Updated September 16, 2019: Why am I writing a 2nd version of these articles? That’s simple. Things change. Naturally. We’re changing as a business, and we’re changing what we’re offering Roasters, Farmers and the world of coffee.
Have you ever met someone that was so eager to serve you that it gave you anxiety? I think, unintentionally, I’ve made some people feel that way over the last couple years. Those encounters usually never blossomed into the relationships I’d hoped for. I’ve encountered about every other form of resistance as well. And I’m grateful. Resistance is such an amazing teacher. I don’t know if I’ve been the best student, but I haven’t given up and we have changed in response to what we’ve learned along the way.
I am a problem solver. I think you have to be a learner first though before you can be a good solver. I have experienced the resistance to change in the coffee industry first-hand. I see, I know, the lack of freedom that exists at different, critical, levels. I have lived the struggle myself now, albeit for a much shorter time than so many others. Our work hinges on the belief that a model can be created that gives freedom to both Farmers and Roasters.
From the Coffee Roaster's perspective, you can't completely say that the coffee industry is broken. It's not. It works. For now. There are many areas that can be improved though that I don’t think most Roasters are even aware of. Imagine you’re a local Roaster, or a multinational Roaster for that matter, and you decide on a coffee to offer long term. You build a whole program around it. Marketing, packaging, selling, selling and all the other things that go into every major coffee you offer. Then one day…..the coffee is gone. The whole farm might as well be gone! They lost too much money to pay the bank. They lost too much money to make it worthwhile and started growing avocados. They refused to lose so much money and decided just to walk away. These are much more relevant risks than even climate change.
Coffee Roasters should have more freedom to create sustainable supply chains with the Farmers they depend on. This has to be done on the farm gate level. Even if the final contract is done at the FOB level. We’re enabling that on a global scale. Origin by origin. Coffee Roasters should know exactly who is producing their coffee and they should have the freedom to talk with those producers about the varieties, the processing methods and the quality grades that work best for their business. And Coffee Roasters should have all the correct information they need to freely tell the full and honest story to their customers. These are the things we are enabling Roasters to do.
For decades now the coffee industry has been built on a system of risk and responsibility aversion and disconnection. I’m not even talking about all of the practices that go on at origin. We believe that the greatest way we can add value to our customers’ (you the Roasters) businesses is by aggressively accepting the risk and responsibility that others shy away from.
Direct Trade (whatever that means) is becoming more and more popular. I wanted to find a way to open it up to every Roaster, big and small, to create vertically integrated supply chains between Farmers and Roasters throughout the world. That was a complex problem. We have found ways to make it work. It doesn't matter if you want 1000 containers, 1000 bags, or 10 bags. We can connect you with the Farmers and buy the coffee for you. In fact, we can manage every last detail from the financing to the export/import down to local-to-you storage and final delivery when you need it.
We believe that the coffee industry needs to be turned upside down. The wheel needs to be reinvented! I can’t really explain why I feel like I need to be involved in orchestrating the changes, but I do feel a need. It’s like a passion that has grown into more of a calling. A life’s purpose if you will.
No work done at any level of the industry could create substantial or sustainable change without the involvement of the Coffee Roasters and their consumers. We can’t take responsibility for other people’s choices of course, but we can make it much easier for them to make the choices to get more involved. We all share a great passion in this business. If the best way to achieve our goals is to help Roasters accomplish theirs then every bit of risk and responsibility we assume makes perfect sense to me.
A dynamic exists in capitalism that I don’t think needs to exist in the world of coffee. Farmers and Roasters, and us (The Coffee Co-Mission) for that matter, don’t need to be adversaries. In a very real sense, if anyone loses, we all eventually lose. We all need each other. We believe that we can all do better when we work together as a sort of community. We think there is even room for that today at the current prices Roasters are paying for coffee. On the low end of the quality spectrum – things get tougher to work out. But, if we incorporate those coffees into the correct overall strategy for the farm there are ways it can be done. Long-term, Roasters can find ways to give back, to offer better quality coffees to their consumers and we can all work together to educate end consumers about the differences in quality and the needs of Farmers. All this can lend itself to a higher price ceiling across the board for Farmers. Ultimately this will benefit Roasters as well.
We know that these changes won’t appeal to every Roaster, and we’re also very aware that we don’t need every Roaster to be our customer. We don’t have aspirations of dominating the global coffee industry. We do want to achieve the critical mass necessary to offer an undeniable proof of concept to others within this global community. If there’s something in this new approach that appeals to you for your Roasting business, please contact us. We’re looking forward to endless hours of conversation with you about your dreams for your business!