Re:co Atlanta Addresses SCAA/SCAE Union, Trends & Challenge

The Re:co Symposium in Atlanta, which was held April 13-14th , prior to the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Annual Expo (April 14-17th ), addressed key trends and challenges impacting the coffee industry, and the proposed merger between the Santa Ana, Calif.-based SCAA and the London, England-based Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE).

The first session of the Symposium highlighted cold brew—is it a category or a craze? Diane Aylsworth, vp of cold brew at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, said “cold brew is not just ‘cold coffee,’ it should mean premium specialty coffee.” She noted that cold brew is a great opportunity for the industry, emphasizing that in coffeehouses, it is strong all day, not just during specific times. Michael Kiser, founder of the consultancy firm, Good Beer Hunting, correlated cold brew coffee and craft beer, which had similar beginnings. “From a value proposition, cold brew isn’t just coffee, but it can be seen as a risk or a challenge.” Its success, he noted, might depend on whether or not there is quick adoption or long-term growth. Dr. Maya Zuniga, director of product development with S&D Coffee & Tea, discussed the food safety risks–microbial growth–associated with cold brew given the unique process requirements (there is a low risk of microbial contamination with hot brewed coffee because of the use of hot water), and offered preventative measures.

The key afternoon session on the first day focused on farm workers and asked the question, “Is labor the next crisis for coffee?” Michael Sheridan, director of the Catholic Relief Services’ Coffeelands Program, told an alarmed audience that slavery is still occurring within the coffee industry. In Brazil alone, he said, slavery occurred for 350 years. “The coffee sector drove slavery and slavery drove the coffee sector.” In 1995, Brazil’s government recognized the existence of modern slavery: forced labor, debt bondage, debilitating workday, and degrading working conditions. But is it slavery? Sheridan, along with fellow session presenters, Carla D. Martin, Ph.d, founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute and Kim Elena Ionescu, director of sustainability at the SCAA, discussed the challenges facing the coffee industry that are creating labor issues such as the falling C price and rising costs on the farm, climate change (rust, drought, etc.). “Coffee is more expensive to produce, but cheaper to buy,” said Sheridan, adding that producers cannot increase wages when the price of coffee is so low.

Other sessions focused on understanding the coffee consumer, ushering in a new generation of coffee consumers and progress being made in combating climate change.

In a special session titled, “On Mergers: Unifications and Acquisitions,” SCAA executive director, Ric Rhinehart and Yannis Apostolopoulos, deputy executive director of the SCAE, made a fervent pitch for benefits of a combined entity. Rhinehart noted that the SCAA exists today for the fundamental purpose of recognizing, developing and promoting specialty coffee as well as the art and craft of coffee to ensure its future for stakeholders across the value chain. He and Apostolopoulos said that the SCAA and SCAE have long shared similar beliefs and sense of purpose. They further explained that a after years of collaboration and the mutual desire to better serve each organization’s respective members, they realized in 2015 that unification represented a viable opportunity.

By combining financial and intellectual resources, eliminating redundancies and inconsistencies between the two associations, more could be invested in programs, education, and events for members while strengthening the presence of specialty coffee worldwide. A working group comprised of board members from both organizations along with staff support, was formed in June 2015 was tasked with determining he feasibility of a union between the two. The SCAA board is still engaged in the exploratory process; however, SCAE members are scheduled to vote on May 17th to determine if some kind of unification with the SCAE would benefit its members and the industry as a whole.

The next Re:co Symposium is in Dublin, June 21-22nd , prior to the SCAE World of Coffee (June 23-25th ).

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