Just Us! is always working to remove unnecessary pieces of the coffee buying chain. Last year we purchased nearly 80% of our coffee (by weight) directly from about 70% of our relationships. That’s 11 out of 16 co-ops. By "directly" we mean we negotiate our own contract directly with the producer organization, approve our own shipments, pay producer organizations directly from our bank account to theirs, and we visit regularly. Besides shipping and importing costs, the producer organization receives all the money involved in the transaction.
In essence, it’s like going to the Wolfville Farmers Market and buying your vegetables from the farmer that grew them...well maybe a bit more complicated than that. Here are a few of the not so subtle differences:
1. Farmer Organizations.
The “farmer” in our case it is usually an organized group of farmers that range in size from 12 to about 100,000 members. This doesn’t mean we cannot keep particular coffees from individual farmers separate in our orders but it does mean that these groups work together to share both the challenging, multifaceted and complicated work life of a farmer and the rewards that are involved along the way. This could certainly happen here in Wolfville (occasionally you hear farmers talking about the idea around here) but at this point in time, the co-op model is not practiced amongst the small-farmers in the area.
We cannot walk down the street to buy our green coffee. Coffee can only be grown within 20 degrees of the equator. This means it will always be imported to Canada which means we must travel a lot at considerable expense to visit producers and maintain strong relationships with them.
Again, because of international trade, there is exporting and importing that needs to happen. One of the many benefits of a producer co-op is that they have the capacity to deal with exporting their product in-house. Some co-ops don’t, but many do. In the case of some countries, the laws of the land dictate that the government or government organization must do the exporting. In these cases all of the money involved in the transaction does not go to producers unfortunately.
We have tried to do it ourselves in the past but importing is complicated and can be expensive when you make mistakes. It’s so complicated that there are companies who do nothing but importing goods. This is a cost that Just Us! has decided to out-source as it can be done by experts for a fraction of the money that we would spend. This leaves more money for us to pass along to the producer organizations.
The Wolfville Farmers Market brings local produce and goods to market for sale. Farmers may travel as little as 5 minutes or as much as an hour and a half or so to get to the market to sell their produce. The case of coffee (and tea, and sugar, and chocolate…) is very different. The majority of coffee produced in the world is never intended for local consumption. Obviously some is but in impoverished lands of the Global South, it is a cash crop whose sole purpose is export for cash generation in the household. That coffee must travel a long way by boat and the logistics of this are just as complicated as importing. In our case, we bundle both importing and shipping into one service that is professionally managed at low cost.
Permata Gayo is one of five of our relationships that is not as direct as we think is possible. Over the past five years of our relationship we have purchased their coffee through a Dutch exporter. This week, with the help of Co-op Coffees in Montreal (yet another co-op, this time a co-op of roasters) who is organizing our visit, we will make a trip to northern Sumatra to visit Permata Gayo and begin closing the gap in our relationship.
On top of all that, another reason for wanting to strengthen our relationship is that Permata Gayo recently became the first Indonesian co-op to adopt the SPP symbol which we see as the future of genuine Fair Trade. Together we hope to bust the lid of SPP and promote it as the best option for Fair Trade certification.
Joey Pittoello, Director of Coffee