Fair Trade vs Direct Trade
The market demands transparency and in doing so companies such as ours use organizations and terms like Fair Trade and Direct Trade.
Fair Trade is an organization whose mission is to provide an support for equal opportunity within the industries. In the coffee industry they support and finance co-ops to be paid more for coffee that would otherwise be sold under market value. They support producers in financing underfunded programs in areas where they would otherwise go unfunded.
We support Fair Trade programs to the extent that we understand what programs they support. We have customers who demand Fair Trade and we can satisfy customers demands by finding Fair Trade Coffee Co-Ops and training.
When you visit producers at origin you realize how remote they really are and how limited the information they have about what the final destination of the products. What trade organizations (like Fair Trade) do is allow individuals who are committed to the industry help explain the market and practices they can institute with their production to better serve the end product they are growing.
The impact is evident at the farm level by how they have implemented practices and also how they become informed of market conditions. This is why we support Fair Trade and used to promote and support their products.
Direct Trade coffee is an ambiguous term that is being utilized within our coffee industry more and more by coffee roasters and professionals. What does it mean and is it coming Directly from the farm?
We use the term Direct Trade coffee when we have gone to origin and established contact and a relationship with a particular coffee producer and ultimately procure product from that coffee producer or co-op. We feel it is necessary to distinguish the difference between buying random coffees from origin and buying coffees Direct Trade from producers and co-ops whom we have met, call them by name and know their growing practices.
It is imperative within our company for us to go out and meet and learn how our coffee is being produced and who the players are in the coffee growing regions. In Direct Trade coffee we can meet the entire integration line— from coffee pickers and farm managers, to owners and exporters — who have a direct relationship with the coffee we purchase.
We use the term Direct Trade coffee specifically because it shows we are investing directly within our coffee company and learning more about how things are being done from the ground up. Our customers are demanding transparency and Direct Trade coffee terms are being butchered because relationships are not being made within the industry, but being used by professionals loosely to satisfy a catch phrase.
We see our coffee company as a relationship business from farm to roaster to customer. Our customers entrust us with the responsibility to be professionals and experts in the business. We must take the appropriate steps to educate ourselves, ultimatly passing this onto the end consumer through opportunities such as Direct Trade coffee.
The details: Are we buying direct from a Producer? Yes, sort of.
Say I have established a relationship with Jesus Recinon, “The Jesus”, in Nuevo Oriente, Guatemala. We try an assortment of coffees while visiting his farms and say, “I like that one Jesus.”
Well that coffee is either in a few stages. One, still on a tree, maybe being proceed or still in parchment. Rarely is it ready to buy and ship to us at home base.
Then we talk to his exporter, usually the very person who introduced us, and start talking details. How many bags of this crop, when will it be ready to ship from origin and what’s the price. This can be negotiated at origin or back at home base. No matter what you hear, price matters. To both the producer and the buyer. You can’t buy coffee you can’t sell to the market. What buying Direct Trade coffee does is allow you to add value to a particular coffee because it shows you as the buyer/coffee roaster of having a special relationship or insight into a particular coffee over another coffee.
Then, we wait for samples to be procured from final crop. This is important because coffee is an agricultural product and buying Direct Trade coffee can have its risks, so we want to make sure the coffee tastes the same as it did when we were at origin tasting coffees.
The coffee production process still has steps in which producers have to hand off their coffee to other specific trades to complete production. The producers are growers, ultimately, so we are proud of their and creative work and highlight them as producers. But, the work for great coffee doesn’t stop with them at farm level.
We love establishing relationships with our coffee offerings not only because it’s fun, but because it adds value to our company’s entire existence. The market is continuing to demand transparency and in our industry it is a disservice not to be able to offer Direct Trade coffee to our customers.