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Organic coffee, tea and cocoa: Cafédirect’s spot between a rock and a hard place

Posted by: , September 14th, 2010, Comments (3)

Welcome to the second week of  Organic Fortnight, sponsored by the UK Soil Association, to encourage UK citizens to try organic products.  I thought I’d give you some insight into some contradictory trends that make both growing and selling organic coffee difficult.

So grab a cup of our Organic Medium Roast, Machu Picchu, Mayan Palenque, or Classics decaf freeze-dried coffee and read on …

FOR PRODUCERS:

Of the 25 coffee partners that we work with across Latin America and Africa, nearly all are converted to, or in the process of converting to, organic production.  Top on their list of good reasons for making this change are the higher prices organic coffee fetches on the international market, the environmental benefits of healther soil and plants that are less dependent on artificial fertilisers and the human health benefits of not having to handle or be exposed to chemicals.

Reynaldo & Candalario, two Board members of the San Fernando coffee cooperative in Mexico.  Their coffee goes into our Palenque organic Roast & Ground coffee.

Reynaldo & Candalario, two Board members of the San Fernando coffee cooperative in Mexico. Their coffee goes into our Palenque organic Roast & Ground coffee.

That said, yields decrease under organic production, as the plants are mature more slowly and are not fed higher levels of nutrients which make them produce more.  A small harvest makes higher prices crucial to a sustainable livelihood for organic farmers.

FOR CONSUMERS:

Meanwhile, back in the UK, consumer trends have showed a decline in the purchase of organic products over the last few years during the recession.  While the Soil Association believes this decline to be slowly recovering, our own experience here at Cafédirect has been that the organic products in our range have not fared as well.  There are lots of theories about when and why consumers choose organic products.

FOR CAFÉDIRECT:

As a business positioned between growers and consumers, we find ourselves in a tough place with organic production.  We support it because it is clearly better for the environment, and because it means a higher value product for the producers that can achieve certification.  Yet we also understand the view of some small farmers (especially in Africa) that it can be yet another set of difficult and expensive standards to meet to earn certification, as well as lowering yields during the 3 years of ‘transition’ before certification can even be granted (and the higher price earned).  Finally,  we struggle ourselves to afford the higher prices if consumers here in the UK won’t pay more to purchase them.

So here I ask you:

  • What makes you choose organic, if you do?
  • Are you willing to pay more for an organic vs. conventional produce?
  • How much more?