Why is the specialty coffee market lagging?

November 6, 2023

Why is the specialty coffee market lagging?

In Episode #5 of the Carblecast, Sander Reuderink, CEO at Carble, explains why the specialty coffee market needs to catch up on its sustainability ambitions. “The narrative needs to change,” Sander explains. And this episode shows you why and how. Hear how Sander talks about his travels to sustainable specialty coffee farms and how he discovered these same plots experienced deforestation. 

Specialty coffee trader spills the beans

Before setting up Carble, Sander Reuderink, CEO at Carble, worked for over a decade as a coffee roaster and trader. Like everyone else in the specialty coffee sector, Sander was convinced that the industry was sustainable since specialty coffee actors work directly with producers and pay a higher price for higher quality coffee. The higher price, or premium, would be invested back into sustainability. This is the narrative of specialty coffee and sustainability is part of this too.

Then, as Sander started Carble and made objective analyses of carbon emissions by measuring deforestation from satellites, he found a different reality. As none of the coffee buyers had good GPS data available, the Carble team collected the coordinates themselves and ran the first analyses using remote sensing. The results shocked Sander and the team. 

The time machine that is remote-sensing

Using remote sensing you can go back in time. It’s a time machine allowing you to look back 10 or 20 years to see land-use change of each hectare within your supply chains.  By just going back in time, Sander saw that many of the farms he visited were transferred from lush forests to deforested land. “Deforestation was so much worse than I ever imagined,” Sander explains. “The specialty segment was not more sustainable, we just did not have a clue of what was going on.”

Flipside of the coin

As the project was completed, the Carble team did their first project for a commercial company in the commodity sector. “I was amazed to find out that their farms were already GPS mapped with excellent accuracy, and that the companies were working hard on delivering on their science-based targets,” Sander explains. “And even better, huge companies like Nestlé have already announced even huger budgets to meet their commitment to Net Zero and invest in regenerative agriculture. It made me think: is the specialty coffee sector falling behind in terms of sustainability?”

The specialty coffee market needs to change the narrative

Sander says that specialty coffee brands argue they are too small to invest in remote sensing and technology for analysis. “But that is not true”, Sander argues. “Although many companies claim to buy directly from the producers, this trade is almost always facilitated by larger traders that have enough resources to collect GPS data, calculate emissions, and provide insights on farmers' ability to earn a living income.”

“The narrative needs to change,” Sander explains. The specialty coffee market made amazing advancements in terms of quality, but as Sander argues “Now we need to focus on making sure we can enjoy these amazing quality coffees in a Net Zero world, otherwise specialty coffee will soon be obsolete.”

Questions after watching or reading through episode #5 of the Carblecast? Please reach out

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