Coffee Supply Chain

Coffee Is Complicated. Let’s Embrace It

November 1, 2016
Fair Trade USA

By Teresa von Fuchs

Earlier this month, I had the honor of speaking at a FairTrade USA event called Supply Chain Intelligence. It was a roundtable discussion that included two other coffee importers, two specialty coffee roasters and the head of a co-op in Peru. With seven voices, we didn’t have time to cover a ton of ground. And though any public conversation about the complexity and the number of parties involved in coffee is certainly beneficial, I was left feeling like we keep missing something big.

For years, specialty coffee has sold itself on being a “better” trading model. Better for producers and better for consumers, with more transparency and better pricing. But I worry that in our efforts to tout a model as better, we skip over explaining the details of how all the models work — and perhaps how similar they are. By glossing over all the pieces and processes in the supply chain, and how different these are in each coffee-producing country, we miss an opportunity to really explain what it is that we’re doing differently (if anything) and to help consumers and all actors in the chain to understand and own their value.

There have been so many conversations about “trust,” “transparency” and even “quality,” without the actors on all sides plainly defining what those terms mean and how they’re addressed within their organizations.

By glossing over the pieces and processes in the supply chain … we miss an opportunity to … help consumers and all actors in the chain to understand and own their value.

I know consumers want an easy answer or stamp to help them navigate an array of products — and there really is so much to navigate. But it might be time that we in specialty coffee begin to embrace and address the complexity of the supply chain, in order to better define what it looks like today, what we’re doing differently, and to get that more complicated, but hopefully more meaningful, message to customers.

Teresa von Fuchs is a coffee nerd and the director of Sales & Marketing at The Genuine Origin Coffee Project.

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