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Driving demand of sustainable coffee

From the September 2012 issue.

Sustainability initiatives are shifting their approach to take advantage of market forces in their environmental, social and efficiency efforts.

In a market where only the supply/demand balance dictates price, the most recent report by the 4C Association would have been cause for alarm. On the supply side, more than 455,000 farmers and workers in 16 countries were independently verified as 4C compliant by the end of 2011.

The total production capacity of these units amounted to more than 15 million bags of coffee – representing nearly 12 per cent of total coffee supply. On the demand side of the equation, although purchases doubled during the coffee year 2010-11, the total was just over 810,000 bags, a mere 5 per cent of potential supply.

The story behind this gap is naturally quite complex. Melanie Rutten-Suelz, Executive Director of the 4C Association, tells GCR that the nature of the coffee chain would never provide for producers to sell all their coffee under a single scheme, or for buyers to purchase all their coffee from one. Far from using the nature of the supply chain as an excuse, however, Rutten-Suelz says that 4C is taking a close look at how to close this gap.

While recent demand figures may pale in comparison to supply, she points out that these are huge achievements in recent history of the sustainability and certification movement. A report by the International Trade Centre found that in 2009, certified coffees accounted for 8 per cent per cent of the global market. At recent growth rates, market penetration is expected to reach 20 to 25 per cent of global coffee trade by 2015.

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