When Dutch traders introduced the Typica cultivar to Indonesia in the 17th century, coffee production underwent a rapid expansion. This was aided by a particularly favourable microclimate near the equator and mountainous regions across its many islands. But in the late 1880s, disaster struck when coffee leaf rust swept through large swathes of the country; virtually wiping out the varietal with the exception of the higher slopes of Sumatra. In response, the hardier Robusta coffee plant species was cultivated in much of the low-lying regions and the species flourished to account for nearly three-quarters of the Indonesia’s total coffee total coffee production today.
To catch a glimpse into the coffee value chain of the future, let’s take a quick look at some of the pioneering developments that are dramatically reshaping the landscape today. In a digital age of big data, powerful algorithms, just-in-time logistics and more interconnected communities globally than ever before, a revolution in coffee is taking place – and it is gathering a powerful head of steam.
In a climate of consolidation where eight major trading houses now control more than half (60%) of the world’s coffee bought and sold on the global market, there has been a tectonic shift in the supply chain that now seems unstoppable. Driven by the power of digital technologies fuelled by increased consumer demand, a new era of transparency and traceability is changing the conversation about coffee.
In the eighties, there were lots of agencies in the supply chain so roasters had very little idea of coffee production at origin. The traders offered coffee on a delivery basis to the factories from the warehouse, not necessarily from the farm gate. The internet changed all that and opened the door to establish direct contacts at origin built on trust; and above all, coffee is about trust.
Behind the macro-trend of consolidation in bulk markets, specialty coffee has been confidently moving in the direction of craft beer. A new generation of customers want to know the story behind the single origins and they demand greater sustainability which means fair prices at the farmer level. They want to participate at a deeper level and have confidence that their coffee is traceable and traded transparently.
No one can dispute that digitization is laying new tracks in the way physical coffee is being traded; particularly in specialty markets where price is largely disconnected from the world market and provenance is highly prized.
This shift that we are seeing in the supply chain will change the role of traders. As growing transparency in price and pressure on margins increases, traders will become more like data analysts as roaster’s search for the most cost efficient and transparent system to buy and market their product. Service providers such as algrano with digital platforms that connect the buyer and seller directly are challenging the way coffee has been traditionally traded.
And as the third wave in speciality coffee roasteries and independent coffee shops continues to gather pace, the mainstream market is now paying more attention to the journey from the crop to cup. Through its award-winning platform, algrano is responding to this need by helping to bridge the gap between growers and roasters. The platform also helps to overcome the enormous logistical challenges and risks of moving large volumes from one continent to another.
Whether it is a micro-lot or a full container’s worth of green coffee, growers want access to an open digital market space where they can sell their coffee online to the world. They want to tell their story and show their varieties or processing methods to potential buyers. This awareness is empowering greater knowledge sharing as producers can now compare directly with their neighbours – or even other countries. Technology is underpinning these new capabilities as people at both ends of the value chain have the tools to access more information and become more informed.
The head of steam in the engine room of the coffee trade is building, and story is moving. It’s about access to quality, transparency and traceability for roasters and new markets for producers. For a fairer and more sustainable value chain, this is definitely the direction that coffee needs to go. Since algrano was launched at World of Coffee in Gothenburg in 2015 – when we scooped an award for tech innovation – the online community has now grown to represent more than 400 growers and cooperatives from across ten coffee producing countries in central, south America. Over 500 roasters have joined to source coffee that is directly delivered to their door.
Next stop is East Africa and Asia as producers from Ethiopia and Indonesia plan to get on board later this year.