How can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

Karmen Yoong
July 28, 2022
How can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

Without an excellent strategy for sourcing coffee, it can be difficult to guarantee quality products for consumers.

What’s more, a growing number of consumers are expecting brands to take a stance on social and environmental issues. Notably, recent research revealed 42% of consumers have changed their consumption habits because of their stance on the environment.

As a result, coffee roasters are feeling increased pressure to embrace better practices for sourcing coffee that meet these ethical standards. 

When quality coffee is met with ethical sourcing that benefits the entire supply chain, it provides a holistic experience for consumers – which inevitably helps elevate the brand image and identity. 

To find out more about how roasters can improve their approach to sourcing coffee and adopt better practices, I spoke with WBC-certified judge, Danilo Lodi.

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An image of coffee roasters checking green coffee in an article on how can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

How do roasters source green coffee?

Roasters can source green coffee in a number of different ways. 

Broadly, coffee roasters can choose to buy directly from coffee producers or through an intermediary. 

Danilo has been involved in multiple facets of the coffee industry for almost two decades, and says direct trade is among the most popular approaches to sourcing coffee.

“Buying directly from farmers is the dream, and it is what everyone wants to do,” says Danilo, who is also a green coffee buyer and farm consultant. “Direct sourcing is great because roasters can build a long lasting relationship with the producers.

“However, not every roaster has the size or capacity to do this and not every producer can afford to only ship a few bags of coffee.”

Direct trade should not be confused with the term “fair trade”. 

Direct trade is a sourcing model that only involves the roaster and producer. On the other hand, fair trade is considered a Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS).

These standards require products to meet specific sustainability criteria that are often monitored and certified by independent bodies. 

In cases where direct sourcing is inaccessible for roasters, another alternative to sourcing coffee is by working with coffee traders or brokers. 

This is a favoured approach as traders will have the experience and resources to help roasters perform all the heavy lifting associated with import. 

At the same time, roasters have an opportunity to choose from a wider range of options with lower minimum order quantity.

For roasters based in coffee producing countries, Danilo says the third option is to work with coffee cooperatives, which are non-profit organisations run by a group of producers. 

“Coffee cooperatives typically gather coffee from all around the area,” Danilo says. “So, roasters will be able to taste everything they have.”

An image of coffee farmers and roasters working together at origin in an article on how can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

Why is it important for roasters to improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

In the midst of global concerns around climate change and price volatility of the coffee market, consumers are putting a stronger emphasis on coffee brands to protect the livelihood of its producers. 

As a result, there is a need for roasters to find a balance between serving quality coffee and upholding responsible business practices – particularly in sourcing green coffee.

A 2020 survey found almost 75% of consumers found it important for coffee shops to be as transparent as possible with their coffee sourcing practices.

A strong sourcing relationship between roasters and farmers can help the producing community in many ways. In particular, it creates a virtuous cycle that allows producers to earn more profit. 

Additionally, a long-term relationship promotes a sense of security for producers, who may be more willing to invest in the quality of their coffee. For instance, they can invest in new farming equipment, implement sustainable farming practices, and experiment with innovative processing methods. 

In turn, higher quality coffee translates into greater sales and profit, which can then be reinvested into the farm.

More so, improved trade relationships also mean producers are less exposed to the price volatility of the coffee market. 

As well as allowing roasters to serve consistently quality coffee, strong trade relationships give them access to information at origin, helping to foster greater transparency in the supply chain. 

Origin information not only educates consumers but serves as a bridge to connect curious customers with the people behind their cup of coffee.

With that, consumers can identify the hard work at origin and understand the impact their purchases make on coffee farmers, leading to a greater appreciation for coffee and the producing community.

An image of a coffee roaster cupping samples of coffee in an article on how can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

How can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

Sourcing coffee is a combination of various elements, including relationships, transparency, and a balance between business needs with ethical actions at origin. 

“To me, a good sourcing strategy is about bringing great coffees to the table,” says Danilo, who is also a WCE representative. “It’s about knowing where the coffees come from, and why they are great. This includes all the practices producers are doing for this coffee – as well as diversifying your portfolio.”

Whether it is sourcing coffee directly from farmers or through traders, the first step roasters can take to build strong trade relationships is to understand their partners.

Danilo advises roasters to research the region they are sourcing coffee from: the history of the traders and farmers, past crop performance, and client feedback, to name a few. 

Furthermore, more roasters are using transparency reports to show their commitment towards ethical sourcing.

For example, Drop Coffee in Sweden uses a sustainability report to showcase how its sourcing practices are contributing to social, economic and environmental sustainability. Additionally, the company publishes the freight-on-board (FOB) price paid to every farmer it works with.

“This is one approach that I really admire,” Danilo says. “I think you need to be so consistent with your work in order to show that. Customers will be happy because they can see why this coffee is more expensive than others.”

Blue Bottle Coffee has partnered with Enveritas to develop a “Green Coffee Supplier Code of Conduct”. This ensures the company only works with supply chain partners that meet core requirements across various aspects, including human rights, environmental sustainability, and business integrity.

An image of a cup of black coffee surrounded by a scale, coffee grinder, kettle, and white multilayer kraft paper coffee bag in an article on how can roasters improve their approach to sourcing coffee?

Overall, there are many ways roasters can improve their approach to sourcing coffee. Ethical and sustainable sourcing practices go beyond the act of buying green coffee, and can be extended further down the chain of coffee packaging.

Making the switch to eco-friendly packaging has never been more important. According to Project Café Europe 2022 report, industry leaders stated a 100% recyclable materials policy and the use of biodegradable packaging are two of the most desirable sustainability policies in their market.

MTPak Coffee offers a range of sustainable coffee packaging options for specialty coffee roasters and coffee shops. Our range of coffee bags is made from 100% recyclable materials, such as kraft paper and rice paper. Our line also includes low-density polyethylene (LDPE) options that are lined with polylactic acid (PLA). As a result, all our coffee bags are recyclable, compostable and biodegradable.

Furthermore, we can custom design and digitally print your coffee bags so they can tell the best story of the coffee while showcasing your commitment towards sustainability, traceability and transparency.

For more information on sustainable, custom-printed coffee bags, contact our team.

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Karmen Yoong
Karmen Yoong

Karmen has been a writer for MTPak Coffee for several years and is very passionate about her craft.

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