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100% Sustainability,
Just Around the Corner

By Abigail Levene

Sustainable coffee is growing in popularity, as more and more companies seek for safer and environmental-friendly methods to produce their coffees.

Imagine a future where all coffee is sustainable coffee. Where not only the labels, such as organic or Fairtrade are responsibly produced, but where consumers can be sure that absolutely all of their favorite brands are made with care for the people and the environment.

It’s not just a dream. This future is inevitable, and has already begun. Leading roasters and retailers are moving towards producing 100% certified coffee, combining baseline certification schemes for mainstream ranges with Fairtrade or organic programs for niche products, so that all their brands meet standards of social and environmental responsibility.

Radical Change
Coffee certification is still a young development. In 1988, the Netherlands became the first country to launch the Fairtrade consumer guarantee with the Max Havelaar label, which targets a specific consumer group with its mission to strive for greater fairness in international trade. Consumers that buy this brand, which guarantees farmers a minimum price, make a deliberate choice for poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Programs, such as organic, also appeal to a small group of consumers prepared to switch brands and pay more for ethical coffee. However, for years, most other coffees were uncertified, and the mainstream brands could simply avoid questions of social and environmental responsibility.

This has all radically changed. “All coffee certification initiatives are still at an early stage. For the future, we expect the whole market to move towards certification,” says Jos Harmsen, product specialist at Max Havelaar. “Together, we are heading for 100% certification and the bad practices in the coffee market will gradually be eliminated.” Today’s far more sophisticated consumers, demand their brand to be able to answer two key questions: where did my coffee come from and how was it produced?

“Most coffee drinkers are not prepared to change brands or to pay extra for what should be the basic responsibility of a food provider,” says Lucas Simons, adjunct director of the certification program, Utz Kapeh.

Utz Kapeh aims to implement the worldwide standard for responsible coffee production and sourcing. It is a program for the mainstream market that is open to all growers from all producing countries and to all traders, roasters and retailers across the product range.

Blending Coffees
Leading Dutch supermarket chain, Albert Heijn, sells Fairtrade/Max Havelaar, but all of its own-brand coffee are Utz Kapeh-certified as well. “Different consumers have different needs, and they can co-exist very nicely,” says Alice de Haan, Albert Heijn’s category manager for coffee, tea and snacks. “Some consumers are very concerned about their food and drink, and they’re looking for a concept like Max Havelaar. Others trust Albert Heijn to take care of sustainability issues for them, and that’s why we embrace Utz Kapeh coffee too.”

Sustainability-oriented vending organization, ICA-Autobar, buys both Max Havelaar and Utz Kapeh. It blends Utz coffee with other, non-certified coffees. “Our goal, in our non-Fairtrade business, is to integrate a growing percentage of Utz Kapeh coffees,” says Rob Koller, ICS-Autobar purchasing and product development manager. “We are open to all kinds of different sustainability programs.”

Belgian quality retailer, Delhaize, markets many of its own-brand products under its “Control & Origin” quality seal, which strongly emphasizes traceability. Delhaize stocks Max Havelaar, but most of its own-label coffee is Utz Kapeh. Delhaize does not inform its customers of this, but instead, uses Utz Kapeh’s tools to know where coffee comes from and how it is made to support the value of “Control & Origin.”

The message is clear. No longer is it viable for retailers to launch one or two niche labeled products and feel they have done their bit for sustainability. The fast-approaching future is in responsible and traceable coffee right across the spectrum. That future has already begun.


The Organizations’ Profile

Fairtrade
Fairtrade (www.fairtrade.net) strives for greater fairness in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to small, marginalized coffee producers.


Utz Kapeh
Utz Kapeh (www.utzkapeh.org) aims to implement the worldwide baseline standard for socially and environmentally responsible coffee production and sourcing. It is open to all growers, traders, roasters and retailers across the entire product range.

Tea & Coffee - May/June, 2006
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