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311. Big news in coffee

I have been so busy preparing for and participating in Sustainable Harvest’s 10th annual Let’s Talk Coffee in Colombia last week that I am just getting caught up on some recent news in coffee. Here are some of the biggest stories in specialty coffee from the last month.

  • Counter Culture releases 2011 Direct Trade Certified Transparency Report.
    Counter Culture’s 2011 Direct Trade Certified Transparency Report represents the company’s third annual exercise in opening the books on its relationships with its Direct Trade Certified partners.  This year’s report focuses on nine sources in the Counter Culture supply chain.  (If I were a writer for Sprudge, my tabloid headline would be “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of Counter Culture Direct Trade.”)  The report may have been received with less enthusiasm this year than in previous years, but not because the 2011 edition is somehow less worthy than its predecessors.  Rather, Counter Culture has become a victim of its own success in tying its brand to the idea of transparency: we have already come to expect in 2011 what was extraordinary in 2009.  But the three reports, together with Counter Culture’s innovative research into the social impact of microlots, establish it as a leader on supply chain transparency among pioneering Direct Trade roasters.
  • Green Mountain reports out on social impact in 2011.
    Green Mountain released its 2011 CSR report, which describes the company’s ambitious reinvestment agenda and details more than $15 million in giving in 2011.  This 11-page offset focuses on the company’s investment of MORE THAN $8 MILLION in reinvestment in the coffeelands — $5 million of that in the fight GMCR has led against hunger in the coffeelands.   (In this timely piece, the NYT Dot Earth blog profiles Green Mountain’s efforts to fight hunger in the coffeelands.)  The scope of the company’s impact agenda at origin and the scale of its giving are staggering; the rigor of its measurement and presentation of its outcomes, which are well-presented in the report, is worthy of special note.  Amid all the reporting on its reinvestment at origin, another relevant detail about the impact of the GMCR model almost gets lost in the shuffle: the company sourced OVER 50 MILLION POUNDS of Fair Trade Certified coffee in 2011 — almost double the 26 million pounds it was sourcing annually when it became the world’s largest buyer of FT Certified coffee.

GMCR's 2011 spending in the coffeelands.

  • Starbucks releases “triple-threat” Verismo home brewing system.
    After much anticipation, the world’s leading coffee brand began selling its Verismo home brewing system online and through select home retailers.  Early reports suggest brisk sales of Verismo’s three-way technology, which is the first to prepare espresso drinks, brewed coffee and milk for lattes all from pods.  Joining GMCR’s Keurig technology and Nespresso’s home-espresso machines, Verismo is likely to intensify competition in the $8 billion U.S. single-serve market.  More another time about the implications for smallholder farmers.
  • “Let’s Talk Coffee” turns 10.
    Finally, the reason I have been out of the loop on coffee news is news in itself: Sustainable Harvest’s innovative “Let’s Talk Coffee” event celebrated its 10th birthday last week in Colombia.  With more than 450 participants from 28 countries, this was the biggest-ever LTC.  With compelling content, diverse participants and great parties, it may have also been the best LTC ever.  I will write next week with a summary “Let’s Talk Robusta” — the event-within-the-event CRS sponsored for the Robusta farmers we serve in Ecuador’s northern Amazon.  Meantime, to get a feel for the event, you can’t do better than the LTC summary from the rock-star coffee scribes at Sprudge.

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