Cofi-Com on the ground

Cofi-Com reveals some of its plans for 2019, which include offering roasters the opportunity to meet and connect with their origin teams.

Over more than 30 years importing coffee to Australia from around the world, Cofi-Com has developed strong ties with its Volcafe sister companies that operate in most growing origins. 

These relationships give Cofi-Com an in-depth knowledge of the requirements and capabilities of farmers in these areas. It is this on-the-ground presence that gives the trader the ability to provide a range of coffees, from commercial blends to high-end speciality, to its roasting customers.

“We have teams of field officers in each country which assist farmers with agricultural management. This ranges from tree management to dealing with climate change,” says John Russell Storey, Marketing Manager Trade at Cofi-Com.

“These are people who aren’t sitting around in offices, they’re out in the field and have tremendous amounts of knowledge, expertise, and rapport with farmers.”

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This year, Cofi-Com intends to bring some of its origin teams to Australia to speak about their role in the supply chain at its Huntingwood warehouse in New South Wales.

“We’ll be inviting our customers along to celebrate Cofi-Com’s commitment to sustainability at origin, and show everyone our Huntingwood operations,” John says. “For our roaster customers, it will be a chance to chat to folks who are actually in the field and hear what is happening in origin.”

He says many Australian roasters may not be aware of the work these origin teams are doing at the coal face. Among the many challenges being tackled is  ageing coffee trees that are impacting farmers’ yields.

“There’s an awful lot of work going on in terms of management of trees in origin. A lot of these trees are getting very old and we are introducing a program for stumping them down until they are about 30 or 40 centimetres high,” John says.

“The regrowth that comes back is managed carefully in terms of plant nutrition and what to prune. Unfortunately, this process means the farmers normally miss a season, so it has to be done very carefully and with the farmer’s total cooperation.”

Not all the work being done by these groups is practical. It includes the theoretical as well.

“It varies in every origin, but really it’s about giving advice and support, and offering different ideas to farmers,” John says. “In Uganda, for instance, the idea is to get farmers to think of themselves as small businesses, so they’re not just growing the odd coffee tree here or there, they’re actually running a small business that provides ongoing revenue for them.”

Other topics John hopes to highlight at the event include traceability and sustainability. 

“These aren’t new concepts to Cofi-Com,” he says. “Roasters want to know where, how, and who their coffee is grown by. We can track back almost all our coffees to who grew them and where.”

Cofi-Com has a rigorous documentation process as well as other internal systems at origin to ensure the coffee is trackable.

“The way we operate, if there is something from one particular farm that is really good, we can isolate it and highlight that particular farm or estate,” John says.

He believes this focus on quality and added value is what will define 2019 for the coffee industry, on the roaster and farmer ends of the chain.

“What we’re seeing is an increased awareness at origin that quality counts, which translates into us encouraging farmers at all times to provide red cherries at the time it is picked,” he says. “The added value will come with farms and mills looking at different processes like honey and full flavoured naturals. We’re seeing exceptional naturals coming out of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, and Tanzania.

“The café sector is incredibly competitive and roasters are looking for coffees that are good value, and deliver on taste. The demand for $20-plus a kilo coffee is slowing down,” he says. “As a roaster said last year, he buys good value coffees and his job was to turn them into something special.

“The positive thing is there’s no lack of people drinking coffee, especially as a younger generation comes into the market. We’ll continue to source great coffees. Quality isn’t a trend — it’s what we do.” 

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