Our responsible sourcing principles.
We take a proactive approach to defining what responsible sourcing means to us, and what inputs inform our definition. We remain transparent that our best-practices for responsible sourcing are a moving target, and we work to continuously improve, clarify, and make them more measurable every day.
Our vision of responsible sourcing is inspired by various sources, and inclusive of multiple stakeholder perspectives. These include the UN’s sustainable development goals, evidence-based research on the critical issues affecting farmers and our industry, attending sustainability conferences, engaging in conversations with our customers, our importers, exporters, and coffee producers. We revisit our purchasing strategy annually, making sure to maintain a critical lens and a questioning attitude. Here’s an overview of the three pillars that guide what we buy today, beyond quality:
Supporting smallholder farming businesses
There are three main archetypes of coffee farms in the world: commodity agri-businesses, large estates and smallholder farms. We believe in supporting the businesses of smallholder farmers. They are the backbone of our industry, producing 80% of the world’s coffee, yet the most vulnerable in our supply chain. A smallholder farmer is defined as holding under 10 hectares of land. The majority of the world’s smallholder coffee farmers hold under 5 hectares.
For reference, one hectare of farming land is about the size of a football field. Size of land determines the number of coffee trees, meaning smallholder farmers produce very little in a year. Annual yields can ranges from a few hundred kilograms to a few thousand kilograms, meaning smallholder farmers feel the impact of price and climate volatility the hardest. Of the many actors and transaction points in a traditional supply chain, smallholder farmers and farmworkers see the smallest returns on every pound of coffee sold and often rely on many intermediaries who take a cut between them and buyers. Sometimes we buy from individual farm owners but for the most part we purchase coffee from groups of smallholder farmers called co-operatives or producers associations. Other times we’ll buy from washing stations that purchase fresh coffee from smallholder farmer in the region, transform and export it, and provide services to the farming community. In these systems, smallholder farmers can pool technical, economic and knowledge resources. Furthermore, these systems allow very small farmers to gain access to the marketplace, and oftentimes, provide an alternative to the commodities market where they would make far less return for their crop.
Learn more about which smallholder farmers or groups that supply us.
We work with trusted partners called importers who facilitate our relationships with smallholder farmers, exporters, and washing stations. They discover some of the world’s most complex coffees, do incredible development work, and move our coffee across the globe. You may have heard about concepts like direct trade and the “elimination of middle-people” in the supply chain. But we believe it’s important to amplify the role that intermediaries like importers can play in the development of high quality and sustainable coffee.
Not all importers are alike, but we choose to work with importers who form strategic partnerships with coffee producers and producer organizations as well as other development actors (agronomists, international development organizations, sustainability certifications, and social impact lenders) to increase social, environmental and economic sustainability for the farming communities who supply us. We buy from importers when we know that supporting their projects with our purchasing power will have a greater impact on more people than we could have on our own. Our importers make regular visits to the farms and businesses that supply us, maintaining and developing close relationships year after year. This gives us the ability to trace where our products come from, which allows us to share more transparently with you.
Supporting developing economies
Coffee is produced in some of the world’s poorest nations. We choose to buy from countries where smallholder farmers face additional barriers to producing and exporting specialty coffee. This can be due to political turmoil and corruption, having landlocked or extremely rural geographies, or trade policies that are highly controlled and unsupportive of direct and traceable export to specialty buyers.
There are more than 50 coffee-producing countries, all located in subtropical regions near the equator. For decades, major exporters like Brazil and Vietnam have seen incredible growth while many smaller nations whose GDP relies on coffee have remained relatively flat. We choose to buy from countries whose export earnings rely heavily on producing commodity coffee, and where our support of specialty coffee production can stimulate a better economic outlook. Every coffee-growing region we buy from has its own economic and social history,challenges and opportunities, and unique flavour and terroir.
Rethinking traditional coffee pricing
Historically, and still today, the value of coffee and price paid to farmer is top-down and buyer-driven. This means, the cost of coffee in the traditional market depends on global supply and demand levels and high margins for buyers, not farm profitability.
We purchase our coffee through a private market called the specialty market, where prices are negotiated above the commodity price. In this market, value and pricing can be negotiated directly between farmers and buyers. Coffee prices are complex, and so is farmer profitability. High price paid to farmer doesn’t mean profitability. That is because cost of productions vary farm to farm, geography to geography. Farm profitability relies on many variables beyond price per pound, including but not limited to weather patterns, crop productivity and yield, plant varietals, cost of farm management and labour, and personalized social and household expenses. We look for opportunities where our importers and the farming communities we purchase from use returns from our purchases to fund social, economic and environmental sustainability projects. For every coffee we buy, our purchases support at least one driver of sustainability under each of these categories:
Projects to increase gender equityProjects to reduce generational farm abandonment Projects to improve access to water Projects to improve access to food security Projects to improve access to healthcare Projects to improve access to education
Importer or third-party quality improvement training programs Investment in tools or technology that reduce labour costs or increase productivity (from equipment to plant hybrids) Importer or third-party agronomy training programsImporter or third-party agronomy training programs Crop diversification projects Projects to comply with third party certifications or supporting third party certified farms Access to micro-credit loans for smallholder farmers Up-front payments for harvest from our importers Direct capital donations towards improvement projects
Environmental impacts.Importer or third party Climate change adaptation programs Farming methods that prevent soil degradation Initiatives to support natural canopy/shade growing Initiatives to conserve water consumption Initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emission Organic certified coffees Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees