Can the coffee price be sustainable throughout the supply chain?
There are products that are now part of our daily lives.
The fact that we use them every day and have them available whenever we want leads us unknowingly to take them for granted and to think that it is normal for them to exist.
Instead, the history of recent years (pandemic, war in Ukraine, climate change), with the related consequences at a social, economic and environmental level, has opened up new scenarios for us and shown that this is not always the case.
Precisely because they play an important role in our daily lives, we should learn to give them adequate attention, without neglecting everything upstream of the finished product. This includes the origins, the phases and processing methods, the journey, the people involved and everything that makes that product unique and important.
Otherwise, the result is a negative and distorted flow which can lead to not being able to recognise, understand, attribute and appreciate the right value to a product, to neglecting its quality and, consequently, to standardizing and lowering its price.
It also happens with coffee!
We start from the assumption that a price, to be sustainable in all its meaning (in the environmental, economic and social fields), should be proportional to the costs incurred throughout the supply chain and to the final value of the product.
Around the world, and especially in Italy, many cafes and bars sell a cup of espresso for one single euro, sometimes even less.
Although some would love this budget-friendly coffee price, most don’t even realize the severe effects it has on the coffee supply chain.
We often ignore all the phases that precede the coffee in the cup, thus failing to really understand (and appreciate) what we’re ordering and drinking at the bar. Maybe even turning up his nose at the request for a few cents more than the “usual” coffee price.
Taking a few steps back, from the cup to the bean, we could become more aware of what really goes on behind-the-scenes.
Have we ever wondered how many and which steps are necessary to have the coffee we sip and enjoy every day?
While drinking our usual cup of coffee, why don’t we try to close our eyes and as we’re savoring the aromas of every single sip let’s retrace the long journey that each coffee bean has made to reach us?
Going up the supply chain, we will realize that coffee is agricultural produce, a product that comes from afar and a processed product.
Coffee is agricultural produce and if the quality of the raw material is crucial, it is at the same time affected by climatic and environmental variables.
Cheap coffee could mean that cheap but not very sustainable cultivation techniques have been applied.
The use of farming pesticides to fight pest problems or chemicals to sacrifice quality for quantity and efficiency.
Or no selection of the coffee cherries, therefore uneven ripeness and low quality of raw material.
The cultivation of coffee, like many other products, has caused great environmental damage over the years. For example, deforestation and impacts on biodiversity as well as some populations of wild animals are at risk of disappearing.
Environmental sustainability is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the world today.
Considering all the climate changes taking place, the increase in temperatures, volatile precipitations, droughts and floods, can we still turn a blind eye and not invest in finding a solution?
Applying more sustainable cultivation practices is possible and necessary!
Many already do, but it is essential to have adequate resources to invest in research, study and training, which only a fair price for the finished product can guarantee.
A product that comes from afar
What is the average journey for most coffees?
From the bean to the cup, coffee makes a very long journey, both for the distance traveled and for the numerous processing stages it goes through: farming and agricultural practices, harvest, selection, processing (fermentation), drying, another selection, transportation to exporters, export and shipment, green coffee analysis and control, transportation to the roasting, roasting, roasted coffee analysis and control, packaging, transport to the consumer and brewing.
How can we think that a low coffee price could encapsulate all these steps, all these costs, guaranteeing quality and sustainability?
A processed product
“When we drink coffee, let’s remember that every bean has been touched by a hand”Sebastião Salgado
Coffee is the product of a supply chain that involves many vehicles and machinery, considerable resources, but above all hundreds of millions of people located around the world, from South America to the counter of our trusted bar.
In the fields, in the factories, on the ships, in the coffee roasters, and in the bars coffee passes through many hands, machinery, equipment, shipping means and quality tests.
Starting from the farmer who harvests it on the plantations, the green coffee then passes into the hands of importers or “raw foodists”, to then be sold to roasters who, once blended and roasted, can entrust it to distribution and thus reach the barista and the consumer.
A coffee price that is too low may not be sustainable for all the players in the supply chain.
It would not guarantee fair wages, decent working and living conditions, training, investments and innovation, starting with the coffee farmers, the weakest but at the same time the most important link in the value chain.
The same roaster would find it difficult to guarantee a quality product that meets certain selection and processing parameters.
It would be difficult to support analysis and control tests of products, machines and the entire production phase.
It would not have the resources to invest in research and development of new technologies, new and sustainable products, and employee training.
And finally the barista, from the management of the establishment and the equipment, to the choice of products (first of all of the coffee blend) to be served to their customers, up to training and, last but not least, service.
A cheap product could mean that an unprofessional barista is brewing our cup using a low quality coffee blend without the slightest idea or knowledge of what they are doing.
We all have an important role
Being consumers, we make important decisions, choices that reflect who we are as a person and in which values we believe in.
These choices have huge impacts. Socially, economically and environmentally.
For this reason, every time we find ourselves buying or ordering a product, we learn to go beyond marketing and ask ourselves what is behind it and inside, starting from the price.
The fight for sustainability can begin right from the coffee price: it can no longer be the usual price to which the usual bar has accustomed us for the usual coffee, but must be able to support the entire supply chain. Not only to enhance quality coffee and maintain high standards, but to make the value chain more sustainable, from an environmental and social point of view.
Cheap coffees are somehow appealing and convenient and purchasing a very expensive bag or a cup of coffee is a treat which belongs to the privileged or the coffee addicts.
But we don’t have to be so radical, choosing the most expensive or the cheapest. The right is in the middle.
Raising the coffee price could frighten those who don’t have real arguments or quality in the cup. It is therefore necessary to work on communication and culture, enhance professionals with training and protect customers by serving high quality coffee.
It is possible to get much closer to sustainability in coffee.
We simply need the courage to make it a priority that is part and not separate from profit.
Let’s learn to be conscious consumers
Starting tomorrow, if we know the impact it can have on so many people, sectors, and the environment, our daily cup could have a different meaning.
And the coffee price will have the right taste and value for the sustainability of the entire supply chain.
The sustainability is often used as a greenwashing communication strategy.
At SpecialCoffee, we have always believed and invested in sustainability and its three dimensions: environmental, social and governance.