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News Story
15 May 2019

This roasting company is smartening up coffee value chains

Emilio from Colombia is a young farmer participating in the Next Generation Coffee initiative.

Photo: Löfbergs.

“It takes 65 beans to make one cup of coffee and there is a farmer behind each and every one of those beans. We can’t take coffee for granted and expect it to get cheaper and cheaper while climate change is making coffee production harder and fewer young people want to be coffee farmers,” says Sofia Svahn, Director of Communications at Löfbergs, one of the largest coffee roasters in the Nordic Region. Noteworthy, Löfbergs produces about 28,000 tons of coffee each year, or just over 10 million cups of coffee a day.

The fact that your favourite morning pick-me-up is at peril might sound like an over exaggeration. However, few of us are aware of the fact that climate change is already stunting coffee yields, pushing farmers higher up the mountain slopes to reach more suitable areas for growing. And as coffee farming is becoming less lucrative, hardly any young people want to make a living from it.

These socio-economic and environmental trends are likely to menace companies like Löfberg, making your daily dose of coffee unavailable or unaffordable in the meantime. Löfbergs’ Next Generation Coffee project in Colombia, Kenya and Tanzania is an attempt to deal with the challenge. In Colombia, one of the world’s biggest coffee growing countries, the company has been running a project to make young coffee farmers see a positive future in coffee.

Taking sustainable livelihoods as a starting point, the project recruits’ farmers between the ages of 15 and 30 who are interested in coffee but need support to get their business up and running. The participants receive training in climate resilient coffee growing as well as in entrepreneurial and marketing skills.

Coffee doesn’t generate quick-returns. Shrubs bring the first harvest only after three-five years from planting. So, it is crucial to have other income sources during this time and the Next Generation Coffee in Colombia helps young farmers identify and pursue multiple streams of revenue. Additionally, farms that combine food crops with the cash crop are more food secure and climate resilient.

Anna-Maria from Colombia is another young farmer in the Next Generation Coffee initiative.

Photo: Photo: Löfbergs.

In 2001, together with the other four family owned European coffee companies, Löfbergs founded the International Coffee Partners initiative, which thus far have reached 80 000 farmers. Later the ICP partners started the Coffee and Climate project and created a digital tool to foster learning about climate change adaptation. Since then, nearly a hundred of coffee farmers and cooperatives have used the tool box which is open for public use.

“We are competitors in business, but we want and need to cooperate to bring about the change in our societies. That is what the Sustainable Development Goal 17 is about – global partnership for sustainable development,” Sofia explains.

At the same time, Löfbergs admits that buying the produce from these budding small-scale entrepreneurs is not a well-established process yet  – the quality of coffee at these pilot farms isn’t high enough. Instead, Löfbergs sees these projects as a long-term investment: “If we help farmers improve their techniques and increase their income from coffee, hopefully, they will gradually step up their yields and the quality of the produce and then become our suppliers in the future.”

Agricultural development isn’t the only area Löfbergs is working on. Their sustainability efforts also involve consumer behaviour and circular economy, including utilization of coffee grounds as well as sustainable packaging, clean energy and transportation. Löfbergs was the first coffee company to use sugarcane-based bioplastic in their packaging and their branch in the UK has developed plastic-free packaging from paper, wood and plant fibers.

Extending its farmer-centric approach to marketing, Löfbergs’ adorns each of its Next Generation Coffee packages with an image of either Ana-Maria or Emilio, both young coffee farmers from Colombia. By doing this, Löfbergs hopes that consumers will recognise the people behind their morning “cup of joe”. “Coffee is extremely cheap today; the price right now is actually lower than the cost of producing it! We hope to increase the value of coffee through certification and magnify recognition of the hard work behind every single cup,” says Sofia Svahn.

Picture: Pugeat / Pixabay

Being one of the largest roasters in the Nordics, the company is well positioned to influence compliance with certification standards. Löfbergs is one of the world’s biggest buyers of double certified coffee, meaning that all Löfbergs’ products have at least one of the major certifications (organic, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance).

Another area where businesses like Löfbergs can make a difference is the switch to renewable resources. Löfbergs takes part in the Haga Initiative, a network of companies committed to reduce carbon emissions from the private sector. The partners of the initiative are making considerable progress in using renewables for their operations. However, coffee roasting and transpiration remain challenging.

Roasting machines operate at very high temperatures and require natural gas, and although advancement have been made in terms of energy efficiency of the roasters, a sustainable alternative is yet to be developed. In the meantime, Löfbergs mixes natural gas with 30% renewables and supports research into finding a sustainable alternative.

Transportation, the sector accountable for one quarter of the CO2 emissions globally, is another trouble. Coffee grows in the tropics and moving it from farms to roasters is an unavoidable step. Still, advancement can be made by choosing transporters who use renewable energy and by using boats or trains.

Coffee, like many other things that are a widely available today, can become a luxury in the near future, and Sofia Svahn affirms that we need to make all the changes required if we want to continue to drink high quality coffee. Companies like Löfbergs, whose value chains rely on stable climate, are bound to implement the sustainability transformation, and luckily “they’ve already learned from experience that sustainable production is good for business too!”

 SIANI approached Löfbergs on their own accord and does not receive any sponsorship from the company.