No 30

Quality and Differentiation are Two Key Factors in the Specialty Coffee Industry

May, 2016

Added Value

Quality and Differentiation are Two Key Factors in the Specialty Coffee Industry

Sustainability and fair trade remain important, but when choosing a specialty coffee, undoubtedly its unique quality attributes, closely linked to origin, weigh more.

Quality and differentiation are factors of weight in the specialty coffee industry given the growing sophistication of consumption, experts and studies agree.

Sustainability (in its economic, social and environmental dimensions) and fair trade remain important, but when choosing a specialty coffee, undoubtedly its quality sensory attributes (taste, aroma, acidity, body and notes, among others), closely linked to origin of the bean, weigh more.

That is why Colombia, a country of privileged geography and great variety of microclimates, offers such a wide variety of specialty coffees, which increasingly find more adepts in both domestic and international markets.


How the industry has evolved?

In recent years, how has the concept of specialty coffees evolved? Is flavor, sustainability, etc. the most important factor? What is the dominant trend today? Where does the specialty coffee industry go to?

“Interest in overall quality remains very high for small to medium specialty roasters, and they continue to exhibit interest in acquiring these coffees in non-traditional ways.  Direct trade or relationship coffees are compelling for many in this space,” said Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).

“On the consumer side, there is still a wide spread interest in quality products that have a clear connection to their place of origin,” he added, stressing the importance of traceability.

“Currently the specialty coffee market shows an interesting dynamic, where differentiation plays an increasingly important role. Market trends are more accentuated in high-value niches, where very premium or specific products are demanded depending on their quality and traceability,” says Esteban Ordóñez, Logistics Coordinator at the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) and expert on Specialty Coffees.



“Trends are more developed from a production perspective, where a portfolio is structured based on short supply chains, with complete information, perfect traceability, transparency in the negotiation and innovative methods at the harvest and post-harvest levels through use of new varieties and controlled management of post-harvest processing. Each of these variables is a trend that gives a meaning of integrality to the new concept of specialty coffees,” Ordóñez added.

Diversity of origins in Colombia

image As a coffee-producing country, Colombia has the great advantage of having a wide range of microclimates (a combination of climates, soils, altitudes, etc.) that enable it to offer a broad portfolio of unique, differentiated specialty coffees.

Among the universe of variables that give unique attributes to Colombian coffee is altitude of coffee crops, which in different parts of the country range between 800 m and 2300 m above sea level. Because of the mountainous topography within a single region, one can find crops at different altitudes. This explains why coffees of different profiles can be found within a single region (the same occurs for the entire country).

In addition, we have weather, with temperatures ranging from 24 °C in the day and 18 °C overnight in the coffee regions, which are optimal for coffee production and vary depending on the region. Temperature contrasts help produce different attributes of sweetness in the cup of coffee.

Finally there is the wide offer of soil types: there are sandy, clayey and even rocky soils, although most are of volcanic origin, which makes the soil optimal for coffee growing due to its high content of nutrients.

Aware of this and as part of its commercial work, the FNC gives producers access to differentiated high-value markets and seeks to meet the demand, more and more specialized, for this kind of diversified coffees. Tuned with global trends, it has identified those trends and niches in which the FNC can offer its customers and therefore end consumers, unique sensory experiences.

“We seek to promote Colombia’s diversity and richness of cup profiles, which we know can be positioned in this type of markets. On the one hand we take advantage of the growing demand for this type of specialized coffees, matching it with the FNC’s capacity to identify them, trade them and ensure a better income to producers,” Ordóñez elaborates.

In general, customers of these differentiated, limited-production coffees are small, ensuring some exclusivity of their portfolio of high-quality products, explains Ordóñez. But he makes clear that large roasters are also very interested in development of this market and want to be part of it.

Trading of specialty coffees translates into quality premiums for producers, i.e. better income, hence the importance of the FNC’s commercial work.

It is worth reminding that Colombia’s exports of specialty and added-value coffees account for 29% of the total (including standard coffee), while those by the FNC represent 60%.


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