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Building Resilience in the Coffee Industry

Ewan Reid, Managing Director

Ewan Reid, managing Director at Matthew Algie

Looking for reasons to be cheerful in the hospitality sector can be a tall order amid COVID however when the chips were down our sector came back fighting to rebuild both consumer confidence and trading on the road to recovery. Whether it’s capitalising on the Eat Out to Help Out campaign here in the UK or innovative ways of maintaining the consumer experience amidst operational limitations, then new thinking and speedy adaptation remain key. One way or another the businesses that thrive will ultimately be more resilient as we navigate our way through current trading. It’s an age-old adage but a problem shared is a problem halved and the importance of partnerships and wider connections in business and our personal lives often underpins our resilience. We are delighted to showcase some of the great work that Oscar and Annie at our long-term tea partner Suki have undertaken with the long view in mind; rebranding and continuing their sustainability commitment. With Brita we partnered early on in lockdown to understand what reopening thousands of coffee machines after an extended period would mean. We also took time to get to know their business better so we can partner to bring you the best water quality solutions for your coffee in the future.

Digital and the oft overused ‘pivot’ remain at the forefront of hospitality thinking just now. While pivoting comes naturally to what is an adaptable industry, digital is an area we are perhaps having to play catch-up real quick by necessity. Who’d have thought six months ago that having an app collecting customer details would make your customers feel safe as part of your hospitality experience? From digitally enabled homeworking driving footfall back into suburban hospitality to creating deeper lasting customer relationships through digital interactions then digital will continue to touch every element of our sector. We have some fantastic insight from our digital agency RocketMill to help you build your own digital resilience and strategy.

At origin, few producer countries have been hit as hard by COVID as Peru and Brazil, however the resilience of organised communities through Fairtrade co-op’s has averted some of the wider COVID impact in rural areas and we are pleased to share successes from these two countries in this issue. In the last few months, I’ve been heartened (but not surprised) to hear regularly from friends and contacts in the producer community as to how they’ve adapted farming, harvest and processing to keep coffee flowing. So let us begin here, with an update from our farmers...

Ascarive, part of the Cocarive co-operative in Brazil represents a number of Fairtrade certified small holder farmers in the Sul de Minas region Minas Gerais – one of the most important regions of coffee growing in Brazil.

Business Manager Maria Paula Rocha sent us this update:

"In Brazil, COVID-19 is having many negative effects. Many companies are closing and as a result there is a lot of unemployment. Another negative issue is the economic and political fragility.

Mr. Paulo Rocha and his family are doing well. As a family business the harvest has been fine, but the production costs have increased a lot. It has also been difficult for him and other producers to face isolation for so long, which has generated psychological crises as well. Ascarive is developing the projects that are possible and contributing to the producer in the best way we can. Some plans for 2020 have been postponed and we believe they will have to be cancelled due to social and financial factors resulting from the pandemic. On the other hand, we are adapting methods to support producers, families and the community, such as online service and fundraising to help prevent the pandemic. Two of our collaborators have already tested positive for COVID-19 in June and this has led to disorders, fear and anguish. We try to provide support for that.

“The consumption of specialty coffee has also dropped, which is tough for our producers that have invested money and a lot of effort in quality.”

In addition to everyone's health, our main concern is the commercialization of our product. We managed to make a small sale through a future-lock in April and after that the market had no positive reaction. This brings insecurity and uncertainty as families survive on coffee production.

The consumption of specialty coffee has also dropped, which is tough for our producers that have invested money and a lot of effort in quality.

We are a Fairtrade producer. The sale of Fairtrade coffee had changed the reality of many people in our region. As you know Ascarive develops numerous projects for the benefit of families and the community. This drop in Fairtrade sales may cause great losses soon. In general, the return of activities is happening gradually and we continue with faith in the support from our partners, knowing that this will make a big difference."

Peru has been hit hard by the virus which coincided with the start of their busy harvest and export period.

Sol and Cafe are Fairtrade certified and the minimum price mechanism along with the more flexible use of the social premium implemented at the onset of the pandemic will inevitably help the cooperative and their farmers. However, like much of the supply chain, it is still too early to gauge the full impact.

Bernardo Córdova Calle (pictured), a dry mill employee who has worked many years at Norandino Mill in Piura explained...

"The impact of Coronavirus has been huge. The crop of coffee 2020 has started and with it the first shipments.

The quarantine started in Perú on March 16th, and from May 4th the dry mill set up new procedures, protection equipment and staff training. Staff schedules have all changed and all visits are strictly controlled - be it tracks, containers, people from the government, customs agents, etc

Life has changed a lot for all the people here but one of the biggest concerns is that if the workers get coronavirus the mill may close. The quarantine also seems never-ending. Naturally, people also fear for their families becoming sick. But not all is bad. Coronavirus is making us closer to our families. We are also working with more structure, making a schedule of all our activities. We are also introducing new ways of work like remote working. We know this kind of work is common in another countries but for us is really new.

This is big challenge for us, but we are staying positive an believe that we will overcome it."

“It is not all bad. Coronavirus is making us closer to our families. We are also working with more structure..introducing new ways of working”

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