Coffee in Academia: An In-Depth Interview With Professor Stephanie Alcala

Stephanie Alcala speaking at the Association for Science and Information on Coffee

Imagine having the chance to take a course dedicated to studying the coffee supply chain while in college. What an opportunity that would be! 

Well, RGC Coffee’s very own Stephanie Alcala created that opportunity for students at Whittier College in California. In addition to her role at RGC, Stephanie, a “Next Genner” herself, also works as an adjunct professor. Alongside her former advisor, Dr. Cinzia Fissore, Stephanie worked to create a course dedicated to the study of sustainability across the coffee supply chain. 

NCA Next Gen’s Nora Johnson recently had the opportunity to sit with Stephanie and discuss her experience in creating and presenting this course, and the key takeaways from students who we hope to see join us in the industry down the road!  


Nora Johnson: Tell us about yourself. Who do you currently work with? what does your role look like on a day-to-day basis? 

Stephanie Alcala: I was born in Whittier, California. I have five older siblings and two incredibly kind and supportive parents. I work for RGC Coffee, a family-owned importing company as the Sustainable Sales Director. I work across the sales, trading, communication, and sustainability departments, which means no two days are alike! But ultimately, my main priority is to ensure our clients and customers are receiving the coffee and information they need to best operate their business. And since my role and specialty are in sustainability, my daily efforts are driven by my desire to grow and develop our in-house sustainable sourcing program, RGC 3E. Outside of work, I am also an adjunct professor and industry liaison at Whittier College for the department of Environmental Science, and in my free time, I love to eat, spend time with the people I love, and ride bikes. 

NJ: We understand that you are the co-creator of a coffee-centric college course titled, “Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains: Coffee.” From where did the idea to pursue such a program come? How did you get involved?

SA: The story of how this class came to be really begins and ends with Dr. Cinzia Fissore, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Coordinator for the Environmental Science Program, and my former undergraduate advisor at Whittier College.

Stephanie with Dr. Cinzia Fissore

I first met Dr. Fissore during my freshman year, I had enrolled in her “Intro to Environmental Science,” as my chosen elective course. From day one, I knew I had discovered my passion and soon thereafter Dr. Fissore became my academic advisor. My love for coffee followed a couple of years later when I signed up for a sustainable business class (also co-taught by Dr. Fissore) that included a study-abroad component. As a class, we traveled to the Netherlands and visited various businesses (one of which was Heikkinen!) to learn about their sustainability initiatives and corporate social responsibility practices. It was my first international trip and it was the in-between moments where I first discovered my love for coffee, the cappuccinos, the European café culture, and the free wifi – I was consumed by all of it. After returning home, I immediately got a job as a barista.

Once I graduated from college, I was set on studying sustainable food systems. While I was trying to figure out how I could apply my studies towards a fulfilling career, I found myself back behind the bar, this time at Groundwork Coffee in downtown Los Angeles. It was there, with the support of my colleagues and management team, that I made the realization that coffee is a plant, it is a multibillion-dollar global commodity, and has a world of interdisciplinary social, environmental, and economic challenges and opportunities. I was sold. In 2016, I decided I was going to pursue a career in coffee. 

I was then granted an incredible opportunity, to pursue a master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan with my research to focus on studying the genetic diversity of the Gesha coffee plant variety grown in Panama. Although I had no business trying to become a geneticist, I saw this as a great way to build my vocabulary and knowledge of agricultural sustainability and climate change resiliency. I spent the next two years reading, learning, teaching, and developing a true passion for sustainable coffee production. I graduated from Michigan with an even clearer pathway, to seek a career in agricultural development in coffee supply chains.

Then after a few outstanding career opportunities 1) receiving the Leadership Equity and Diversity Scholarship through the Specialty Coffee Association and 2) working for Tartine Bakery’s Coffee Manufactory as a Sustainability Specialist, I found myself back at Whittier College, sitting in the office of my former advisor, Dr. Cinzia Fissore. 

You see, she too had spent the past few years discovering an interest in coffee. Dr. Fissore, a soil scientist whose research specializes in carbon sequestration, had begun to work with a group of farmers in California who were growing coffee plants in their existing avocado orchards. Dr. Fissore wanted to understand how these efforts impacted the health of the soil and its ability to sequester carbon. With positive feedback from preliminary data, Dr. Fissore applied for and received a three-year grant from the Arthur Vining (A.V.) Davis Foundations. With this grant, Dr. Fissore, not only received funding to support her research but also received resources to design and develop an array of academic and professional opportunities for students and the community, all to be centered around coffee studies. It was at this point that Dr. Fissore and I formed a collaborative partnership to advance a coffee studies program at Whittier College. 

Since I had prior teaching experience as a graduate student, Dr. Fissore offered me an opportunity to develop and pilot a short 4-week course centered around coffee sustainability. Because I was still green to the industry, I thought, “what am I most interested in and how could I use this opportunity to deepen my knowledge in the subject?” This is ultimately what led me to develop and pilot the course, Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains: Coffee. After a successful year of piloting and receiving positive feedback from the students, I was invited back to further develop the course and support Fissore in expanding opportunities for students and the broader community. 

When it came time to reimagine the course for the second year, I had just joined RGC Coffee as a junior trader and this is what really propelled the course development and material forward. Working for a coffee importer with an impressive sustainable sourcing program granted me the ability to create a more thoughtful and informative experience and ultimately resulted in the course becoming what it is today, a fully developed, semester-long core curriculum course, offering students a unique educational experience to learn how coffee trading has the ability to facilitate sustainable development.

NJ: Can you walk us through the structure of the course? What were the learning goals/outcomes for the students taking the course? What kind of activities were involved? 


SA: The most important factor I had to consider when developing this class as a semester course was, how could I best deliver a clear and concise narrative regarding the importance of sustainability in coffee supply chains to a diverse group of students with no prior experience in coffee. With this, I knew I had to create an inclusive and engaging experience so that all students would be able to confidently navigate the semester. This resulted in two noteworthy decisions 1) to organize and deliver the course in 3 modules – The Fundamentals, The Coffee Supply Chain, and Creating Shared Value Chains and 2) to host a Coffee Speaker Series and invite industry and academic leaders to give guest lectures. Thanks to the support of Cinzia and funding from the A.V. Davis Foundation, we were able to host nine speakers last semester. Each of the lectures not only helped reinforce the material being learned but also served as a way to highlight the variety of pathways and careers of those working in the coffee sector. To give a greater glimpse into the class, I have provided a brief overview of each module below.

Peter Guiliano giving a guest lecture

The first module, The Fundamentals offered students an introduction to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs), had them explore various definitions and interpretations of sustainability, we learned about agriculture and trade, and finally, we explored the coffee industry – its size, impact, and importance.

During the second module, The Coffee Supply Chain students learned the numerous steps and people involved in coffee’s journey from farm to cup, emphasizing that not only does coffee physically move from point A to point B, but during its journey, it undergoes a complete biochemical transformation. We concluded this section by emphasizing quality and consumer preferences are the two most important factors that guide and influence the industry. 

The final module, Creating Shared Value Chains had students connect the lessons learned from modules 1 and 2 to examine the importance of and the ways in which the coffee sector can contribute to sustainable development. We began the section by first learning about the main challenges and priorities facing the industry, the goal was for students to realize that everything in this world is interconnected and for that reason, real sustainability solutions require a design thinking approach that works in partnership with the communities they aim to support. The module concluded with students putting theory into practice, with each of them using the Global Coffee Platform (GCP) Sustainability Framework to guide them in conducting a scientific investigation to further explore how coffee can positively contribute to a better future for people and the planet. The semester concluded with students presenting their final projects during a scientific poster session, which was held at our on-campus coffee research farm! 

NJ: Do you think that any of the students who participated in the course may pursue future careers in the coffee sector or a related industry? I hope that we may have a few new recruits out there!

SA: One of my main goals for the semester was for students to realize that sustainability is a mindset, it is a way of thinking and navigating this world. For that reason, the ideas and concepts of sustainability can be applied towards any career. Therefore, I really encouraged the students (both through conversation and their weekly connection journal assignment) to continuously connect what we were learning about to topics outside of class, towards their interests and passions! So, I’m not sure if any of the students will pursue a career in coffee, but I am confident that many of the students will end up working in the field of sustainability. 

NJ: Were there any comments from students throughout the semester that really stuck out in your mind as an interesting takeaway regarding the coffee industry?

SA: One thing I love about teaching is how much you learn from the students. The students always offered such a unique curiosity and insight towards the topics covered. Additionally, since Whittier College is a liberal arts school, I had a range of majors in my class, from Art: Digital Art and Design to Philosophy, to Business Administration. I have included below, 14 of my favorite quotes gathered from the student’s assignments this past semester. 

  1. “In this course, despite only talking about coffee, you can also observe different realities between societies. I really like learning about the different lives of farmers and seeing gender equality in agriculture.”
  2. “So far one of the things that have stood out is the community that coffee creates. The idea of community is a major part of what I study in Philosophy how individuals can come together to work towards a common goal. The fact that it’s around coffee proves that any group can prosper if their goal is clear, and their purpose is shared.”
  3. “In a very competitive and crowded industry like coffee, it’s important to have a feature of the product that truly makes it stand out among others.”
  4. “As far as sustainability, if one understands the supply chain process and its players, there is an ability to work towards mitigating climate change, creating a beautiful ecosystem, and helping workers to profit along the way. This is the goal, but within the chain exist a number of inequities that need to be addressed and improved. The best way to start is by understanding the chain as a whole.”
  5. “There are so many people involved throughout the process of the coffee supply chain, it’s crazy to think they all get paid somehow from people buying cups of coffee only.”
  6. “Quality is everything”
  7. “One thing she covered that I found interesting was discussing the roles of a coffee importer. One big aspect importers cover is risk mitigation, encompassing who owns the coffee and when. Importers buy coffee from farmers and are responsible for finance and logistics of that coffee, then sell to the roaster.”
  8. “One thing I’m starting to realize is super essential throughout the coffee supply chain and business as a whole is the relationships between the people in each part of the process.”
  9. “I found it very interesting to learn that when coffee makes its way to a cup it has 1000 chemical compounds. Coming from chemistry last semester to learn something like that was very shocking. You would never think that one coffee bean can have such an impact and chemical change throughout its cooking process.”
  10. “This lecture was very connected to spirituality, and I appreciated this addition to our very interdisciplinary approach to coffee.”
  11. “Finally, I learned that the biggest issues facing women in the agricultural sector are the distribution of wealth, income, ownership, leadership, and decision-making.  Even though women make up most of the agricultural sector, they get little to no compensation for the hard work they put in every day.”
  12. “One last concept I learned about was that the wet milling process is one of the leading ways that local water resources are being contaminated. Wet milling creates wastewater that is often not treated meaning that water goes to waste and even more water is needed in these communities”
  13. “Without money to help with coffee solutions in production what do smaller farms do?”
  14. “How long will it actually take for the coffee sector to become sustainable?”

NJ: What segment of or topic covered within the course did the students enjoy most or find most engaging?

SA: There are three aspects the students seemed to like the most. First, spending time in our campus coffee orchard. The students said being able to see and experience coffee as a plant, really changed the way they thought about the drink and helped them gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the supply chain. The second was the Coffee Speaker Series, a student commented, “I think the speaker series was also an incredible aspect of this course because we were able to learn from people directly involved in what we were learning about at the time… This made the material relevant to us and showed us the real-world application of what we were learning.” And third, the final capstone project (which I had previously mentioned) in which each student was able to further explore a topic of sustainability they found most interesting and presented their findings during a community showcase. It was truly incredible to see the diversity of topics students chose to focus on. In case of interest, I have included all of the students’ scientific posters here

Students in the campus coffee orchard

Students with their scientific posters at a community showcase

NJ: Are there plans to continue this course or to potentially expand upon it in the future? (I would have loved to take a class like this in college!)

SA: Absolutely! Dr. Fissore and I are so excited to continue to offer students and the community opportunities to learn, research, and work in the field of coffee. Not only have we spent the past three years developing course material, but Dr. Fissore has been spearheading several other campus-related coffee projects which include a reoccurring coffee speaker series, industry internships, research fellowships, and maintaining an on-campus Coffee Research Farm (which just had its first harvest this year). Since all of these efforts were made possible by the A.V. Davis Foundations grant (which is in its final year of funding), we are now taking time to evaluate the next steps and see how we can continue to build and expand our efforts! We know there are many schools with emerging and expanding coffee programs and are very interested in connecting and sharing knowledge regarding how we can best use academia to foster sustainability in coffee.  

For now, I have been inspired to take the lesson learned from my teaching experience and apply them towards my job at RGC. This past summer, we partnered with a Los Angeles-based college preparatory school to provide students an opportunity to learn and explore Climate Action in Coffee Supply Chains. I developed a month-long student internship program and hosted three high school seniors. The main goal for students was to learn (and be able to articulate in conversation) the relevancy and importance of climate action in coffee supply chains and offer an insightful analysis regarding a company’s existing efforts. And this fall, I plan to develop an in-house Educational Training Program so that my colleagues can also participate in learning about and exploring the ways in which coffee can contribute to sustainable development.

NJ: What was your greatest takeaway from this experience?

SA: This experience has shaped and defined my understanding of sustainability. I now realize sustainability is not a goal, it is an ongoing journey toward continuous improvement. 

NJ: As a “next gen-er” in coffee yourself, what excites you most about the future of coffee?

SA: Right now, I am most excited about the increasing consumer demand for responsibly sourced products.

NJ: Is there anything else that you would like to share regarding the course and/or your experience? Perhaps anything that wasn’t covered in the questions above but that you found meaningful or interesting?

SA: I just want to say thank you. Thank you, Nora, for providing me with a platform to share my experience and work. And thank you to everyone who made it all possible. It really does take a village and I have been so incredibly lucky for the support and mentorship I have received throughout my academic and professional career. I’d like to especially thank my two current mentors, bosses, and collaborators Dr. Cinzia Fissore at Whittier College and Nathalie Gabbay at RGC Coffee. 

On behalf of the Next Gen Council, we extend our sincere thanks to Stephanie Alcala for her time and willingness to share her experience. Stephanie’s work to educate and promote the coffee industry and sustainable coffee supply chains to the current generation of college students is of utmost appreciation as she is truly cultivating and engaging the next generation!

Meet and Greet with Rob Menos, NCA Board Chair

“I consider working for the coffee industry a privilege. Having been part of the industry for as long as I have, it gives you such a deep appreciation for your colleagues, others in the business, and the business as a whole. You appreciate it more and more the longer you work in coffee.”

– Rob Menos

Approaching 30 years in the coffee industry, Rob Menos, Director of Business Development at Sucafina, is no stranger to coffee and all that comes with it. In addition to his role at Sucafina, Rob is the current Chair of the National Coffee Association (NCA) Board of Directors.

Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager at MZB-USA and Next Gen Council Member, had the opportunity to chat with Rob about his background in the industry and his current outlook on the NCA. The statement quoted at the start of the article was made by Rob during his interview, and while it not only reflects Rob’s character and passion for the trade, it truly represents the extraordinary qualities of our industry and the many, many individuals behind it.


Tell us about your background and career development. How did you get your start in coffee?

Rob Menos

In 1993, I started my coffee career working for Wechsler Coffee Corporation out of Moonachie, New Jersey in a green coffee procurement role. A very good friend of mine at the time was working for Wechsler in a sales role in the city, and he set me up for the interview. Initially, I interviewed for an accounts receivable job, but the HR manager felt that I was overqualified and suggested that I may be a better fit for a green coffee procurement role that they hadn’t even posted yet! After 7 years with Wechsler, I joined Rothfos Corporation as a trader, and after 7 years with Rothfos, I went to Coex where I spent 13 years. Now I am with Sucafina where I have been for 2 years.

Before this role in coffee, I was going to school and working in collections at a medical office, dealing with insurance companies. Talk about a way to develop thick skin in life! The amount of times that I have had people hang up on me…It prepared me very well to learn how to work with other people; it was truly a life lesson!

What did you think of working for a roaster versus a trade house?

Going from roaster to trade house worked well for me as I had a good appreciation of the challenges that roasters deal with because I lived through those challenges myself. I was able to communicate this internally when needed, and it provided me with a strong foundation.

However, making the transition over to importing opened up a totally different side of the world. Suddenly, you have this direct exposure to origin. Having the ability to connect those dots and developing relationships with exporters, cooperatives, and producers – it completes the picture in a way.  Living and breathing manufacturing as a roaster and then working as an importer and in trading gave me an understanding of the whole spectrum, which I appreciated.

What made you want to stay working in coffee as opposed to moving to another commodity or industry?

For me, its two-fold. First off, it’s the complexity of the coffee business itself. Think about all of the work that goes into the supply chain from tree to cup; think about all of the players who are involved and all of the hands who touch it. Secondly, and this was important to me personally, it’s the comradery and the sense of community. I have many friends outside of coffee who have met many of my industry friends over the years, and the one comment that I have consistently heard is how amazing it is that you can have competitors in a room enjoying each other! You don’t see that anywhere else! Early on, I saw the relationships had by others in the industry, and I found it so impressive; it made me want to stay!

Tell us about your current role as Director of Business Development at Sucafina.

Aside from the trading aspect and the day-to-day roaster interaction, I am responsible for coordinating supply chains and trading opportunities for Sucafina’s global network and bringing them to the North American roaster community. For example, let’s say that a roaster has a new customer, and to service them, you will need to develop a new supply chain out of Papua New Guinea (PNG) that meets certain requirements. I will work with our team out of PNG to get the supply chain off the ground and to guarantee that it will fulfill the roaster’s needs as our customer. In doing this, we utilize Sucafina’s global network to see how we can incorporate it into our existing customer base organically or to potentially develop it with new customers.

What is your most memorable coffee experience?

It had to be my first origin trip which was to Guatemala. Once again, it really helped me to connect the dots and develop a better understanding. There is a big difference between what you hear versus what you experience for yourself and visualize. You take that personal experience and later apply it to other origin countries in comparison. It gave me such a high level of appreciation for what we do as an industry and as a business and of course, a great understanding for the high level of work that is done at origin. It really helped me in my career development.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you early on in your career? Is there anything that you would do differently if you went back and could do it over again?

I consider myself very fortunate because I had two mentors very early on in my career. Mentorship is such an important point to highlight. In this case, both of my mentors were in coffee, but they help me on so many different levels, not just related to coffee, but to life in general. To have people who are genuinely looking out for you, and who can provide you with that kind of guidance, is priceless.

Looking back, if I were to do it over again, I would spend some time working in origin on the export side to have exposure to that part of the supply chain. I certainly would have benefited from that experience.

What is your favorite origin for coffee-drinking purposes and for travel purposes?

For travel, Guatemala. Guatemala was my first origin trip, so I have always had this emotional connection to it, and I have lots of good relationships there. I also love Colombia – Colombia has so many different producers, yet it is amazing to see the consistency in the quality that they export as a country in addition to the different profiles that they can offer as well.

How did you first get involved in the NCA?

Apart from attending the conventions over the years, I really was more engaged once I joined the NCA Board around 7 years ago. Looking at it now, there are so many great opportunities that the NCA offers today. A perfect example is the Next Gen Council – I wish I had that in my day, to be honest with you! Talk about a great platform for younger professionals to not only meet and network, but to develop for a future role on the NCA Board down the road. It is a huge benefit for a young professional to have that opportunity. The NCA Annual Conventions also provided me with great opportunities in terms of networking and the chance to meet with customers, attend different sessions, and participate in the Day of Service, but my involvement level really changed when I joined the Board.

For anyone who might not know, what is the role of the NCA and can you share some of the benefits of NCA membership for both companies and individuals? Are there any “hidden gems” in terms of benefits?

For companies, the NCA acts as a leading voice for the industry in terms of regulatory and industry matters in addition to providing market research and a platform for coffee education. The NCA keeps the membership well informed of anything important that is occurring at the time and impacting the industry in any way. There is also tremendous work done by the Scientific Leadership Council. This is a group of very smart people – 100 times smarter than me! – but they do such great work to benefit the membership and us as an industry.

From an individual perspective, there are many opportunities on the education side, from webinars to other on demand resources, in addition to great networking. As far as “hidden gems,” I think that in many companies, not all employees have a good understanding of what is available as a member. From webinars to market research to other data, distribution of the availability of information to employees is critical.

If you had to describe the NCA in one word, what would it be and why?

Advocate.

In my mind, the NCA is an advocate in many different ways. The NCA highlights the many positive benefits of coffee, and it tackles all kinds of issues from labeling laws to tariffs and beyond. The NCA takes the lead role in that, acting as the leading voice for the industry and advocating for its members. Frankly, at this stage, because Bill Murray and his staff have done such a great job, they have set the level of expectation so high that the industry automatically looks to the NCA to deal with an issue or for guidance and education.

On behalf of the Next Gen Council, we extend our sincere thanks to Rob for his time and dedication to not only this interview, but to the NCA and the industry at large. Rob emphasized the importance of comradery and relationships in coffee several times throughout the interview, and this environment that we all cherish throughout the industry would not be the case without so many strong, established industry leaders such as himself and many others who are willing to support the industry and the “Next Gen” of coffee leaders.

If you are interested in learning more about the NCA Next Gen Council, check us out here!

Words of Wisdom from NCA Board Members: Part II

Back in February, we launched a new series, “Words of Wisdom,” bringing career development stories and top-notch advice from industry leaders right to your inbox! For this second edition of “Words of Wisdom,” Michelle Dunaway, Sales Executive at Mercon Specialty, spoke with Jonathan White (White Coffee Corporation), John DeMuria (Volcafe USA LLC), and Michael Gaviña (F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc.). White, DeMuria, and Gaviña are all current NCA Board Members and long-time leaders of both the National Coffee Association and the industry overall.

Jonathan White

Executive Vice President / White Coffee Corporation

An attorney by trade and lifelong New York resident, Jonathan White, Executive Vice President of White Coffee Corporation, was born into the coffee business. White Coffee Corporation was founded by Jonathan’s grandfather in 1939, and his father carried on the legacy, spending over 40 years in the business, advocating for and developing the specialty coffee trade long before there were a plethora of chain and microroasters.  

Jonathan explains, “I grew up with the smell of coffee in my father’s station wagon; there was never a time he would not help a customer with their emergency needs and he would be sure to not only meet but to exceed their expectations. After practicing law and gaining experience in helping to run a variety of organizations, I joined the company in 1990. It is very rewarding to see our company’s growth and to serve our customers for many years – multi-generational in many cases – and to have many of our team members with White Coffee for 10, 15, and 20 years or more. “

“Our business has continued to evolve and grow, from the independent local stores and delis to national chains of club stores, supermarkets, hotel chains, and online retailers.  We also have worked with many licensors and private label retailers to develop proprietary brands.” In his role, Jonathan is involved in many aspects of the business, including oversight on commodity purchases, major account sales, financial oversight, team management/building, strategic direction, and day-to-day management.

Career advice for the younger generation in the coffee industry:

  • Diversify both your business channels and your skill sets.
  • Embrace change and flexibility as the world will continue to evolve. Expect the unexpected!
  • Ask lots of questions, and don’t always accept the first answer you get – assume nothing.
  • Think ahead and consider various scenarios and how you would best respond.
  • Always be selling! Create a unique selling proposition (for either yourself or for your product).
  • Develop lifetime relationships. Appreciate varying perspectives.
  • Aim for constant learning, improvement, and giving back to your community.

Favorite pastimes: Jonathan loves baseball (especially the NY Mets!), all kinds of music, travel, and reading all kinds of non-fiction books (especially those about current events/politics).

John DeMuria

Managing Partner / Volcafe USA LLC

Prior to joining the coffee industry, John DeMuria (JD), worked in banking on Wall Street, with a focus on coffee, cocoa, sugar, and grains. Volcafe, formerly known as Volkart Brothers, recruited JD, initially to work in finance, but he later transitioned into trading. In his first two years trading, JD worked to learn and absorb as much information as possible; at this time, differential prices were gaining prominence and the futures contract was evolving. From there, JD went on to manage the Colombia and Central America books.

Reflecting back on the start of his time trading, it brings to light just how much trading has evolved over time. Back when JD started in the business, trading was done by a telex machine and all documentation was done by hand. JD explains, “You had your telephone, telex, and a calculator. The telex operator was probably the best trader on the floor; every offer, every bid, went through their hands!”

Career advice for the younger generation in the coffee industry: “Be determined & dedicated.  Hard work always pays off. Live your dream and have a passion for what you do. Getting involved in Next Gen is a great opportunity to engage at an earlier age and early stage in your career.”

Favorite past NCA memory: “Being invited by your boss to the NCA Convention was the highest achievement; you said to yourself, ‘I made the inner circle.’”  JD has served on the NCA board since 2007.

Michael Gaviña

Managing Director of Financing and Accounting / F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc.

Michael was born into the business, meeting and networking with others across the coffee industry since an early age. Previously serving as the Purchasing Director at F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc., his current role is now that of Managing Director of Finance and Accounting. Michael explains that despite the formal titles, in a family business, you wear many hats; his experience ranges from sales to sustainability to equipment servicing.  

Career advice for the younger generation in the coffee industry: “Be of service.” [Publisher’s note: As you will observe through his favorite past NCA memory below, Michael certainly exemplifies the phrase, “practice what you preach,” and we are very appreciative of the role that Michael had in the development of the NCA Next Gen Council!]

Favorite past NCA memory: Michael played an integral role in the creation and development of the NCA Next Gen Council with the mission of nurturing, building, and developing the next generation of industry leaders.

Recommended reading: “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek

Many thanks to Jonathan, JD, and Michael for sharing their stories and advice for this edition of “Words of Wisdom!” Their leadership and service to the NCA is admirable and tremendously appreciated! 

Coffee & Chat with Vern Long, World Coffee Research

By Danielle Woods, Manager, ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) with Inspire Brands, Inc.

In honor of Earth month, we are featuring one of the most prominent organizations in the coffee industry that is using global agricultural R&D to address and mitigate climate change for coffee: World Coffee Research (WCR).

Vern Long is CEO of World Coffee Research, the only industry-driven organization advancing agricultural innovation for coffee, formed to help the industry secure the long-term supply of quality coffee.

Vern, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

I started my academic life in plant breeding, with an interest in genetic diversity and how to mobilize that diversity to address challenges. Variety development was always something I was excited about. When I was 16, my family was driving cross-country, and my mom brought a big stack of National Geographic magazines. I began reading a story about genetic diversity and how it can address the world’s biggest challenges, and from that moment I was hooked.

How did you end up in coffee?

I was doing research in Senegal and Zimbabwe, looking at food systems and how we use agricultural systems to deliver on those goals. I wanted to move from direct research to managing partnerships so joined USAID to help launch the Feed the Future Initiative. This was a broad interagency effort where we developed an agricultural research strategy to enable agriculture to drive economic growth and be a lever for reducing poverty. Over 9 years I managed agricultural research collaborations focused on developing new varieties in many crops, trying to better develop collaborative research to enable scientists to accomplish more together rather than going it alone. I realized there was an opportunity in coffee. The countries producing coffee are very competitive with one another, and have insufficient budgets given the challenges they face. I believed I could bring a lot of experience from working on global research collaborations to support coffee. As an avid coffee drinker, when I understood all of the challenges, it seemed even more urgent to get into coffee at a personal level. [HN1] 

What are some of the challenges within the coffee sector today?

Varieties are a technology that farmers rely on, whether they are tomato growers or coffee farmers. The last time the world had a truly global collaborative research program to produce real innovation in coffee varieties was in 1967, when the Timor Hybrid was mobilized to create coffee leaf rust resistant arabica varieties that are now growing all over the world. So many other crops continued making progress over the years, while coffee did not at a global scale. Mobilizing diversity is critical to our ability to survive with the climate challenges ahead of us. Plant populations across the world are crossed to create new genetic combinations —they can do things that their parents cannot. There are real gaps in coffee, and it is important to develop greater interaction among scientists and the plants themselves which we will achieve by supporting a global coffee breeding network.

What are some of WCR’s strategic priorities?

We are launching a global breeding network that is aligned with the importance of our crop. Coffee drives economic opportunity in many producing countries; it is important to millions of people for a variety of reasons. We are developing varieties to support that need, while preserving the quality that consumers and coffee companies want and identifying the characteristics for farmers to enable their success.

Breeding is critical but it also takes decades, and farmers are planting trees today that will be in the ground for the next twenty years. We know that if they plant the wrong tree, there are consequences. At scale, this poses tremendous risk in terms of supply. So, in addition to variety development, we need to provide tools to support farmer decision-making with the varieties we have available today. WCR has created technical tools to help farmers determine the right variety for them, to have access to healthier plants, and to feel sure the seeds are using are genetically pure. Farmers need to know going in what type of tree they are producing so they can manage it successfully.

How do you reach farmers with your technologies and tools?

What we do drives change, but research and development happens upstream of farmers. We partner with national coffee institutes and organizations like Technoserve to make the connection between new varieties, nurseries, and farmers. At WCR, we want to make sure we have a relevant portfolio of technologies to share with farmers through our partnerships.

How can organizations get involved with WCR?

We believe that every company in the coffee sector should invest in agricultural research and development for coffee’s long-term existence, whether that’s via WCR or another mechanism. There is a huge gap in the funding of coffee agriculture research and development. If you look at investment levels for other crops with similar economic value as coffee—there is a profound gap. We need to acknowledge the gap and recognize that if we want to have coffee in the years ahead, we need investment. To put it bluntly: the alternative is that our children will all be drinking synthetic coffee – which is more than simply a shift for consumers, it removes an important source of revenue for farmers and producing countries. When you are a member of WCR, you drive the agenda. Companies that are not participating do not get a seat at the table to weigh in on the varieties of the future.

What is something you want the coffee sector to be aware of?

We need to make sure the industry understands the risks facing the coffee industry but recognize the opportunity as well. If you look at the success of other crops, we can bring those tools and technologies into coffee. If we want to continue sourcing coffee from diverse origins, we need to understand we have a choice in the matter and a collective responsibility to drive investment to support our collective goals. But protecting coffee is bigger than just our industry. Coffee produces revenue for lower income countries and contributes significantly to human welfare.

Now it is Earth Month, what does Earth Day mean to you?

Things are pretty grim around the world and there is a lot going on that can make you feel powerless in the face of large planetary challenges. We need to sequester more carbon in biomass on the planet. We need more trees to help reduce emissions. Those of us involved in tree agriculture—i.e., the entire coffee industry—can play a role. There is a unique opportunity for coffee to do something for the entire global community. We are in the tree business, and trees are a technology that if deployed well and thoughtfully can help us sequester a tremendous amount of carbon. Farmers need more productive coffee trees. Young growing trees absorb a lot of carbon dioxide. Renovating coffee farms at scale has the potential to solve two problems at once. If your organization has a priority to reduce emissions or a commitment to net zero, trees are a very promising place to start and investment in agricultural research and development can deliver.

To learn more about WCR’s efforts visit https://worldcoffeeresearch.org/.


 [HN1]If we need space, could cut this line

NCA 2022 Preview: Behind the Scenes with Scott Clemons

Each year, the National Coffee Association Annual Convention presents a full program, filled with dynamic speakers and sessions covering an array of topics from coffee data trends, to logistics, to coffee and health, and so much more. Among those sessions is one that is so well received that it returns year after year and continues to be a highly anticipated keynote session at the NCA Annual Convention: the economic outlook with Scott Clemons, Chief Investment Strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

Michelle Dunaway, Sales Executive at Mercon Specialty and NCA Next Gen Council member, spoke with Scott to learn more about his background and career and to give you a sneak peek at what is to come in his session at #NCA2022. (Scott will be presenting his session, “2022 Vision: The New Normal,” on Wednesday, March 9, from 10:10 – 11:00am EST at the National Coffee Association Virtual Convention.)


Upon graduating from Princeton in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Classics – a rather unusual degree for Wall Street – Scott joined Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. [BBH], where he still works today, 32 years later, and now holds the position of Chief Investment Strategist.

Early on in his career, Scott earned the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation, to not only learn the skills and practical applications of financial analysis, but to also demonstrate his dedication in investing to both his clients and his firm, BBH.

Scott credits much of his professional success with skills learned on the job. He began his career with BBH in London in the early 1990s as an Analyst & Portfolio Manager. This was an exciting time for European economics; the European rate mechanism had come into play – a precursor of the Euro – and the world saw the fall of the Soviet Union and the iron curtain which led to the introduction of the market-based economy in Eastern Europe.

After five years of working in Europe and traveling all over the world asking questions, he came to a fork in the road: to commit to life in London or to return to the United States. In the late 1990s, Scott made the United States his permanent home, and he switched his attention to domestic markets in the role of Portfolio Manager, U.S. Equities for BBH. Come 2005, Scott took advantage of an opportunity to be on the client-facing side of the business, transitioning to the role of Relationship Manager for the NY office location of BBH.  

Along the way, Scott has always been curious about how things work, what motivates and drives decisions, why something is the way it is, and what such things can tell us about the past and the future.

Today, Scott holds the position of Chief Investment Strategist. In his own words, Scott described his role as, “the guy that gets to look around at everything going on in the world and try to make sense of it.” So, what does this mean for his clients? Scott explained that the clients of BBH are running businesses, so they appreciate the guidance and advice on everything they need to know that will benefit their operations.

Scott does not think of himself as an economist – economics is not his academic background – but rather as a curious guy who likes to know how things work, who takes the time to read, analyze, study, and then synthesize information so that he can convey the explanation to an audience allowing them too to make better sense of the world economy.  

Question: What is the secret to success in investing… and to life in general?

Scott: “Read voraciously.

There is a rationale for this: success is a question of pattern recognition. For example, if you are a professional athlete, you can recognize the play in front of you. You think, “I’ve been here before and know exactly what to do.” The challenge is how to develop good pattern recognition. Experience is gained a day at a time, but there is an out to that; you can get more than one day’s experience at a time by borrowing from the experiences of others. That, is how reading comes into play.

[Author’s note: Scott reads The Financial Times, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.]

In order to develop a differentiated insight, you need to read very broadly. Markets are just the intersection of human emotion. Markets, the economy, and businesses are a collision of human emotions – fear, greed, anxiety, lust, excitement, aversion, regret – and these all these get measured by the S&P 500, through GDP, or through corporate profitability terms. At the end of the day, it comes down to understanding people.”

The single best analyst of human emotion was William Shakespeare. Some of the best investors Scott has ever worked with play with uncertainty and doubt; the single best explication of the psychology of doubt is Hamlet – the whole play is about the perils of indecision.

On the other side of the equation, some of the best investors Scott has ever worked with have such courage in their convictions; it’s the opposite extreme. Once again, the single best psychological analysis on the perils of certainty is William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The challenge is to identify the psychological extremes in our own thinking and to react to that. In short, what makes you a better investor is anything and everything, because it all adds to your ability as a thinker to identify patterns more readily and more originally.

Question: Are there any opportunities that those of us in coffee should be looking for?

Scott: “They way in which consumer behavior has shifted during the pandemic is fascinating. What is the role of coffee outside of the home? Are coffee shops a delivery mechanism for caffeine? Do coffee shops need a mobile app to serve more quickly? Or are coffee shops a gathering place for entrepreneurs and solo workers to come and sit for a long period of time?”

Sneak peek! What can we expect at Scott’s upcoming lecture, “2022 Vision: The New Normal,” during the NCA Virtual Convention?

Scott shared that there are four big transitions underway that will dominate conversation in the United States and in the global economy:

  1. A transition in economic leadership away from government spending and emergency support
  2. Inflation/deflation – inflation is a price we pay for monetary support
  3. Interest rates – history has taught us that the “why” the Fed is raising rates is important. If the Fed is raising interest rates in response to more confidence in economic activity, then markets and businesses see this as necessary for the economy to continue to flourish. If, on the other hand, the markets decides that the Fed has lost their grasp on inflation and they are scrambling to catch up, this can be disruptive. Which narrative wins out?
  4. A surge in productivity – the silver lining as we are doing more with less

Throughout the course of the conversation, Scott mentioned how Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. is renovating their NY office and adding in an upscale coffer bar. As exciting at this already sounds for all of us coffee lovers, Scott made a noteworthy comment. He explained that in the past, they [BBH] have thought of coffee as a caffeine delivery mechanism, but now they have changed their thinking; they recognize that coffee is what brings people together, so now they see coffee as a connector.

Although we will not be sharing coffee with each other in person at NCA this year, don’t miss out on these connections! Be sure to register for #NCA2022 and check out Scott’s session, “2022 Vision: The New Normal,” on Wednesday, March 9, from 10:10 – 11:00am EST at the National Coffee Association Virtual Convention.

Words of Wisdom from NCA Board Members: Part I

As Next Gen-ers in coffee, we are fortunate to be surrounded by so many remarkable industry leaders, many of whom serve the coffee community via their roles on the NCA Board of Directors. Michelle Dunaway, Sales Executive at Mercon Specialty and NCA Next Gen Council member, rounded up some great words of wisdom from several of these leaders. From advice on career advancement to what they’re currently reading, check out these NCA Board Members’ words of wisdom below.

Bruce Goldsmith

President & CEO of Baronet Coffee, a 4th generation coffee roaster with 100 years of history defined by tradition, family & commitment to exceed expectations.

Bruce has served as Chair of the NCA Board of Directors and is currently an active NCA board member.

He has been in coffee since 1988 when he started doing research into “gourmet” coffee, what we now know as Specialty Coffee.

His advice to the younger generation in coffee: “Get involved, don’t be afraid to ask questions [and] voice your interest, so that when an opportunity arises you are prepared to seize it!

The NCA is a 110-year-old organization and is trying to evolve … so get involved and look for opportunities, meet people — you never know what will come out [of it].”

Favorite radio shows: “How I built this” by NPR

John Boyle

President & CEO / Managing Director at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA

John has been involved with the NCA for 14 years, 10 years as a board member and has been with MZB for 15+ years.

His advice: love what you do and get involved! 

“I think it is very important to enjoy what you do. Certainly, being in the coffee business, it does help to love coffee and to understand the entire supply chain all the way back to origin; the history, where coffee comes from; there is a lot to learn [about] how the whole supply chain works.”

Be passionate, be driven and be aggressive, speak your mind, but always do it with a perspective – [understand] where you can really make an impact and drive change [to] affect the broader industry.”

Career advice: “Work hard and deliver on your commitments.”

Favorite NCA memories: “Seeing how the NCA has evolved and the true leadership position it has taken as the voice of the coffee industry. Prop 65 was a moment when the industry rallied together, focused on an issue, and the outcome benefitted the whole industry.  This is the picture of success.”

Matt Saurage

4th Generation family owner of Community Coffee Company

Matt started his career in coffee at a young age and realized coffee is an industry experiencing constant change.  Evolution is inevitable, so he advises to “learn continually, challenge yourself and be open to new ideas.  In the coffee industry, your reputation is your most valuable asset.”

Other tips:

  • Be a lifelong learner
  • Listen
  • Surround yourself with people with different ideas and perspectives
  • Take action!

Matt travels with his AeroPress and brews Community Coffee signature Dark Roast blend – his favorite.

“To the future of coffee, salut!”

Miguel Moreno

Head of Coffee business, Grupo Nutresa

Advice on finding advancing your career in coffee: “Find the right place and person to talk about your career plans — about what you believe you can do and what you can achieve.”

“Ask questions: what do you need to do better and what do you need to do to improve?”

“Go beyond your role, when you are in a meeting have an opinion, be present. Every topic matters, always have an [integrated] view of the information and everything that you have access to.”

Books he recommends:

  • Think Again – Adam Grant
  • What works, Gender equality by design – Iris Bohnet
  • Exponential Organizations – Salim Ismail

Paul Feldman

Managing Director at Brown Brothers Harriman (Commodity Finance)

“Be curious, there are no bad questions.”

“Make sure you always try as much as you can to be a good listener, but don’t hesitate to challenge — always being respectful.”

Paul never thought or planned he would become a banker. “Don’t plan your career path [based on] where you think it has to go… having a plan is great, [but] recognize the serendipity involved in life. Be ready, if necessary, to have your plan dramatically change or even dissolve over time.”

Michelle Burns

Executive Vice President-Global Coffee, Tea and Cocoa at Starbucks Coffee Company

Michelle has been in the coffee industry for 30 years. Getting to where she is now required many moves within the company that expanded her knowledge in business development, relationship management, negotiation and operations, store development, and more — all driven by the willingness to lean into opportunities.

She says the essential ingredient for developing relationships is having shared goals. There must be a benefit to everyone in a partnership; gaining mutual understanding and the support that coming together creates.

To grow your career, she advises to be “driven, intentional, purposeful … [and] open.”

“Knowledge of the issues is important, but it’s also critical to remember who we serve and why: the producers and every other link in the value chain. The nuance of understanding all the parts of the value chain is critically important and valuable, as it is our duty as an industry to truly understand the magnitude of the issues we are facing and in order to create a sustainable future for coffee.”

On diversity, she advises you to “be inclusive and hear alternate points of view; diversity must absolutely be part of the future.”

What Michelle is currently reading: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard – Chip Heath & Dan Heath

A Blast from the Past: Looking Back at Past NCA Conventions

By: Nora Johnson, Next Gen Council Member and Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA

For many in the coffee industry, the month of March has become synonymous with the National Coffee Association Annual Convention. It’s the time of year when highly anticipated economic and trade outlooks are shared, former colleagues are reunited, keynote speakers inspire, and new industry participants get their first taste of the special and unique world that is the coffee industry.

As you know, throughout the entire year, the NCA works tirelessly on behalf of our beloved industry and the Association’s membership. From crucial advocacy to in-depth research and toolkit preparation, from Member Alerts to educational webinars, the benefits of NCA membership are endless; the Annual Convention is another one of those cherished benefits that has become a hallmark event for the coffee industry.

Before we dive into the excitement for NCA 2022, let’s first look back a few years at past NCA Annual Conventions to see how we got here today!

Going “all the way” back to 2019, (author’s note: I think we can say “all the way” given how far we have come throughout the course of pandemic years!), we find ourselves in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme for NCA 2019 was “Crossroads,” and the conference featured three key-note sessions:

  • Shannon Huffman Polson, Author of, “The Grit Project,” and one of the first women to fly an Apache helicopter in the US Army
  • Joel Sartore, Nature Photographer and National Geographic Magazine Contributor
  • Steve Battista, Former Sr. Vice President, Brand, Under Armor, Inc.

For a comparison of the times, at the time of the NCA Annual Convention in 2019, the coffee market was trading around $0.9685.

Heading into March 5-7, 2020, in Austin, Texas, we now find ourselves at the 2020 Annual Convention. It is likely that you remember it well as it was quite possibly the last in-person event that you attended prior to the onset of the pandemic in the United States. Although we did not know at that time just how much our lives would change over the next year, the theme for the Convention was very fitting “The Challenge of Change.”

NCA 2020 featured sessions on a variety of topics, including two sessions that are highly anticipated each year:

  • 2020 Vision with Scott Clemons, Brown Brothers Harriman 
  • Preview to the National Coffee Data Trends 2020

At the time of the NCA Annual Convention in 2020, the coffee market was trading around $1.1135.

Enter: 2021. Given the impact of the pandemic, gathering in person for a large event was not an option, yet the “magic of March” for those of us looking forward to the NCA Annual Convention carried on through a new, virtual format. The theme for the 2021 Convention, “Together Toward Tomorrow,” was certainly one of hope, and this message resonated throughout different sessions, such as:

  • Ideation to Action: Sharing the Risks and Rewards of Sustainability in the Coffee Value Chain
  • Superhero Leadership During Uncertain Times, featuring Brett Culp, award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of the non-profit, The Rising Heroes Project

At the time of the NCA Annual Convention in 2021, the coffee market was trading around $1.3280.

So what’s up next? That’s right – the NCA Virtual Annual Convention 2022, “A World of Possibilities,” is just around the corner on March 8-10, 2022. For more information, check out the details of the Virtual Convention here: https://www.ncausa.org/Industry-Resources/NCA-Annual-Convention

See you there!

Logistically Speaking, Part 3: Janet Colley of The Dupuy Group

Bent Dietrich, NCA Next Genner and Coffee Trader with the American Coffee Corporation, recently sat down with Janet Colley, Vice President of the Dupuy Group, for her take on the history of Dupuy Group, the current logistics landscape for coffee, Covid-19’s impact on the supply chain, and more.  

Before we get to the scary part (supply chain crises – *gulp*), tell us a little about yourself, and about the Dupuy Group.

My great grandfather, John Dupuy, started Dupuy Storage & Forwarding in New Orleans in July of 1936.  My dad still has one of his business cards that says, “Coffee Exclusively.”  Dupuy has been dedicated to the coffee industry for almost 90 years.  I proudly represent the 4th generation of ownership.  My Dad, Allan, is still the current President / CEO.  We are the last two remaining family members currently working for Dupuy.  It is a great source of pride for me to be able to continue representing such a longstanding and well-respected company.

The warehousing industry has been one of those silent pillars in the supply chain that never really shut down during the pandemic. How did Covid impact Dupuy at the outset of the pandemic? What was the initial response?

Thankfully, Dupuy has been blessed with extremely committed and loyal workers.  However, as the pandemic progresses, we are certainly starting to feel the labor issues that are plaguing the industry.  Wages are going up, available skilled labor is harder to find, and we have unfortunately started to feel the pain of these challenges.  We are working hard to make sure to create and maintain an inviting and stable culture for our team.

How has Dupuy been impacted by the supply chain bottlenecks, starting with the back-ups at the ports? How has that changed over the past several months?

Once again, these are challenges that we have started to see recently.  Unfortunately, it is generally our customers (importers, roasters) who are affected the most, so we are doing our best to mitigate those issues as best we can.  Trucking shortages, port equipment unavailability… these are just a few examples of problems that we are being asked to help solve on a daily basis.  As we all know, these are issues that are prevalent coast to coast, port to port.

So once the coffee has arrived at Dupuy’s warehouses, I know Dupuy is active in blending, sampling, and performing other services for your clients. Have these services been significantly delayed or affected by today’s logistical climate? 

As a matter of fact, the demand for our value-added services has increased significantly and has remained steady for several months.  It has been a very interesting trend to watch. 

Throughout the economy, we see costs going up. As a coffee trader, I see the coffee futures market up double compared to last year. Freight rates have tripled or more, and differentials are higher. Long story short, the cost of doing business has gone up significantly.  Has this been the case for Dupuy? If so, what has changed?

Absolutely.  In the service industry, we see price increases in almost every aspect of our business.  From insurance to stretch wrap to pallets, prices are rising consistently, and we are having to pass some of those costs along to our customers, unfortunately.  No one in customer service likes to raise prices, but we do take comfort knowing that we are certainly not alone.

What changes have you seen on the trucking and transportation side?

I’ll probably give the standard answer of anyone in any logistics-based business these days… fewer drivers, higher prices – “’nuff said”!

With bottlenecks and shipping delays making news headlines and thereby increasing consumer awareness, are there any other challenges that aren’t widely reported that the warehouses have had to overcome?

I honestly think that everyone these days is familiar with the issues that we encounter in our industry.  From the exporter to the importer to the consumer, no one is immune from the truth.  We are not experiencing anything that any other service provider is not.

What is one thing about the Dupuy (or about coffee warehouses in general) that you wish more people knew?

I love telling the story of Dupuy.  I love that we are family owned and operated.  And I love for people to know our history.  In addition to our history, I want people to see our vision and our future.  We are not just a warehouse.  We are not just four walls with people unloading, storing, and loading.  We are a partner in this industry.  We are a vital part of the supply chain and we can offer services that defy the traditional perception of a “warehouse.”

NCA Next Gen Interview with The Partnership for Gender Equity

Kimberly Easson

Danielle Wood, NCA Next Genner and Social Impact Manager at Inspire Brands, recently sat down with Kimberly Easson, founder and CEO of The Partnership for Gender Equity, for a discussion on her organization’s mission and the issues facing women in coffee. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Unfortunately, gender gaps and inequities are prevalent in coffee-growing regions around the world. While men traditionally transport and sell the coffee, women are frequently responsible for the work affecting coffee quality and yields. Despite their crucial role in the coffee growing process, women are often excluded from decision-making and denied access to critical resources necessary for their success.  

That’s where the Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE) comes in.

Danielle Wood: What is the Partnership for Gender Equity, and what does it stand for?

Kimberly Easson: PGE believes that gender equity is the foundation for healthy families, communities and a sustainable supply chain. PGE’s mission is to shine the spotlight on the importance of gender equity and work across coffee and cocoa sectors to embed approaches to drive transformative change. Recognizing that farming women and their families are overburdened and underappreciated, PGE wants to make a difference in their lives. Gender Equity is about everyone, not just women and PGE’s unique approach focuses on the entire family structu

DW: How did you come up with the idea for PGE?

KE: I’ve been working in coffee for 30 years. I started by coincidence when I lived in Costa Rica, working with Café Britt and then never wanted to leave. My focus has always been on building stronger relationships along the supply chain – in particular through my work with FairTrade and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). At CQI, I helped to expand the partnership base and financial resources of the organization. I realized they lacked a strategic approach to gender in their funding proposals – a growing requirement of donors – and this became the foundation for setting up PGE. I wanted CQI’s development work be inclusive of gender equity and recognized the opportunity to foster a greater partnership in the industry to drive change. I spearheaded the initial research in 2015 for the industry to use as a helpful resource to better understand why gender equity was important. Pretty quickly, we realized that the opportunity for PGE was starting to grow beyond the scope of CQI and so we agreed to “spin off” PGE as a separate non-profit organization, which happened officially in April 2019.

DW: Can you speak to some of the challenges associated with gender equity in coffee?

KE: Gender Equity is a complex topic, but thankfully now there is more awareness. It is a significant human rights, social justice and sustainability issue. Companies see the importance but do not know what to do, which makes it difficult for them to take action. There is a lack of data and no real clarity about what women do in the supply chain. Very few countries are collecting sex-disaggregated data about the roles of women in coffee. The embedded culture of coffee farming was set up to be male-dominated and driven, yet we know women do a significant portion of the labor. To support the success of farming families and communities, and the sector as whole to be more resilient, we need to shine light on farming as a family business and value the work of men and women equally.

DW: What is something about women in coffee that you want more people to know?

KE: The coffee supply chain is gender biased. PGE is focusing on producing countries in origin but up and down the supply chain, bias exists. Increased gender equity means families work more as a team. Better communication and working in this different way can improve income and the overall wellbeing of a family. There are also many benefits for men in achieving greater gender equity. For example, there is a lot of pressure on men to bear all financial responsibility for the household. This burden can be reduced when both men and women have the opportunity to earn income, and share decision-making about how to best spend that money to meet family needs.

DW: Can you speak to some of the projects you’ve been working on like the Virtual Learning Journey and the Gender Equity Index?

KE: The Virtual Learning Journey is a way for companies to directly engage with what’s happening in their supply chain. It is a 10-week online series that brings together men and women from different farmer organizations to explore perspectives and better understand gender equity. Their organizations take a diagnostic and receive a report from PGE that serves as a snapshot of their current performance on gender equity. As a result, producer organizations are able to understand the general need for gender equity and create a roadmap of where they’d like to go.

This road map highlights opportunities where industry can invest directly to support their efforts – such as investing in a masculinities training, or improving a gender policy. The resulting conversations about gender equity improve understanding of the issue and strengthen the relationships with buyers. This gives companies a chance to invest in opportunities to advance gender equity. The voice of the roaster is key in driving change,  since farmer organizations will take action on an issue if they know it is important to roasters.

The Gender Equity Index (GEI) is the evolution of the first diagnostic tool created for farmer organizations. The work with farmer organizations is critical, yet we realized that if we want to really have a transformative impact in the global sector, we need to work with different levels of the supply chain. This tool is used to advise extension and advisory service providers – including trading companies, development organizations, and producing country extension agencies – about their performance on gender equity. We provide recommendations and work with these companies to create a gender equity development plan to ensure their services are not gender biased – with the goal that every dollar invested in coffee is invested in a way that is gender equitable, and ultimately reaches, benefits and empowers women.

Industry members recognize that extension services broadly have room for improvement. The GEI supports service providers to improve their services by enabling them to better understand the needs and opportunities of their target beneficiaries / clients – both women and men. With greater clarity about the needs and issues that impact their clients, they can better target services to respond to those needs. As a result the overall benefit and impact of those services improves. This also corresponds to higher return on investment of those services.


To learn more about PGE’s work, visit https://www.genderincoffee.org/.

Logistically Speaking Part 2: Port of Virginia, Not Just Any Port in the Storm

By: Nora Johnson, Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA and NCA Next Gen Communications Committee Chair


News from ports around the world has taken the globe by storm over the past 18 months – from record-breaking cargo volumes to record-breaking counts of ships at berth, everywhere you turn you hear shipping-related news. Despite these headlines, how familiar are you with port operations and the many roles and responsibilities that come with it?

Nora Johnson, Next Gen Council Member and Commodities Manager at Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, had the opportunity to speak with Joe Harris, Vice President and Spokesman for The Port of Virginia®. Read on to learn about how the Port of Virginia, along with so many other ports around the world, has adapted and leaned into this new phase of logistics and shipping.  

The interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity with approval from the interviewee.

Shipping containers at the Port of Virginia

Nora Johnson, NCA Next Gen: Can you share some history on the Port of Virginia? How did the Port get to where it is today?

Joe: Back in the ‘60s, all of the individual terminals in our harbor at that time – Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Newport News Marine Terminal, and Norfolk International Terminals – were owned and operated by their respective cities; they were competitors to each other. In addition to competing for business, they would go up to Richmond (Virginia) and compete for money.

In the mid-to-late ‘70s, the Governor of Virginia suggested that we look to unify the ports under a common flag in order to leverage them as a whole as opposed to utilizing them as individual pieces. He was successful in getting that done – the state bought the respective terminals from the different cities and unified them under the Virginia Port Authority flag with Virginia International Terminals (VIT) acting as the operator for all the terminals. Then, in 2010, we leased the Richmond Marine Terminal, and 2 years later we leased the Virginia International Gateway (VIG).

We, Virginia International Terminals, now own and operate Norfolk International Terminals, Newport News Marine Terminal, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Virginia Inland Port, and Hampton Roads Chassis Pool, and we lease Virginia International Gateway and Richmond Marine Terminal.

This really creates a collaborative atmosphere. By owning and operating all the terminals, we can share information and solve problems quickly and with ease, as we do not have any other competing economic interests that we have to satisfy. We call it the “Virginia Model,” and right now, it is yielding significant positive results for us.

Port of Virginia’s terminals.

Nora: I had never really considered the competing ownership interests and how that could impact port operations.

Joe: The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the biggest ports in our nation. In that harbor, there are 13 or 14 terminals that are each owned and operated by different entities. While they are neighbors, they are competitors too. Contractually, there are obligations with different shippers, motor carriers, and railroads. At LA/Long Beach, to bring cargo that was contracted by and intended for one terminal into a neighboring terminal and to sort out all those pieces quickly and economically could be nearly impossible.

The LA/Long Beach situation is no single entity’s fault; LA/Long Beach handles around 10 million units in one year. All of the East Coast ports combined can only handle about 8.5 million units. That’s how big and significant LA/Long Beach is.

Nora: The Port of Virginia has been an active and dedicated supporter of Virginia’s efforts to become the “Caffeine Capital.” Can you elaborate on the Port’s role in this endeavor and its overall involvement within the coffee industry?

Joe: Coffee had been coming into Virginia for years, when suddenly, we saw this cluster growing. We got behind it as best that we could bringing in the warehouses, getting the ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) designation, and really nurturing the growth of the coffee industry.

What happened was rather organic and outside of our control. One roaster saw another roaster doing well and saw available land and labor and said, “Oh, wow! You all are only 20 miles from a port? This must be a good place.” This reaction started the “it must be good over there effect” and it has by and large stuck, even with movement within the industry. It has been a good piece of business for us, and it had led to good relationships that we are always happy to support however we can.

From a larger perspective, much of the cargo that comes into New York stays in the New York area to serve that population. Aside from the coffee business here in Suffolk, Virginia, so much of our cargo goes outside of Virginia so it is a different dynamic in terms of the market. We say that we serve the nation’s heartland: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Dayton, Louisville, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and St. Louis, among other cities.

Nora: How has COVID impacted the Port of Virginia? Would you walk us through the different “phases” of COVID since March 2020 through today and how each phase impacted the Port differently? 

Joe: When COVID was at its peak, we saw cargo volumes fall off like we could never have forecasted; manufacturing and shipping dried up. It’s important to note that the Port of Virginia never shut down, never laid off a person, and never cut any benefits. We kept working, but we just weren’t moving as much cargo.

Then, vaccines began to roll out and some confidence returned. Last September, we saw volumes go from a little bit of upwards growth to shooting steeply up and they have not since come back down. The record volumes continue. Some of this volume is “catch-up cargo” that was ordered during the COVID slump and never made it ashore originally, and another portion of the volume is related to cargo that was ordered by many of the companies and retailers who did not want to get caught short again. In turn, they bought high volumes and stuck it in their warehouses. As we speak today, we are in the thick of moving retail cargo for the holiday season. You have a lot of different needs piling on top of each other which is creating a lot of cargo that is moving towards the United States.

Nora: What did the Port of Virginia do to accommodate these record volumes? Staffing and operations all had to change, right?

It did not – and it’s really a matter of timing! The first summer after COVID hit, we had just finished up an $800 million expansion, renovation, and modernization of our two primary container terminals – Virginia International Gateway and Norfolk International Terminals. The initial slow down at the start of COVID allowed us to get our hands on this new “animal” that we had; then, when the volume spiked up, all of that infrastructure, investment, and training really paid off. The modernization, bringing in 21st century technology, and having a truly talented and seasoned operations team made a meaningful difference. The terminal is only as good as the people running it. In addition to that, we have great labor relations with our union. The union never took a day off, and to this day they are out there hustling. The men and women show up night and day, rain or shine, hot or cold, and they go to work and make it happen. That is critical! All of these factors are really working in our favor right now. Every day we are looking at our operation, trying to tweak it and figure out where we can be a little more efficient, a little more productive, and always be safe. We look at what we can do tomorrow, next week, and even next month. Since we own our terminals, we can really look at things holistically – we can say, “We are doing really well over there, so how can we translate that effort and make it happen over here?”

Regional map showing the strategic location of the Port of Virginia

Nora: Would you say that being agile is critical for the Port right now?

Joe: Yes – and “agile” is a word that we are using often right now. We can see a challenge or a problem, gather around the table, and truly have an answer within a couple of hours and then begin implementing the solution that afternoon or the next morning. Not all ports can do that.

Nora: Do you talk and communicate with other ports regularly?

Joe: Everyone is willing to put in a collaborative effort, but it is less about what a different port is doing to solve a specific problem, but more so about understanding volumes and planning. For For instance, if we know that a ship is going to be arriving in Georgia and that it is already off schedule, we will call Georgia and see how long it’s going to be in port there so that we can get all of that data into our system and be better prepared.

Nora: Wow. It’s hard to imagine how this will all come to an end!

Joe: It’s going to take patience and a lot of hard work, but it will end. It takes time for any amount of capital to translate into productivity. That’s nobody’s fault – that’s just how it is – building, marketing, integration; it is a conundrum, but there is an end.

Nora: How do these record volume levels and the experiences of the past year impact future plans for the Port of Virginia?

The plans that we have are not in response to what we are seeing today, but the timing is good, and it will benefit us if we ever go through another period like this. Right now, we are investing $350 million in deepening the channels that support the Port of Virginia. Once that is completed in 2024, our channels in the harbor will be 55 feet deep, the ocean approaches will be 56 and 59 feet deep, and the channels will be wider. These wider, deeper channels will allow the big ships to pass – we will have two-way traffic of the biggest ships that are currently afloat. We will be able to hang the flag of the deepest port on the US East Coast!

Our future plans don’t stop there… This winter, we will begin to redevelop the railroad operation at Norfolk International Terminals; we are going to double the rail capacity there. We will also be renovating the North Side of Norfolk International Terminals. We intend to make improvements to expand our capacity up at Virginia Inland Port while also looking to add in more barge service at Richmond Marine Terminal. We are marketing Portsmouth Marine Terminal as a multi-use facility, bringing in tenants that are going to serve the offshore wind industry – we are going to help to grow an entirely new industry.

We are continually spending and renovating – it is a never-ending cycle of investment and reinvestment, and you must do that to stay competitive and relevant.

Nora: With bottlenecks and shipping delays now making news headlines and increasing consumer awareness, are there any other challenges that aren’t being seen by the “common eye” or that aren’t being widely discussed that the Port has had to overcome?

Joe: What many don’t understand is that there are so many pieces involved within the shipping and logistics supply chain that all must work well together in order to prevent any backup.

One of the issues that the Port of Virginia is keeping a close eye on is the availability of chassis. A chassis is the wheel set that a truck driver uses that the container gets put on top of. We own and operate about 16,000 chassis. Typically, a truck driver comes in and rents a chassis, normally for 2-3 days, and does all the business that they can over that time and then they return it. Currently, we are seeing chassis on the road for 12 days at a time! Warehouses are packed, and with labor shortages at warehouses, the containers don’t get unloaded as quickly and the chassis don’t get returned as quickly. That means that we don’t have as many of those units coming back to the pool so that the next driver can get one. We are trying to add chassis to our fleet, but a lot of the steel for chassis is cut in China and must be shipped to the US, and then they must be assembled, so at times, we are challenged by the supply chain too.

I do always go back to the “Virginia Model” that I mentioned before. Imagine that we say, “We need more chassis, what can we do?” Well, we might open the chassis yard for returns all day on a Saturday. We don’t have to figure out how to do that – we own the chassis yard and the chassis. It is as easy as putting the message out to the trade saying, “Open on Saturday, please bring back available chassis.”

Nora: Earlier in the year, all eyes were on the Suez Canal and the obstruction caused by the Ever Given. Did this have any impact – direct or indirect – on the Port of Virginia?

Joe: We saw a couple of delayed vessels, so yes, it had an impact, but it didn’t really disrupt our way of doing business. We had 6 or 8 ships that were delayed, but they were delayed to the point that at least we knew where they were and that they would be here on this date so we could arrange our schedules to accommodate them.

Nora: It seems like that is a major point that you just made there; you knew what and where the issue was with the Suez Canal, whereas today, all of the delays are interconnected and span across different ports that are having unknown interruptions making schedules unpredictable. Would that be a fair distinction, anticipated versus unanticipated delays and disruptions?

Joe: Yes – I read recently that only 18% of the world’s container fleet is on time. The remaining 82% is off schedule. To every port, that presents a real issue. In the larger sense, trade likes predictability and right now it is very unpredictable. You are constantly tracking vessels and trying to predict ETAs. It is a real challenge for planning. We are very fortunate that we have been able to plan and accommodate both ships that are on and off schedule without having to put ships out to anchor to wait.

Nora: Has the Port of Virginia had any situations like that throughout this time, with ships at anchor waiting for availability to unload?

Joe: No, we have not. We have had instances where we contact ships and ask them to slow their speed a bit. If we have vessels on berth and know that there isn’t going to be a slot for a ship that is steaming down to us, we may ask them to pull their throttle back some so that they do not have to anchor and wait. The captains and ship owners would much rather slow down than anchor and wait as well.

Nora: The ultimate question… and one to which there may not be answer! What do you see in the future for 2022 in terms of the Port of Virginia and global shipping and logistics?

Joe: Cargo owners are realizing that they must be more diverse in their supply chains. So that might mean moving 1/3 of cargo to the West Coast, 1/3 to the Gulf Coast, and 1/3 to the East Coast. Our goal is to keep any new cargo with us – we call it “sticky” cargo. Regardless of any disruption or natural disaster on any one of those coasts, you would then still have cargo coming in. This kind of supply chain diversification would allow the cargo owner to keep that cargo moving.

2022 will probably be as busy as 2021, at least for the first half of the year. As an industry, we are trying to catch up while running full speed ahead. We are not forecasting a slowdown for next year. In the bigger picture, the public will need to be patient and understand that what the supply chain is faced with today is not anyone’s fault nor is it any one industry’s fault. It is not political, there is not one node along the supply chain that is holding something up. It is truly the perfect storm, and there is a whole lot of effort being put into resolving it. It will correct, but it will just take some time.

Nora: What is one thing about the Port of Virginia (or about Ports in general) that you wish more people knew?

Joe: People don’t always recognize the role that ports play in the American economy. 20 years ago, I sat with our then port-director at lunch and he explained that all you really need to know about shipping is that if your house was built after the 1980s, seven eighths of what is in it and seven eights of what it is made of came in on a container ship. The port industry is truly critical to the economy with the amount of goods that come in on container ships.


Addendum: One positive takeaway from the shipping and logistics challenges and opportunities of the past 18 months are the lessons learned. After speaking with Joe Harris and hearing about these times from the eyes of the Port of Virginia, I can personally attest to the value that exists in learning from the experiences of those in different areas of the supply chain.

In sharing these stories and experiences through the Logistically Speaking series, and on behalf of the National Coffee Association Next Gen Council, we hope that you too may benefit from hearing about the different lessons learned and experiences had across the supply chain.

Many thanks to Joe Harris and the Port of Virginia for their participation in Logistically Speaking: Part 2!