in air pol­lu­tion. So I started doing some courses for the SCAA. As I vol­un­teered, I met a great bunch of peo­ple try­ing to do the right things for the indus­try for the right rea­son. As we started to move the Specialty indus­try to main­stream cof­fee, it became nec­es­sary to build con­sis­tency and repro­ducibil­ity so we could help stan­dard­ize processes to speak and work world­wide in a com­mon lan­guage. So the SCAA started the Technical stan­dards com­mit­tee, of which I am a mem­ber. The thing that most intrigued me was the open­ness and will­ing­ness to share on the issues we have.

As I grew in the cof­fee indus­try I tried to do the same. Which brings me to the actual cof­fee we are get­ting today. Has cof­fee got­ten that much bet­ter? Or have we just been doing a bet­ter job of sourc­ing the cof­fees? Perhaps a com­bi­na­tion of both?  As a young per­son in cof­fee, I was mainly work­ing with roast­ing equip­ment. But the more I worked with the equip­ment, it became very clear I needed to learn to taste the cof­fees so I could bet­ter under­stand what a per­son wanted their roaster to do. So as I grew in the indus­try I have seen a lot of changes in roast­ing lev­els, styles and processes. But the cof­fee we are get­ting today is quite dif­fer­ent than 30 years ago. Some of this is pos­si­bly due to the way the farmer now picks their cof­fee more selec­tively. I’m sure it’s partly due to the way they have learned to process the cof­fees. Some change has come from their abil­ity to iden­tify the dif­fer­ences in the micro-climates on the farm, and bet­ter husbandry.

But who has gained from all this? The farmer, retailer, whole­saler, or con­sumer?  We the con­sumers have for sure, as we now have bet­ter cof­fee. The Roaster and Retailer have been hugely eco­nom­i­cally com­pen­sated. But has the farmer real­ized eco­nomic ben­e­fit sim­i­lar to  the retail­ers or roast­ers? I’m still not sure they have. I believe the farmer will not real­ize the gain until we actu­ally have pro­grams for the farmer on truly eval­u­at­ing their cof­fee from seed to cup. This gives farm­ers tools so they can truly eval­u­ate the cof­fee on their farms. There have been pro­grams to help, but they are lim­ited in their fund­ing and avail­abil­ity, as well as a clear course of learn­ing. We cur­rently teach them to cup cof­fees from around the world and not what their cof­fee truly can taste like. Maybe it’s time we build a pro­gram for teach­ing farm­ers how to taste their cof­fee, and what the defects of improper pro­cess­ing or hand­ing will taste like.  We still need to work with the bro­kers, roast­ers, retail­ers and con­sumers to help them under­stand that pric­ing needs to be fair through­out the sup­ply chain. I still hear suc­cess­ful busi­nesses in the cof­fee indus­try remark about the cost of green cof­fee today, yet it seems their prof­its are soar­ing. Can the Specialty Coffee sys­tem truly sur­vive with­out the proper dis­tri­b­u­tion of knowl­edge, wealth and sustainability?

Meeting the Challenges Ahead

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Despite all the uncer­tainty in the global econ­omy, the world of cof­fee – at first glance – appears to be on a steady and solid footing.

The NCA’s 2014 National Coffee Drinking Trends report shows that con­sump­tion in the US, the world’s largest con­sumer mar­ket, is essen­tially steady, but strong.  Against this back­drop the sin­gle serve for­mat con­tin­ues to grow and drive oppor­tu­ni­ties.  Ever bet­ter, younger gen­er­a­tions of cof­fee drinkers have embraced cof­fee and café cul­ture as never before, bod­ing well for the future.

But look­ing more closely, it is clear there are chal­lenges ahead:  cli­mate change has the poten­tial to affect sup­ply, even as greater global demand is requir­ing increased pro­duc­tion.  The volatil­ity of cof­fee prices in the com­modi­ties mar­ket seems to have increased this year.  New and emerg­ing for­mats are vying for atten­tion and a place in con­sumers’ kitchens, and cof­fee is under increas­ing scrutiny from regulators.

Some of these chal­lenges – for exam­ple pric­ing and the adop­tion of new for­mats by con­sumers – are dri­ven by mar­ket forces, and are inap­pro­pri­ate for dis­cus­sion among indus­try com­peti­tors.  Other chal­lenges – such as address­ing reg­u­la­tory issues or mak­ing the indus­try more sus­tain­able – are the kinds of things that can be addressed on a col­lec­tive basis, and often the NCA is the forum through which these mat­ters can be confronted.

For this rea­son, the NCA has taken a fresh look at itself – mind­ful of the industry’s cur­rent and pend­ing chal­lenges – and has begun a process of change.  This process started with a “Think Tank” in June 2014 of indus­try lead­ers to dis­cuss cur­rent trends and how the NCA could best address the industry’s most press­ing needs.  Over the course of two days par­tic­i­pants engaged in a facil­i­tated dis­cus­sion from which emerged four top priorities:

•    Advocacy.  We are strength­en­ing our advo­cacy efforts on behalf of the indus­try, whether with gov­ern­ment, media, the pub­lic, or other audi­ences. We’ve also strength­ened com­mu­ni­ca­tions to our mem­bers through new “Member Alert” com­mu­niqués – sin­gle topic reports on break­ing issues – and devel­oped a new “Coffee Reporter Weekly” digest, which curates indus­try news and fea­tures every Friday.
•    Science.  The NCA is ampli­fy­ing the promi­nent role of the NCA Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) which is com­prised of expert food sci­en­tists, tox­i­col­o­gists, epi­demi­ol­o­gists, and botanists, lever­ag­ing their exper­tise to ensure that the NCA’s posi­tions on cof­fee, sci­ence, and health are firmly grounded in facts, research, and expert opin­ion.
•    Sustainability.  We’ve con­vened a cross-sector task force to look more closely at sus­tain­abil­ity so that the NCA can rein­force and sharpen its focus on a crit­i­cal topic that impacts every­one in the sup­ply chain. The first step:  deter­min­ing the NCA’s role on this key topic.
•    Certification.  To bet­ter iden­tify and encour­age indus­try tal­ent, we’re assess­ing the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion land­scape to deter­mine how best to plug exist­ing gaps and sup­port spe­cial skills in areas where pro­grams cur­rently do not exist.

At the same time, we’re in the process of ratch­et­ing up our infra­struc­ture and capac­i­ties.  We’re expand­ing our social media pres­ence (with a new Linkedin Group, for exam­ple); have installed new media mon­i­tor­ing capac­i­ties; and are upgrad­ing our inter­nal and exter­nal tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing a state-of-the-art “Association Management System” (or “AMS”) to sup­port new lev­els of inter­nal data report­ing and analy­sis; mem­ber sup­port; and indus­try service.

On this enhanced tech­nol­ogy base, we’ll be able to incor­po­rate advanced tech­ni­cal stan­dards and func­tion­al­ity in a redesigned NCA web­site, which we antic­i­pate start­ing in 2015. The web­site redesign will improve the user expe­ri­ence, as well as result in a “respon­sive site design” which will be more user-friendly to vis­i­tors from mobile platforms.

So what does this mean as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter?  Caffeine has been under greater scrutiny in 2014, with energy drinks and pow­dered caf­feine cre­at­ing new behav­iors in con­sumers and trip­ping the government’s radar. We’ve gone on record with the FDA to argue that caf­feine as typ­i­cally con­sumed in cof­fee is safe, as tested in the lab and over time.  We’re con­tin­u­ing to work with indus­try coun­sel in sup­port of the industry’s defense in Proposition 65-related lit­i­ga­tion in California.  We con­fronted – and obtained a retrac­tion – ear­lier this year in response to a mis­lead­ing arti­cle imply­ing that con­sumers’ cof­fee could well be tinged with sticks and twigs. And, as new reg­u­la­tions con­tinue refin­ing com­pli­ance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, we’re rec­om­mend­ing changes to pro­posed rules to reflect the real­ity of your business.

Yet even as we’re chang­ing, one aspect of the NCA remains the same, and would even now be rec­og­nized by Julius J. Schotten, who served as the NCA’s first pres­i­dent 1911: we remain led by expe­ri­enced, pas­sion­ate and com­mit­ted indus­try lead­ers, and are ded­i­cated to serv­ing and pro­tect­ing the com­mon busi­ness inter­ests of our mem­bers – what­ever the future may hold.

Where Are We Now?

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

In ask­ing our­selves where we are as an indus­try today, we nec­es­sar­ily have to ques­tion where we were before and what is dif­fer­ent now. The things that have not changed, in the fifty years or so that I have been drink­ing cof­fee, are some basic ques­tions: Who needs good cof­fee? Who could really use a good cup of cof­fee? Who would really, reg­u­larly, appre­ci­ate a great cup of cof­fee? What could stop a ded­i­cated cof­fee farmer from cater­ing to those requirements?

What has changed, how­ever, are the things that might get in the way. After fifty years of slowly rais­ing the expec­ta­tions of cof­fee drinkers, the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try faces sev­eral grave risks that emanate from forces and con­di­tions that dwarf the plight of any one cof­fee peddler.

The chief long-term threat to the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try is cli­mate change due to human activ­ity. Coffee farm­ers, even those who were not even aware that such terms as “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” existed, have been deal­ing with the effects of cli­mate change and antic­i­pat­ing more for years. These cof­fee grow­ers, many of whom have not even been to the equiv­a­lent of high school, have been work­ing on these projects for well over ten, and in some cases twenty, years.

Coffee has been iden­ti­fied as a poten­tial eco­nomic life­line for mil­lions of peo­ple around the world. Hundreds of eco­nomic aid pro­grams now extant are built around assist­ing cof­fee farm­ers. Such orga­ni­za­tions, mostly NGOs, depend upon the work of sup­port­ing research and train­ing orga­ni­za­tions includ­ing the Coffee Quality Institute [http://www.coffeeinstitute.org], the World Coffee Research project [http://worldcoffeeresearch.org], and oth­ers. This is in addi­tion to the increas­ingly sophis­ti­cated work of the national lab­o­ra­to­ries that exist in Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica, among others.

Concomitantly, direct aid is being pro­vided to farm­ers at the most prac­ti­cal lev­els. This is being done in Antioquia by pro­vid­ing inten­sive train­ing for the region’s most promis­ing young cof­fee farm­ers and “New Generation Coffee” camps for young peo­ple, while mobile cof­fee labs and train­ing facil­i­ties have been allo­cated to serve more remote farm­ers. Additionally, a vibrant effort has been estab­lished to pro­mote domes­tic con­sump­tion of high qual­ity cof­fees, which allows farm­ers to domes­ti­cally mar­ket their cof­fees inde­pen­dently. The results of these pro­grams are impor­tant because the spe­cialty indus­try faces a sup­ply risk that over­lays the per­ils of cli­mate change: As food prices esca­late, many farm­ers will find alter­na­tive crops that yield sig­nif­i­cant return for far less effort and risk, espe­cially within the con­text of cli­mate change. If the sup­ply of fine spe­cialty cof­fees is to be found down the line, it’s likely to be much more expen­sive than indus­try mem­bers or cof­fee drinkers expect. So while higher prices can ensure the like­li­hood of con­tin­ued pro­duc­tion, they obvi­ously do not ensure that cof­fee drinkers will want to pay those high prices. As an indus­try, those of us who are in the busi­ness of sell­ing spe­cialty cof­fee need to start prepar­ing our cus­tomers for much higher prices that could present them­selves as early as the end of 2015.

The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation has pro­vided assis­tance to cof­fee farm­ers through­out the coun­try for years, although the pro­grams have been gen­eral in approach and the resources offered are designed to apply to a wide audi­ence of cof­fee farm­ers. Other gov­ern­ment or quasi-governmental agen­cies have con­sis­tently sup­ported and rep­re­sented the efforts and needs of cof­fee farm­ers over the years.

In other ori­gins, a con­tin­ued lack of trans­parency, and com­mit­ment to cor­rupt prac­tices at the high­est lev­els of some pro­duc­ing coun­tries’ rul­ing classes con­sti­tute another threat to the vibrant pro­duc­tion of higher qual­ity cof­fees. Unless farm­ers know that they them­selves will be ben­e­fit directly from a com­mit­ment to qual­ity, the over­all qual­ity of a given country’s cof­fee will obvi­ously decline.

The risk of alter­na­tive pro­duc­tion is one thing, but the risk of no pro­duc­tion at all due to farm­ers decid­ing to cash out of their prop­er­ties is another con­cern of gov­ern­ment offi­cials. As an indus­try, we need to ensure that cof­fee farm­ers con­tinue to be moti­vated and have the tools to stay the course and remain focused on pro­duc­ing bet­ter cof­fee for cof­fee drinkers. We can do this by sup­port­ing the many pro­grams men­tioned herein or ones like them, or by sim­ply devel­op­ing direct rela­tion­ships with farmers.

The Pernicious Best Coffee
Speaking of the “best” cof­fee, one last threat to the vibrant and dynamic health of the cof­fee indus­try needs to be men­tioned: that is the expec­ta­tion on the part of con­sumers that there is a sin­gle “best” cof­fee out there wait­ing for them. Coffee drinkers, and the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try, will be much bet­ter off when they come to under­stand that there is no one “best cof­fee,” but an increas­ingly bet­ter vari­ety of excit­ing cof­fees from all over the world. Roasted by a wide vari­ety of ded­i­cated spe­cialty cof­fee roast­ers, they can bring an incred­i­ble array of spe­cialty cof­fees from an increas­ingly deep selec­tion of roasts and origins.

It’s true that many spe­cialty cof­fee drinkers will find a favorite cof­fee they will always return to, but by edu­cat­ing cof­fee drinkers to the vari­ety of cof­fee and roast­ing styles avail­able to them, they not only drink more cof­fee, but they might even come to appre­ci­ate their favorite one even more.

Customization in Coffee Industry Fosters Need for Short-Run Label Printing

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Mass cus­tomiza­tion has been a key dri­ver in one of the largest bursts of inno­va­tion in the dig­i­tal age. What was once stan­dard issue is now open source. Consumers are per­son­al­iz­ing every­thing from sneak­ers to fra­grances to cof­fee mugs, and the trend shows no signs of slow­ing. Businesses that can cap­i­tal­ize on this new era of micro-segmentation – and do it prof­itably – are poised for success.

Couple the cus­tomiza­tion trend with an ever-diversifying and adven­tur­ous con­sumer palate, and set it all against a back­drop of a bur­geon­ing indus­try of hyper-local, single-source grow­ers. It’s clear: Decision mak­ers in the cof­fee and tea busi­ness are uniquely chal­lenged to bal­ance a sin­gu­larly sat­is­fy­ing prod­uct expe­ri­ence with the prac­ti­cal real­i­ties of run­ning an enter­prise in order to meet a length­en­ing menu of cus­tomer demands and cap­ti­vate loyal customers.

Compact, cost-efficient label print­ers enable small to medium roast­ers and con­vert­ers to print and apply pack­age labels in adapt­able, cus­tomized batches, rather than large industrial-sized print runs.

Trend-setting inde­pen­dent cof­fee and tea entre­pre­neurs are adopt­ing label tech­nol­ogy to bet­ter serve their cus­tomers, expand their assort­ments, embrace new part­ners and give them­selves a leg up on the competition.

Minneapolis’ Peace Coffee has been lever­ag­ing Primera’s label print­ing tech­nol­ogy for over two years. “We knew we would be offer­ing more lim­ited runs and shorter term sea­sonal cof­fees, so we started shop­ping around for solu­tions,” said Jon Katzung, Director of Operations for Peace Coffee. “We were really look­ing for some­thing to increase the flex­i­bil­ity of our production.”

Peace Coffee decided to invest in Primera’s LX900 printer, which has afforded them much greater agility, and the abil­ity to adjust quickly to chang­ing mar­ket con­di­tions and con­sumer tastes. Using the printer has reduced over­head and inven­tory costs, and has vir­tu­ally elim­i­nated label scrap, under­scor­ing the company’s com­mit­ment to the environment.

Moreover, Peace Coffee says they can now enter­tain work­ing with small grow­ers they wouldn’t have been able to part­ner with in the past. Like many small roast­ers, their mis­sion is rooted in fair trade, community-building and sus­tain­abil­ity, so being able to act imme­di­ately on emerg­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties is a strate­gic imperative.

Now that they are no longer con­strained by large print runs, an increas­ing num­ber of cus­tomers are using cus­tom label func­tion­al­ity to open blue-sky expan­sion for their busi­nesses. Coffee and tea pur­vey­ors can cost-effectively offer pack­ag­ing with cor­po­rate logos for gift bas­kets, or labels embla­zoned with a couple’s photo for wed­ding favors. New mar­ket­ing alliances abound, with oppor­tu­ni­ties to cross-promote other local busi­nesses and restau­rants with spe­cial lim­ited edi­tion blends, or to assist with fundrais­ing or cause mar­ket­ing for like-minded char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions in their own com­mu­ni­ties and beyond.

And of course, the label is valu­able real estate to use for com­mu­ni­cat­ing the nar­ra­tive of the grow­ers. With con­sumers around the globe actively engaged in seek­ing infor­ma­tion about the sources and safety of the food sup­ply chain, each pack­age can tell a spe­cific story about the per­son and the place where the prod­uct orig­i­nated. Consumers appre­ci­ate authen­tic­ity, and the emo­tional con­nec­tion these sto­ries estab­lish between con­sumers and the brand will build cus­tomers for life.

Variety is another lever for con­sumers to stay engaged with a brand, espe­cially in the bev­er­age sec­tor. Beverage con­sumers are notably promis­cu­ous and will­ing to try new tastes and sen­sa­tions. A roaster can encour­age repeat vis­its and basket-building at the reg­is­ter by con­tin­u­ally offer­ing new items on a short-term basis. Although SKU pro­lif­er­a­tion can be risky and hard to man­age in a tra­di­tional print envi­ron­ment, a new label print­ing tech­nol­ogy mit­i­gates the risk of scrap and car­ry­ing costs asso­ci­ated with pack­ag­ing overstock.

With so many choices in the cof­fee mar­ket­place, being nim­ble, run­ning lean and offer­ing dis­tinc­tive prod­ucts can be the dif­fer­ence mak­ers in the suc­cess of a small busi­ness. Short-run label print­ers allow entre­pre­neurs to achieve these ideals by free­ing them from the con­fines of tra­di­tional print ser­vices and giv­ing them room to cus­tomize their oper­a­tions to best suit the needs of the busi­ness they envision.

The Graying of Coffee Farmers

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Many busy Roasteries have a core busi­ness plan of insist­ing on buy­ing good-quality cof­fee as inex­pen­sively as pos­si­ble. Contracts with cus­tomers are secured, and prices are set, based on the cost of green cof­fee. A bro­ker may, to gain a cus­tomer, call and offer a green cof­fee for a bit less than what you are cur­rently pay­ing. If the more-expensive cof­fee can be sub­sti­tuted with a cof­fee of lower price and grade with­out neg­a­tive notes in the cup, many roast­ers will work it into their blend or offer­ing. I am not against mak­ing a profit and, indeed, none of us will be in busi­ness long if we don’t. But have we ever stopped to think about how that state­ment would sound to a cof­fee farmer? Outside of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, where I have been buy­ing cof­fee for the past eight years, there are farm­ers who are spin­ning their wheels, vir­tu­ally going back­ward each year, unable to make a profit. Hundreds of farm­ers, who for many years have not seen a profit, strug­gle to stay afloat. They lit­er­ally “owe their soul to the com­pany store.”

Our insis­tence on low prices is at the heart of a social change hap­pen­ing across coffee-producing lands. I have wit­nessed it first­hand in Central America, South America, East Africa, and Northern Thailand. There are three sig­nif­i­cant changes I have seen in the past 12 years buy­ing, import­ing, and roast­ing coffee.

1. Gender shifts – Fewer men are on the farms today. They are in the cities earn­ing a liv­ing, leav­ing the women and chil­dren on the farm to work the cof­fee plan­ta­tion. I’ve seen this in the lit­tle com­mu­nity of El Tuma, Nicaragua. Producing high-grown cof­fee in these rugged moun­tains is hard work. Families strug­gle with­out the men involved, but they get it done. This rural-to-urban gen­der shift intro­duces other soci­etal ills into the com­mu­nity, as these men may have a sep­a­rate life in the city that’s often never talked about or acknowledged.

2. Graying pop­u­la­tion – Young peo­ple, see­ing how hard their par­ents have worked only to be deep in debt, want noth­ing to do with this life. Opportunities to get off the farm and go live in the cities are sought and seized. Parents see edu­ca­tion as the ticket off this tread­mill, and they sac­ri­fice much to get their chil­dren to the city to develop aca­d­e­m­i­cally. These kids never return.

3. Land use – In the Central Plateau, out­side San Jose, Costa Rica, are large tracts of land cov­ered in con­crete sup­port­ing hous­ing devel­op­ments, malls, and retail out­lets. Just four years ago, some of the best cof­fee in Costa Rica was grown there. This land will never go back into cof­fee pro­duc­tion and is lost for­ever. Real estate has more value for build­ing than it does for pro­duc­ing a fluc­tu­at­ing commodity.

At the core of these soci­etal changes is an incor­rect assump­tion con­cern­ing the pro­duc­tion of high-quality cof­fee – that cof­fee is just cof­fee. Coffee is a com­mod­ity and, as a com­mod­ity, its value is based on sup­ply and demand. Corn from Iowa is no more valu­able than corn from Ohio. Corn is corn, right? Yes, in my opin­ion, it is. (However, a corn farmer may dis­agree with me.) But cof­fee is not just cof­fee. All cof­fee is not equal in value to the roaster and thus is set apart from other com­modi­ties. Everyone in the cof­fee indus­try knows this. Michael Sivetz, in his unro­man­tic trea­tise on cof­fee, Coffee Quality, wrote that there are more than 100 sep­a­rate, ver­i­fi­able steps that farm­ers take to pro­duce cof­fee, from the nurs­ery to the load­ing dock. If just one of those steps is missed or goes wrong, the cup can be affected, slightly or sig­nif­i­cantly. Buying cof­fee as inex­pen­sively as pos­si­ble is not com­pat­i­ble with the desire for qual­ity cof­fee, where farm­ers must be rewarded for their hard work. If there is no value or incen­tive added for labor, why con­tinue to add it?

Although com­pli­cated, the answer is not impos­si­ble to find. Direct trade, based on long-term rela­tion­ships of mutual respect and under­stand­ing, is a prin­ci­ple I believe in. I need the farmer and he needs me. We each have a face, a name, and a life. My life is no more valu­able than the farmer’s. If I must make a profit to sur­vive, so does he. Coffee is peo­ple and, in the end, peo­ple mat­ter. I believe these soci­etal shifts can be cor­rected by truly valu­ing the cof­fee for what it is. It is the fruit of someone’s labor. As long as we turn a blind eye to who grew this great cof­fee, we can buy it cheap and pass it off to our cus­tomers. But by hav­ing a direct rela­tion­ship with those grow­ers, look­ing out for their wel­fare as rig­or­ously as I do my own, I am not even tempted!

Devastating Emily

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The cof­fee borer is a severe pest, but it can be man­aged to the level where it is merely a pest, and is no longer the threat it was a cen­tury ago. In 1869 a pre­vi­ously uniden­ti­fied fun­gus struck the cof­fee plan­ta­tions of Ceylon, one of the great cof­fee ori­gin lands of the 19th Century. In a very few years the blight known by colo­nial English planters as “Devastating Emily”, and later its sci­en­tific name Himileia Vastatrix, destroyed the cof­fee econ­omy of the Island. Ceylon’s cof­fee never recov­ered, and in time it was replaced by plant­ing tea. The dis­ease, which appeared in var­i­ous other cof­fee pro­duc­ing lands in Asia and Africa over the next 100 years, was believed to have effec­tively been kept out of the cof­fee nations of the Western Hemisphere through a quar­an­tine pro­vided by the world’s oceans, but 45 years ago, in 1970, the blight, pos­si­bly car­ried by wind, appeared in Brazil. An iso­la­tion area was cre­ated around the affected farms and their trees were destroyed, but within 18 months the invis­i­ble path­o­genic agent jumped the block­ade, pos­si­bly car­ried by the pre­vail­ing winds. Similar fenc­ing efforts have proven unsuc­cess­ful else­where, and so attempts to con­tain the scourge have mor­phed into labors to man­age the disease.

With its intro­duc­tion to the Americas, the scourge picked up new names, “La Roya,” and “Roya del Cafeto”, “Roya” for short. It is also active in Jamaica, felling 24% of the Blue Mountain crop.

Rust dis­ease arrives unno­ticed, trans­ported on the wind or through the inter­ac­tion of the cof­fee leaf with other organ­isms that may have come in con­tact with the fun­gal spores. The stealth-like onset of the dis­ease is part of what makes the scourge so dif­fi­cult to han­dle. The par­a­sitic spores only live in a tem­per­a­ture range of 21°C (69.8°F) and 25°C (77°F). The spores like mois­ture, and pre­fer mature rather than young leaves. Roya man­i­fests itself first as spots that grow into blotches on the under­side of leaves. The blotches mul­ti­ply; the leaves die back and fall.

We have seen the good effects that pro­grams such as the Smithsonian Bird Friendly and Rainforest Alliance have done in sup­port of the Central American rain­forests, and cof­fee agri­cul­tural diver­sity. Some say that Roya is eas­ier to man­age when cof­fee is grown in sun­light as the plant leaves dry faster in sun­light, and the fun­gus breeds in mois­ture. Spaced rows of trees, it is pointed out, are eas­ier to spray with anti-Roya agents. From other quar­ters we hear that shade-grown cof­fee pro­tects the trees as the canopy pre­vents dew for­ma­tion on the leaves, which lessens the oppor­tu­nity for spread of the disease.

Coffee is a highly politi­cized crop. As The American Phytopathological Society (APS) points out in its excel­lent report on Rust Disease,

www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/lessons/fungi/Basidiomycetes/Pages/CoffeeRust.aspx

In gen­eral, sun-grown cof­fee is pro­duced on large, well-capitalized farms that can afford to con­trol the rust with fungi­cides, the cost of which is off­set by the higher yields. The small, “low-tech” pro­duc­ers tend to favor shade-grown cof­fee, which, despite its lower yields, requires less exter­nal input in the form of pes­ti­cides and fertilizers.”

Protective action on healthy plants has emerged as the method best suited to hold­ing back the onset of Himileia Vastatrix. There are no records of it men­ac­ing other vegetation.

Bernhard Rothfos, in his excep­tional book, Coffee Production, explores the cul­tural work that needs be done in defense of the trees. Scientifically, it appears that wider spaced trees, a dryer leaf envi­ron­ment, good ven­ti­la­tion, and good prun­ing and weed­ing prac­tices all con­tribute to health­ier, less sus­cep­ti­ble trees. Spraying the leaves from below with fungi­cide can be ther­a­peu­tic, even cura­tive. But that does not mean that shade-grown cof­fee need be aban­doned. It is just another chal­lenge that shade farm­ers and organ­i­cally cer­ti­fied farm­ers must face in their efforts to bring cer­ti­fied cof­fees to market.

Coffee destruc­tion has social as well as eco­nomic con­se­quences. The Coffee Trust reports that Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have declared Coffee Rust a national emer­gency. Where the cof­fee econ­omy fails, farm fam­i­lies are at risk of turn­ing to coca as a cash crop. This leads to deal­ing with dan­ger­ous peo­ple; increas­ing risk from vio­lence, and lead­ing to the family’s poten­tial servi­tude to drug inter­ests. Coffee means eco­nomic free­dom to a small­holder, and farmer, and efforts must be made to main­tain the sus­tain­abil­ity of the cof­fee econ­omy of farm families.

Poor farm­ing prac­tices play a role in mak­ing cof­fee sus­cep­ti­ble to Roya. In a recent fundrais­ing let­ter to The Coffee Trust stake­hold­ers, Bill Fishbein noted “There is no doubt that cli­mate change is play­ing a role, but so is a lack of organic farm­ing knowl­edge. This has led to resource-depleted soil and a gene pool lack­ing diver­sity which has exposed coffee’s jugu­lar vein to La Roya’s sharp edges.” The Coffee Trust is work­ing with a group of 460 farms in the west­ern high­lands of Guatemala using Campesino a Campesino teach­ing meth­ods, help­ing the farm­ers to learn soil replen­ish­ment meth­ods to defend the plants against Roya.

According to the USAID, as reported by Reuters, “The blight is jeop­ar­diz­ing the liveli­hood and food secu­rity of about 500,000 peo­ple who make their liv­ing in the cof­fee indus­try, espe­cially small farm­ers and sea­sonal work­ers.” In response to the threat, USAID has part­nered with Texas A&M University’s World Coffee Research in an effort to develop rust-resistant cof­fee vari­eties, and “increase the abil­ity of Latin America’s cof­fee insti­tu­tions to mon­i­tor and respond to out­breaks of the blight.” According to the Reuters report the USAID com­mit­ment to chal­lenge cof­fee rust is now $14 million.

We must be mind­ful that a farm fam­ily at risk is always at risk. If peo­ple of good will and the resources to help turn away when the cri­sis is past, a new cri­sis with all its ugly con­se­quences will appear just around the next cor­ner. Manere Vigilemus. We must remain “Ever Watchful”.

For infor­ma­tion sources, see our arti­cle on the web: magazine.coffeetalk.com/december14-devastating-emily/

The Danger of Hype Over Quality

Categories: 2014, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Do you remem­ber when “Gourmet” meant some­thing good? How about the term, “The Best”? If you see either of these things you are for sure being sold some­thing that isn’t either one.

So now look at the phrase, “Specialty Coffee”. This is even more dif­fi­cult because no one could define it in the first place so now everybody’s cof­fee is ‘spe­cial’. To some it means a Pumpkin Spiced Latte with a beau­ti­fully designed rosette on top. Frankly, it means what­ever the mar­ket­ing depart­ment wants you to believe it means.

The demise of these words and expres­sions is due to hype tak­ing the place of qual­ity when dis­cussing a prod­uct; in this case, cof­fee. This hap­pens because there is no way to prove a claim false. If the cof­fee shop owner thinks his cof­fee is the best, then he mar­kets “The Best” cof­fee. At least it is to him so you can’t really prove he is wrong. But if the shop across the street also sells the best cof­fee, isn’t some­body wrong?

All the hype causes con­fu­sion for the cus­tomer. The con­sumer is less likely to part with larger dol­lars for some­thing if she feels she is being duped by adver­tis­ing. When this hap­pens, it has the poten­tial of decreas­ing the value of actual great cof­fee and can run down the sup­ply chain. Imagine a pro­gres­sive cof­fee farmer get­ting dam­aged for doing the extra work needed to export a 90+ cof­fee but the mar­ket­ing depart­ments degraded the trust of the consumer.

In 2015 this prob­lem must be addressed more com­pletely. The solu­tion has started, but many don’t know it. As with most ques­tions of ambi­gu­ity, a stan­dard to which you define some­thing must be cre­ated so legit­i­mate com­par­isons can be made. This stan­dard exists for half of the sup­ply chain; from farmer to roaster.

The stan­dard for Arabica cof­fee is the Q-System of the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). It is a stan­dard that allows par­tic­i­pants in the trans­ac­tion of green beans to judge, reward, pun­ish and dis­cuss the qual­i­ties of any given lot of cof­fee. If you are in the green trade, you are either a Certified Q-Grader already, or at least you should famil­iar with the sys­tem. It allows a far more objec­tive look at the attrib­utes of a lot of cof­fee and is a key in the efforts of price dis­cov­ery. It helps define quan­ti­ta­tively the value of the coffee.

Is this a per­fect sys­tem? Of course not! But it is the most per­fect one we have for the job; defin­ing the stan­dards to which all cof­fees can be judged.

Starting in 2015 there will be over 4000 Q-Graders in the world span­ning most pro­duc­ing and con­sum­ing coun­tries. This now has the “crit­i­cal mass” of par­tic­i­pants to make this the stan­dard method­ol­ogy for grad­ing green cof­fee lots. But there is an impor­tant part of this indus­try solu­tion missing.

This will be the chal­lenge for 2015: Creating a final prod­uct scor­ing sys­tem, devel­op­ing con­sumer aware­ness that a sub­jec­tive scor­ing
sys­tem exists, and find­ing a way for con­sumers to access the new system.

If a “crit­i­cal mass” of peo­ple from the roaster to the con­sumer could agree on how to define qual­ity in cof­fee in a sim­ple and trust­wor­thy way, the indus­try would be able to eas­ily demand higher prices for higher qual­ity roasted cof­fee in the same way it is work­ing for the green coffee.

Many look to the wine indus­try for a com­par­i­son. If you walk into any given wine store you will see indus­try scores posted next to the bot­tles that give you a num­ber rat­ing the over­all qual­ity and some word descrip­tors to help you under­stand taste attrib­utes. The same can hap­pen for cof­fee. Remember, this scor­ing sys­tem judges the vint­ners abil­ity as well as the grapes that were used.

What does the solu­tion look like?
1)    It must be done by an objec­tive third party with no inter­est in the cof­fee. Otherwise we will be right back to “My cof­fee is the best because we scored it a 100!”
2)    It will be designed to grade the final roasted bean prod­uct, but not the skill of the barista and the result­ing drink as there are sev­eral fac­tors that can’t be objec­tively judged. (Unless the barista will go to the home of the per­son buy­ing the cof­fee and pro­duce the drink every time.)
3)    The sys­tem has to be ver­sa­tile enough to adapt to the many ways cof­fee beans are pro­duced for the con­sumer: Light to dark roasts, sin­gle vari­etals and blends, as well as pack­ag­ing deci­sions such as whole bean or K-Cup.
4)    The score must be for a spe­cific lot, or blend which must be con­sis­tently tested to main­tain its score.

Sounds sim­ple enough…. But alas, it is not!

Until CQI, SCAA, or some other 3rd party steps up to the chal­lenge, other sys­tems will emerge and prove the con­cept in ‘micro-markets’. Cup Of Excellence (COE) is a great exam­ple of this.

COE as a ‘brand’ helps roast­ers sell the cof­fees that win in their com­pe­ti­tion. It is eas­ily shown to be an objec­tive sys­tem and the scores reflect a nice high score for the best of the best cof­fees from the win­ning entries. Unfortunately the com­pe­ti­tions are few and far between and really it is just another way to judge the green beans and not the final roasted product.

So, the State Of The Industry for cof­fee is one that can be left to lan­guish in the ambi­gu­ity of hype, or per­haps some­one will finally step up in 2015 and cre­ate a con­sumer fac­ing scor­ing sys­tem and allow a true reward for qual­ity to start hap­pen­ing. Whoever does it will change the lives of every­one that cares enough to strive for true qual­ity in their work.