A new dialogue in direct trade

A tech-based platform could be set to revolutionise how coffee roasters and growers interact and trade with each other. Algrano, a Swiss-based start up that officially launched earlier this year at Nordic World of Coffee in Gothenburg, Sweden, is shorthand for the Spanish phrase vamos directo al grano, or fittingly translated as – let’s get straight to the point. It’s a simple but effective concept that has already scooped a coveted SCAE award for tech innovation. The pioneers behind Algrano are also setting their sights on nurturing a global community of coffee professionals from opposite ends of the speciality coffee value chain by creating a space for dialogue and direct trade. The first shipping container of coffee grown by producers in Nicaragua – some of the them Cup of Excellence finalists – has already made its way across the Atlantic to the port of Bremen, Germany, and the team are now preparing their second container for growers in Brazil.

Visiting coffee producers in Brazil

As the trend in speciality coffee shops making the jump to roasting their own coffee gathers pace, there is greater interest in having more influence over the coffee’s journey from the crop to cup. Algrano is responding to this need by building the bridge between farmers and roasters  and overcoming the logistical challenges and risks of moving small quantities of green coffee from one continent to another. Price per kilo, export and delivery costs are presented clearly on the platform and roasters have the opportunity to pay a premium above the cost of production to support improvements in agronomic practices or social projects.

The platform also helps to improve transparency in the coffee value chain by enabling farmers to present their coffees to new speciality markets and customers that they would not otherwise have access to. More than just an online marketplace, the ability to strengthen the ethos of traceable ‘relationship coffee’ where buyers and sellers are able to directly engage and share information offers huge potential. This is particularly potent in an industry where established coffee merchants can still hold a disproportionate balance of power in the complex supply chain.

Algrano co-founder, Gilles Brunner, who has an academic background in international relations and development wanted to explore how the private sector can provide innovative sustainable solutions to global agricultural supply chains. It was after a year of working in the field to support Brazilian coffee farmers achieve certification such as Rainforest Alliance accreditation that the idea of help growers and roasters to interact online took root.

Algrano Co-founder, Gilles Brunner

Brunner developed the idea with co-founders Christian Burri and Raphael Studer. The team was selected by the Startup Chile programme in 2013, and later Startup Brazil in 2014 to work with Fair Trade co-operatives to test the platform. The initial response from growers was extremely positive but it was not until they took their concept to the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA) to understand the needs of roasters that the platform shifted to a trade platform where coffee could be bought directly from origin.

In May this year, the team met with growers in Nicaragua to train them on how to set up their own profiles and post images or updates onto the platform’s dedicated newsfeed. Gilles feels strongly that content should be largely producer-generated so that an active community can be created from the grassroots up. “Our number one purpose is to connect growers with roasters. Since the launch we’re really happy that 140 roasters have now registered online and can request samples from growers up to two weeks before the container closes. The value that we bring is to consolidate all the demands of the roasters into the one container and ask the exporter to prepare and ship the container to its destination”, he says.

“We don’t import coffee and store it in a warehouse. We want the roaster to choose the coffee that crosses the ocean, and we think this has real value. Roasters tell us that it takes time and money to source really interesting micro lots and we want to make it easy for them and sustainable for producers to do just that.”

The Algrano team are now busy establishing links with coffee farmers in Brazil so that they can present a container with growers and exporters from the world’s largest coffee producer once the harvest of the 2015/16 crop gets underway later this year. Gilles adds, “coffee is a universal language and we’re here to help nurture those conversations between growers and roasters”. It’s the kind of language that coffee professionals and customers are keen to hear more of as the conversation increasingly becomes a chorus for transparent, sustainable models of direct trade.

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