Understanding the coffee supply chain

Before we take a look into how importer and producer relationships can make an impact, we have to understand the coffee value chain as a whole. It all starts at origin, where producers work year-round to ensure coffee plants remain healthy and thus produce high-quality coffees. However, the production stage of the value chain branches out between several stakeholders such as local communities, workers, and their families and the native flora and fauna. A collective effort between these stakeholders is what ensures a farm’s success.

At the next stage of the coffee value chain, we have the mill. Sometimes, producers may process the coffee themselves, but more often than not they opt to work with a mill as the machinery and infrastructure required for processing is complex and quite expensive. The mills may also provide storage space for the coffees under the right conditions and help producers prepare the coffee for export. 

Next we have importers, who are often the first point of contact linking the consuming and producing coffee worlds. They scout, source and work with producers to provide a diverse offering list to roasters of all sizes in consuming countries. This leads us to roasters who either work with importers to supply their roastery or in some cases may opt to work directly with producers, 

At the end of the value chain, we have consuming stakeholders such as coffee shops and final consumers, who through fair consumption practices can also make an impact on a more inclusive value chain. All in all we can conclude that it’s a complex system with many stakeholders throughout the way, but each one equally as important as the last. Having a full understanding at what goes on at each stage of the coffee supply chain allows us to identify where we can make a larger impact. 

Collaboration and coexistence 

As German-based importers we have thought about this long and hard. Trust us. And we believe that being a german company based in Guatemala gives us an advantage when it comes to responsible trade. Being at origin allows us to have direct access to our producers and vice versa, making logistics, communication and relationship development a lot easier for all parties involved. Working with producers allows us to truly understand our coffees and the hard work that goes on behind them, and therefore bring that value all the way to Europe to share with all of our roasting partners. However, taking a step beyond the coffee, being in such close contact with our producers, we inevitably become a family. We share similar goals and vision for the coffee industry, which opens up a world of opportunities to make an impact. 

There is power in consistency

In a coffee industry full of uncertainty we really value our relationships with producers more than ever and we work towards being the best partners to them. That’s why we are committed to long-term relationships and hope that through consistent purchases it provides producers with the security they need to reinvest in the farms, communities and families. This is often not the case because unfortunately the coffee industry often overlooks the negative impact that inconsistency and lack of commitment in producer-buyer relationships can have in communities. On the other hand, a healthy relationship provides infinite room for growth. As importers we can understand the hardships of each producer and help them in whatever way we can, and in turn producers can continue to reinvest and increase the quality of their coffees, which we love! 

Another way relationships between importers and producers can make an impact is through market access opportunities. It’s important to provide producers with a platform to showcase their coffees; because as we all know, without them we wouldn’t have coffees at all! This can come in several ways:

Trade shows, events and cuppings

As we know, the consuming end of the value chain holds a large amount of leverage in the coffee industry, so it’s important to get them involved and help drive that value down to producing countries. A great way to do this is by attending trade shows. These events are crucial to understand the current state of the industry, up and coming trends and to get in closer contact with roasters. This allows us as importers to understand what the market is looking for in terms of quality and preference and then travel back to Guatemala to work with our producers to become more competitive in the specialty coffee market. These opportunities wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for a producer-importer relationship that works towards the improvement of both stakeholders and these trade shows are the perfect opportunity for us to do just that, share information with producing stakeholders and making valuable contacts with roasters across the world.

Remember that this all trickles down to origin as roasters fall in love with each coffee, they work with importers and producers to ensure the sustainability of the farm and communities that make it possible through community development, education, environmental preservation, and increase work opportunities. When we grow, our producers grow with us!

Farm visits

Another way for roasters to improve their relationships with importers and producers is via farm visits. Producers and importers have to be allies to make sure more value is retained at origin, and by working together to host roasters at the farm provides increased traceability and market opportunities for both producers and importers to generate more sales and reinvest in their communities! Not to mention it’s an incredibly fun time!

Coming together in Times of Crisis

Until now we have talked about how we can retain value at origin, and how increased traceability, transparency, market access and direct contact with roasters can generate more revenue that will trickle down to community development, environmental preservation and economic stability. However, there is something that we believe is worth expanding on: being there for those in need in times of crisis. 

We may be a German-based coffee importer but we are based in Guatemala. Our roots are in Guatemala. When times got tough due to COVID-19, we were lucky to receive amazing support from friends, families, and government aid. However, people in local communities didn’t have the same support we did and we couldn’t sit back without doing anything. After searching for ways to support these families, we joined forces with Teodoro Engelhardt from Finca La Bella to develop a community blend that we would sell under the brand “White Flag Coffee”. Through this producer-importer collaboration, we are able to share 100% of the profits with communities in Guatemala, mediated by our local partners from Colectivo Comunitario, to provide them with food, medicine, and hygiene products. 

However, it’s worth mentioning that this partnership to generate an impact outside our industry is only possible due to the amazing relationship (more like a friendship) with our producers.

If you’d like to get involved in White Flag Coffee, feel free to reach out to us through our website or our social media! We’re looking forward to hearing from you!