Sintercafe revealed that we are all in this together

In November, the global coffee community virtually gathered at Sintercafe to share insights, challenges and opportunities in this evolving world. Despite the challenges the industry has faced over the past year, I was impressed by the overall optimism of the entire conference. This does not mean that the conversations were lighthearted – in fact, they were far from it – but almost every talk shared positive attributes that this pandemic has revealed about the coffee industry.

This was this second time that I had the privilege of watching Andrea Illy, chairman, illycaffè share his insights about the pandemic and the lessons he learned from investing over 1000 hours studying regenerative agriculture. “We have to consider that the cause of Covid is the same cause as climate change and other imbalances,” said Illy. He stressed that the pandemic has forced us to no longer ignore the impacts of unsustainable actions, and urged the industry to focus on soil health, with an emphasis on carbon enriched soil health, and integrate the principles of virtuous agriculture. “We need to develop a sustainable society, one where we can satisfy our needs without compromising the needs of future generations.”

The talks continued with Carlos Ortiz, global Volcafe way manager, Volcafe, stating that Covid-19 has broken all boxes. But by doing so, it has prompted the industry to align agendas and priorities resulting in different sectors across all countries coming together to share information and solutions. “The virus reminded us that we are in this together and we need to take care of each other.”

Covid was not the only challenge that the coffee industry was faced with in this past year. The presentation by Janina Grabs, postdoctoral researcher, Environmental Policy Lab, Department of Humanities, ETH, Zurich, captured the core challenges that the industry continues to struggle with: climate change and low coffee prices. She described 2020 as a world where crises overlapped, which continue to result in challenges such as migration, poverty and environmental degradation. Grabs urged the industry to rethink the way that we approach sustainability in this new reality, with a strong emphasis on the importance for all sectors to work together.

It was a conference that recognised how each sector of the industry has been impacted, while reflecting on what needed to be done to move forward. The underlying message was clear — the coffee industry can no longer use the past as a barometer for the present. Instead, they need to seek out new ways to connect with customers, innovative ways to support the producers and farmers, and new sale streams. “We are not going to make as many trips to sit and interact in coffee shops for several years,” said Michael Schaefer, global lead, food & beverage, Euromonitor International. “For every player there is a vital and important need to think on how to do this differently and create new ways to interact with the customer.” He painted a picture of a new coffee experience, one where the barista was behind a screen or app, but still provided the consumer with the customised experience that they were seeking. Although, I don’t see myself using an advanced vending machine in my near future, I admit that I have become quite accustomed to ordering my favourite brew from my smart phone. I’m curious to discover how technology will shape the consumer experience and what this could mean for the café industry as a whole.

If there is one thing that Sintercafe demonstrated was that it is possible for all sectors to come together virtually to share their challenges and opportunities. These types of conversations are vital to share knowledge, strengthen relationships and to develop strategies that will build resiliency and sustainably move the coffee industry forward.

  • Long-time T&CTJ contributor, Anne-Marie Hardie, is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: [email protected].

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