Re:co Symposium 2021 re-envisions the future of coffee

The 2021 Re:co Symposium began yesterday (12 May) — being held virtually for the second straight year. The Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) two-day event is categorized into four themes: A Glimpse into the Future, Defining Specialty Coffee for a New Era, Innovating to Meet Opportunity and Understanding Specialty Coffee’s Value.

The virtual event is organised similar to the annual in-person one where there are several speakers for each topic followed by discussion rooms where participants can choose which topic they would like to discuss in further detail and engage – live – with the speaker and other attendees. There are also sensory experiences in which kits were sent to those registered so they may participate along with the presenter. New this year is the Speed Networking segment — like “speed dating,” the fifteen-minute session allows participants to interact – again, live – with other attendees for three-minute conversations before moving on to a new person.

Following SCA CEO Yannis Apostolopoulos’s welcome remarks, Dr Ioannis Ioannou, associate professor at the London School of Business, kicked off the sessions with his presentation on the “State and Future of the Coffee Industry.” He noted that as younger generations are demanding companies, brands and their employers be more socially responsible, more companies are starting to incorporate sustainability and social responsibility into the core of their business. Dr Ioannou said that while a true commitment to sustainability involves some trade-offs, “there is a mosaic of evidence showing the positive link between sustainability and financial performance. Sustainability may well cause better financial performance.” He also pointed out that not only does sustainability increase access to better financing, but sustainable companies are also more innovative.

In his presentation, Bill Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association (NCA) of the USA, touched upon elements from the NCA’s 2021 National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) Study. Last month, the NCA and the SCA announced a collaborative effort supporting the biannual NCDT report, which will create the publication of a special report focusing on data related to specialty coffee. He discussed “seven signs” that show the coffee industry is rebounding and that specialty coffee is “holding its own.” These seven signs, are:

  1. Broad Economic Upturn Looms
  2. Lockdowns are Easing
  3. Afternoon Coffee Returns
  4. Away from Home Coffee Persisted
  5. Apps, Drive Thru, Pick Up has Surged
  6. Coffee Drinkers miss their Routines
  7. Well-known Steps Build Confidence

Murray said that 35% of people surveyed miss the social aspect of going out to get their coffee, noting that “it doesn’t taste or feel the same.” This shows the “emotional connection consumers have with coffee,” he said, which bodes well for the industry — provided businesses are adhering to proper safety protocols, adapting to changes in consumer behaviour and engaging with consumers.

In the first presentation of the Understanding Specialty Coffee’s Value segment, Luis Samper, director of 4.0 Brands discussed how the narrative associated with single origin is helping brands, but asked, “are we using it enough or can we unlock further potential?” He also suggested that origins do their part, that is, they cannot wait for someone to help them.

Samper advised producers to do their own sustainability analysis and create strategy — don’t wait for someone to tell them what it is.

The last presentation of the opening day was a panel discussion with Dr Janina Grabs, Dr Elizabeth Bennett, Mayra Orellana-Powell (founder of Catracha Coffee) and Kenneth Land (co-founder and chief sustainability officer of Thrive Farmers), in which they explained profit sharing as a new business model for the coffee industry.

Re:co is definitely one of the longer virtual conferences I have attended over the last 14 months, with a final discussion room and sensory experience beginning at 6pm EDT, followed by a virtual happy hour starting at 7pm EDT (kudos to those participants from Europe who “stayed” for the late-afternoon sessions!). The second, and final day of Re:co Symposium begins at 10:45am EDT today (13 May) and will cover the Defining Specialty Coffee for a New Era and Innovating to Meet Opportunity segments.

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