Navigating Coffee Sourcing in Peru

A closer look at how we uphold our commitment to responsible buying, while balancing market demands that create direct value for producers.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Joanne Berry, Head of Sourcing & Procurement at Tropiq, and Gabe Dunn, EU Sales Manager at Nordic Approach. They both recently returned from Peru, where they had the chance to meet with a number of producers and suppliers right at the source.

Consistency in returning to the same producers year after year is essential for building trust and stability in our professional relationships. Alongside fair pricing, reliable and timely payment holds equal weight, given that many producers heavily depend on coffee as their main source of income. Enabling producers to reinvest in their operations not only benefits them but also contributes to the sustainability of their livelihoods, as well as the quality of their products.

Yet, as buyers and importers, our role extends beyond that. Although our relationships are transactional, it’s important to have a broader understanding of the substantial influence we have on the entire market. This awareness is key to responsible and sustainable sourcing practices.

Buyer Responsibility & Producer Autonomy

As the demand for specific coffee types, such as naturals or unique cultivars, continues to rise, we should always consider how we communicate these preferences to producers. Being a market leader entails not only responding to the market’s needs but also making sure that any changes in a producer’s operations bring them tangible benefits.

“Part of our personal responsibility is electing reliable partners at origin”, Gabe mentions. These partners are intermediaries between buyers and producers. “The right exporters and cooperatives possess the skills to convey market demands with tact and diplomacy”, he adds.

Joanne also emphasises the importance of recognising the limits of influence when working with producers. While buyers can offer guidance and share market perspectives, they must also respect the autonomy of producers. Communication is key, ensuring that intentions and requirements are clearly conveyed.

“Establishing a mutual understanding and support system within the wider supply chain infrastructure is fundamental”, Joanne highlights. Producers should have the freedom to take risks within a system that will support them if they fail. “It’s important for producers to have the space to experiment and find what works for them. If you stop experimenting altogether, you stop progression”, she adds.

Naturals in Peru: Creating Balance

In Peru, naturals were traditionally uncommon. In line with increasing demand, producers are now exploring this territory and receiving positive feedback for their products.

When we, as buyers and importers, decide to take on such projects and introduce them to the market, it’s essential to consider their feasibility and economic viability for the producer, emphasises Joanne. She points out that producing naturals is interesting because of their potential to provide producers with increased product differentiation. As producers refine their processing methods and improve their infrastructure, this potential only grows.

Product differentiation plays an important role in catering to a diverse market, offering a range of options. For producers facing a surplus of cherry availability without a corresponding expansion in infrastructure, diversification is key. For example, if tanks are at full capacity and drying beds are full of coffee not yet ready to be taken off, the practical solution of transferring cherry directly into barrels can lead to a diversified product lineup, plus enhanced quality.

Nevertheless, context is important per origin and per producer. This won’t work for everyone. “We have to be cautious against a one-size-fits-all approach to sourcing naturals. Not every region in Peru is suited for this method, and careful consideration must be given to the producer’s experience and capabilities. The aim should always be to add value”, Gabe adds.

Beyond Organic Certification: Shifting the Paradigm

While most Peruvian producers have successfully adopted organic cultivation practices, organic certification alone doesn’t guarantee high coffee quality. However, this is the most common misconception amongst producers in Peru. They often prioritise the criteria for organic certification, without implementing other practices that contribute to a superior cup profile. This observation is evident across numerous farms.

Part of our responsibility involves encouraging and guiding producers to focus on cup quality (alongside meeting certification requirements). This shift may take time, but the potential in Peru is big.

“For us as buyers, if we want to shift the industry, it starts with a clear, simple message that everyone can rally around”, Joanne highlights. It’s not about immediate perfection, but about taking that crucial first step towards improvement. This sets the stage for progress and for even better coffee down the line.

Written by
Delia Iliopoulou Friis
Published on
November 15, 2023

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