Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How Coffee Farmers Are Being Left Out of the 'Local' Coffee Movement Around the World

By Rebecca Roebber, Marketing Director at indi chocolate and F2F volunteer

Kishé coffee has some of the best coffee in the world, grown at high altitude in rich volcanic soil by a majority of women farmers. They go above and beyond to meet international consumer demand by paying for their coffee to be certified Fair-Trade, Organic and Kosher. (Yes, these are expenses that farmers pay to third party entities.) They roast their beans in Xela, Guatemala and sell green beans internationally. They also sub contract work to a roaster in LA who fulfills any roasted coffee orders within the United States.  The goal is to eventually sell the majority of their coffee as roasted coffee beans in the United States, however, competing with the ‘local’ coffee movement has proven to be a challenge.

Why does a cooperative of farmers, with some of the highest quality coffee beans in the world have trouble selling their roasted coffee beans?

I live in Seattle, home of Starbucks and a coffee roaster on every block. The coffee culture and competition is fierce and having a local presence is crucial. Coffee does not grow in Seattle or within any part of the continental United States, however the term ‘local coffee’ is used everywhere. Even if the coffee is locally roasted it is not like a tomato or an apple that can be locally grown.

The challenge becomes; how can a cooperative based in Guatemala, where coffee  grows, compete with coffee companies that roast locally in the United States? I had the opportunity to work with Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer Program - a USAID-funded program - and the Kishé team for two weeks developing a marketing plan.  We evaluated marketing techniques and analyzed strategies that competitors are using to be able to compete on a global level. What I realized is that there are hardly any other cooperative owned coffee companies out there, which means educating the consumer about what Farmer-Owned Coffee is becomes a priority.

I believe that educating the consumer in any industry is fundamental to creating momentum and loyalty behind any brand.

I work full time as the Marketing Director at indi chocolate, located in Pike Place Market. We make bean-to-bar chocolate. Everyday people from all over the world come into the store and have never even thought about where chocolate comes from, how it is grown, or the process of how cacao is made into chocolate, but everyone is curious.  When they learn that we work directly with farmers, that we are using high quality cacao beans, and we are doing it all in small batches, they understand the value of the chocolate we are making.

Kishé has the disadvantage of not having a permanent location, but with tools like the internet we as consumers can become more informed and keep in touch with Kishé through their website and other social media platforms. In fact, it is very important to Kishé coffee to be transparent in their practices so that even if the consumer cannot come to their coffee shop or to one of their coffee farms they know that the Kishé practices are the best for farmers, for the environment and for the people drinking their coffee.

I’ve visited coffee farms and met coffee farmers before throughout South and Central America and although they grew some of the best coffee in the world we would sit around drinking Nescafé, because they couldn’t afford to drink their own coffee. At the Kishé cooperative there was a tradition of starting the day out with a French press full of freshly roasted and ground coffee, occasionally we would stop what we were doing and everyone would participate in a coffee cupping. They are passionate about growing and roasting the best tasting coffee. They encourage one another and anyone else who comes to visit to be educated about the whole process.

Kishé coffee is community in a cup!

1 comment:

  1. Great post and thanks for featuring Kishe! I interviewed them as well for Fairtrade America and have gone through two bags of their El Vergel Coffee - so good and now just need to link them with the coverage and support they need. The most direct of direct trades going on there.