After petrol, coffee is the world’s biggest export product. It is almost exclusively cultivated in developing countries. The coffee trade therefore has a huge impact on the working and living conditions of local coffee producers, their families and on nature, according to Beyers’website. Beyers is a coffee roaster which offers a broad certified coffee assortment, representing 40% of its sales.
Beyers evolved from a small family business, founded in 1880, into a roasting house with an annual turnover of EUR 80 million. In the 1990s, the centre of Antwerp was abandoned and the coffee roaster moved to a more suitable site in Puurs. To invest in the new coffee-roasting plant Beyers attracted a partner, Italian Kimbo, which eventually became the sole shareholder. Two years ago Sucafina, a coffee trader sourcing from origin, took over Beyers. Over the past years, Beyers has mostly roasted coffee for private labels. Only a small share is for its own brands.
Nathalie Vanderkindere, Product Manager Sustainability, says Beyers immediately became a member of Max Havelaar Belgium (now Fairtrade Belgium) when it was established in the early 1990s. “When coffee producers are better paid and trained, they take better care of their plantations, and their yields and profits improve as a result. Everyone benefits from sustainable sourcing – even the customers, as they can be sure that their coffee has been produced fairly, with respect for both people and nature.” Beyers guarantees it with various sustainable coffee labels such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, 4C and BIO* .
Beyers purchases its green coffee through traders who operate around the globe: in Central and South- America, East Africa and Vietnam. “Our own brands have always had a fair trade assortment, but not every coffee that Beyers brings onto the market is fair trade, because not every customer requires it.”
“The first challenge for a coffee roaster such as Beyers with a varied offer of tastes and several certified coffees is to make sure it has sufficient storage per origin and per sustainable label,” says Nathalie. “You must not just purchase conventional coffee but also the same origins in their sustainable version, preferably from the three labels: Fairtrade, UTZ or Rainforest Alliance, because customers want the choice. Furthermore, coffee is an agricultural product, which means, in the same way as wine, the taste differs depending on the harvest. However, customers want their coffee to taste the same.”
Beyers plays with blends to satisfy the customers’ taste. Conventional coffees usually allow for more choice and variety because the supply is broader. If a specific fair trade plantation has had a poor harvest, it becomes harder to compensate this with coffee beans with the same taste from another plantation in the region.
“Fair trade coffee is ordered before the harvest and the farmer is guaranteed a minimum price. Within the strongly fluctuating coffee market the guaranteed minimum price is crucial for the farmers. In the future, coffee is expected to become a rare commodity. That This will lead result in higher prices, and the guaranteed minimum price might lose significance. In an ideal world, everything should be fair or sustainable and no labels would be necessary. It would make things much easier. Now, certified coffee adds to the administrative workload: you have to put the certificates and reports in order, have designs approved, create new coffee blends etc. which requires quite some follow-up.”
Coffee was the first commodity to become a fair trade product and it seems to have definitively gained its place in the fair trade market. Every supermarket offers fair trade coffee, often also under its own house brand. Still, the coffee price fluctuates greatly.
“Our purchasing officers must indeed decide very precisely how much coffee they want to buy and on what basis. This applies to coffee in general, but for fair trade coffee the guaranteed minimum price is important too. Fair trade is still a niche market. Meanwhile, 40% of our total sales have a sustainable label, with UTZ taking the largest share. I cannot say whether this makes a significant difference to farmers, except that Fairtrade Belgium guarantees a minimum price with an extra premium on top. Luckily, in the countries of origin cooperation between the various labels for certification and audits is very good. If a cooperative is Fairtrade certified, it will obtain a certificate of the Rainforest Alliance or UTZ more easily. Larger plantations usually have three certificates to engage in as many markets as possible.”
As Product Manager Sustainability, Nathalie keeps a finger on the pulse of sustainable coffee land. As far as Beyers’ production is concerned, 100% renewable electricity and heat recovery roasters are used. In addition, packaging materials are reduced where possible. Over the past few years, Beyers has tried to become a climate neutral coffee roaster. “Last year, as a partner of Fairtrade Belgium and in association with Java and CO2logic, we sold the first fair trade and climate neutral coffee on the Belgian market. We were in the process of making our own brand climate neutral, including our fair trade coffees, and decided to enter this broader project. This will not resolve the climate problem, but it is a good step in the right direction. And it forced us to look at our own footprint: the CO2 impact is the biggest at the source, in the countries of origin because of the use of pesticides. At the other end of the supply chain there is the consumer. Just drinking one cup of coffee is quite energy-demanding. Awareness is growing. Private labels also ask for environment-friendly coffee. Provinces and municipalities are preparing to be climate neutral by 2024.”
It is a great form of interaction: public opinion enhances awareness, businesses react by broadening their offer, which in turn means more people can make a responsible choice.
* Fairtrade Belgium guarantees fair trade, whereas Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and 4C are sustainable labels products with the BIO logo must fulfill ecological, social and economic requirements.