How has COVID-19 Impacted the Coffee Industry?

by David Burton, Head of Coffee

The last few months have seen our lives dramatically change in an incomprehensible way and in such a short space of time. Staying at home under lockdown and social distancing measures dominate our new daily way of life, with the threat of infection from the novel coronavirus still casting a shadow over most of the globe. As we start to come to terms with our “new normal” and with the lifting of some social restrictions, we can start to reflect and look at the wider issues that are facing the industry and ask some crucial questions. What impact is COVID-19 having on coffee producers, and what does this mean for the coffee supply chain, including the farms we source from?

Dave Burton, roasting samples in our North Yorkshire roastery
Dave Burton, roasting samples in our North Yorkshire roastery

The coffee supply chain.

Coffee is undoubtedly helping many of us to work from home, but it’s clear that the impact on the hospitality industry has had huge ramifications on the demand for coffee, especially specialty coffee. This has seen a dramatic knock-on effect for businesses that rely on the wholesale coffee trade as their main source of income, with most small to medium businesses having to restructure their business models overnight. Retail and e-commerce sales have become the main focus, to allow businesses to emerge from the other end of the pandemic.

However, the commodity coffee market has seen a huge surge in buying, as news emerges that commercial roasters are stockpiling reserves, in case of a shortage of coffee at origin. Many coffee-growing countries are currently experiencing huge disruptions to trade and infrastructure, and the commodity coffee market has moved in extremes to counter this.

Although specialty coffee operates outside the commercial market, the ties between commodity and specialty coffee are nevertheless inextricably linked. The impact of the pandemic will no doubt cause major disruptions in the movement of specialty coffee and have a knock-on effect down to farm level. I am, however, remaining optimistic that with the opening of coffee shops over the next few weeks, the industry will start to see an increase in demand and recover to safer levels. Unfortunately, this will take some time to become evident… The feeling is that it is far too early to determine what the long-term implications will be for future supply.

The effect at Origin.

Coffee is a living, breathing, agricultural product that needs to be nurtured, harvested and processed with an enormous amount of care. This takes a huge amount of labour to be achieved and is often done so in developing countries that lack basic social infrastructure and access to comprehensive health care.

Production of specialty coffee in El Salvador
Coffee is a major provider of income for millions of people

Reports from importers and Origin vary slightly depending on governments and the restrictions that are being imposed. One thing that is becoming evident is that countries that are adopting social distancing measures are seeing a reduction in the amount of coffee volume being picked and processed. Lockdown restrictions are also resulting in temporary closures of some processing mills. Tied together with the closure of some ports, and you start to see the impact this will ultimately have on supply and the most vulnerable in that chain. c in and this is where we need to be focusing our efforts over the coming months. We have a duty as an industry to commit to the contracts we have signed and to work with our partners to the best of our abilities to support the wider community. This will only work if we collectively stand together to reduce the risk for all…

What can you do as a consumer?

We are so grateful to have such loyal and wonderful customers that recognise the huge benefits that supporting a small company like us can have. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported us through these last few months. I would now like to stress that if you are able, and feel comfortable in doing so, then please get out there safely and support your local independent cafés. The teams in your local shops are already experts in cleaning and workflow and are better equipped than most to create a safe space for you to visit. I know they are looking forward to providing you with the best service and the best coffee out there.

A barista pours latte art into a coffee cup.
Many of us are desperate for a barista-made coffee again!

Please remember that the coffee you buy tomorrow could go towards making a huge difference to the livelihoods of millions of people across the globe. What you choose to drink determines how much of your purchase goes back to the farmers who grow the coffee you enjoy. When you’re drinking coffees that are traded sustainably, you have the power to make a huge impact. Isn’t that a great way to start your day?

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