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.
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.
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?”
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!
Next Genner Jonathan Gabbay, Trader at RGC Coffee, shares the gear he relies on to maximize his productivity when working from home.
We’ve all had to adapt to a “new normal” in the age of covid-19. If anything, it’s propelled us into the age of the teleworker. This can be daunting and exciting at the same time. If you’re like me, you have the option to go in to the office or work from home (WFH), but most people don’t. WFH is no longer a luxury but a critical business decision that has allowed countless organizations continue being productive while social-distancing.
Since so many of us have no choice but to embrace it, we may as well learn to love it, or make it somewhat bearable. Below are some items outside the obvious that have helped me attain piece of mind and maintain concentration from my new work-cave (or -cage).
Noise cancelling headphones – How else are you going to listen to dope beats while plugged into the grid. I bought a lower-end pair of Sony’s on black Friday and they’re great. You don’t necessarily need the highest end to get good use out of them. Plus these have built in Bluetooth and can connect to my computer and double as a headset.
Cable Management – Part of having a zen workspace is removing all the noise, including visual noise. Well, we’re in the 21st century and we’re still tripping over wires. The ‘clean look’ of my office is just as important to me as how well my computer functions or the speed of my internet (ok almost). If you’re like me, you have a hard time keeping things clean, but a simple Cord Hider Box Organizer or Sleeve Cord can make your life a lot easier and the setup look way nicer.
USB Multi-Charger Cable – one cable, for multiple devices. Double check if it can connect data as well as charge your device. Same goes for a multi-charger adapter for USB and USB-C (a lot of devices are moving towards this).
Desk Pad – centers you and your work space, forcing you to stay organized. Also doubles as a mouse pad so you can throw away your old one.
Phone Stand – Somewhere to put down your smartphone and video chat. Bonus points if it has a built in wireless charger.
Desk Tray – throw all your mail or temporary documents in there to keep things clean. I have still yet to get one so the other half of my workspace looks like paper-mageddon.
RGB Headphone Stand – ok, this one is way out in left field and safely entrenched in the completely unnecessary category… and yet… I’m a night owl, or a close-to-middle-aged version of one. When my house goes quiet and I’m alone with my thoughts, I dim the lights and feel at peace with the soft lighting in my work-cave. The ambient lighting also matches my google wifi router and my air diffuser (more on that soon) to compliment the soft relaxing beats that put me in a work-trance.
Air Diffuser – I never in a million years would have expected to enjoy this. I was wrong. My partner recently introduced me to this product. You have to repeatedly spend money on ‘essential’ oils, but once you find out which scent you fancy you can buy cheaper in larger quantities. Mine is matte black, matching the look of my office, and has the aforementioned LED lighting. Personally I find stimulating all the senses enhances my productivity (and you can go full Costanza and add the pastrami sandwich for good measure).
I will keep this section short. A quiet workspace, a solid computer and monitor, and most importantly, a very good chair.
The first two are obvious. You need the right tools to do your job and the having a solid home setup is critical. However what is the most overlooked aspect is a really good chair. Think of it this way, you spend a little extra on a mattress that you spend 1/3 of your life on. You splurge on the memory foam or a special pillow. Your chair is your mattress, just for your conscious self for another 1/3 of your life. Don’t get a good chair. Get a really good chair.
If you have any cool items you’d like to add to this list, send us a line and we’ll include it in the next article.
Jonathan Gabbay (RGC Coffee) recently sat down with John “JD” Demuria, Managing Partner at Volcafe USA and past Chair of the NCA Board of Directors, for a retrospective on his time in the industry and what is in store for future coffee professionals.
How did you get into coffee?
The first 4 years, in the late 70’s, I started in the banking side, which gave me pretty good insight into the commodity sector. I was young and energetic and eager to learn from people. I was doing it from the side of a banker, not a trader, with Volkart Bros, which is known today as Volcafe, and I was able to take advantage of an opening on the trading side. I started in the low end. Not everybody starts in the boardroom, you have to pay your dues and learn and understand the fundamentals in all areas. I was fortunate being able to work with a group that was very much about educating and teaching and starting from the basics.
Starting your career in coffee the industry was different. Young coffee professionals have never experienced a Brazil frost or the ICO quotas that you’ve had to combat. What is the biggest difference in what we’re experiencing as an industry today vs when you were starting out.
The thing that sands out the most is the technology we have. Back in the day, we had a telex operator and long distance phone calls were not reliable. So your telex operator was your most important trader on the desk. Today we talk across the world for free. Back in the day, there would be a frost in Brazil, and we’d know about it a week before the farmers in Brazil even knew about it! Today it’s instantaneous.
We didn’t have volatility like we had today related to macro issues, hedge fund trading, speculative trading, geo-political issues, currencies, climate change along with the supply and demand of coffee itself. In the early days it was flat price, we didn’t work out differentials yet. There wasn’t a big need to hedge like we do today. And we went from simple futures trading to buying underlying futures, options and all the different products out there today.
As a follow up to the above question, what piece of advice would you offer someone starting out in coffee?
I think the most important thing when you start out, no matter your background or education, is to understand that coffee is not a thing you can learn from a textbook. Take advantage of the people who come ahead of you, ask questions, and listen. Take the opportunity to learn. You will eventually get to the same result, but your approach will be different dealing with a different demographic and environment. You’ll have a whole new set of tools to work with but a whole new set of challenges to deal with.
Also relationships. At the beginning, I took the time to get out and network with people. Obviously it’s very different today. But I would encourage anyone to reach out and forge those relationships, they will come back to help you in the longer term.
As the industry has changed, so has the focus of the NCA. What are some of the bigger shifts in focus you’ve seen?
The focus has always been on making sure that we protect and promote the industry. This is an association that is 108 years old. Along the way a lot of changes and adjustments were made. Today we are more relevant than we were in the past and I think what’s important is having the right leadership in place. We’ve always been the voice of the coffee industry, but we lost that voice for a while. I mean that we were always the proactive voice when something would go wrong on the regulatory side, a health scare, or a scientific problem. When someone needed information, they’d come to the NCA. That kind of got lost. Today we are an association that is now leveraging the science behind coffee, and that is the Scientific Advisory Committee. A couple years ago, no one knew they existed, and today they are working on cold brew, prop 65, diacetyl among others. We had a great win with the IARC report. They hadn’t looked at coffee closely since 1992 and we successfully had coffee removed from the list of possible carcinogenic products. That was a great win for the association that has come back to help us with the prop 65 fight in California.
In your opinion, why should young professionals get involved in the NCA and how would they benefit?
Your voice doesn’t get heard if you’re not there. There’s no better way to make a mark in your industry than engagement. You have a voice if you get out and participate. If you are active, your voice will be heard. We all have a common goal to promote coffee and consumption and to try to proactively solve the issues in the industry.
Also being engaged allows people the opportunity to network and hear about other businesses and see how they’re doing. Maybe share some of the problems you have in the industry you have worked on.
The best thing we did as an association is to start the next-gen council, because it gives you that voice and you report to the boardroom. There’s also new projects coming down the road and its super important for us to develop the next wave of leadership in the industry.
As past chairman of the NCA, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
My biggest takeaway when I retired as chairman, was how well the board worked together, how we all moved in the same direction. We all saw things eye to eye, and I think a lot had to do with Bill Murray’s leadership. The way they recognized the problems, gave resources, created the Next-Gen. We had the results of IARC, which needed emergency funding, and raised awareness of the Scientific Advisory Group (as mentioned earlier, they worked on prop 65, IARC, diacetyl, and cold brew standards that were just released).
We wanted to expand our global footprint. We are no longer a North American association, we’re much more than that and operate in a global space. The issues we deal with as an industry are not unique to us, they are global issues. We have to have common voices with other associations and not draw a line in the sand, but work together as a global unit.
Since this interview took place, a lot has changed in the coffee world and abroad with the global Covid-19 pandemic. We revisited this interview and followed up with JD early in 2021 to find out what has changed and how the NCA and his own business has adapted.
In 2021, what can we expect from the NCA and how has the association adapted to this new world?
(Laughs) I think the question is ‘what has not changed?’ Both in our personal and professional lives. We’ve had to learn and adapt on the fly and look for silver linings. With the NCA, we’ve had to keep everyone informed and on the same page. The association is very complex, there’s scientific research, office work, serving membership needs all will defending the needs of the industry in the political and scientific landscape. My hat is off to Bill Murray and the NCA Team for creating resources and toolkits that are extremely useful and keep everyone informed and safe. Each year the Association recruits, sends out info and different opportunities for people to get engaged.
What opportunities have now manifested for young professionals that were not there before Covid?
We can expect the future of the convention to be a hybrid type of event, that will be a combination of in-person and virtual meetings. Professionals can still co-mingle with people with years of experience. There will be new opportunities for new membership to get involved in the Next-Gen (committees) and for the younger generation the chance to attend the main event virtually when they may have not been able to before.
What has saved you in your own business?
What has saved us? Multiple things and they are difficult to prioritize. First, the team I have in place is spectacular. They have made sacrifices and shown dedication, and I’m very proud to say they are extremely young and diverse. Eight or nine are in the millennial category. Diversity helped us adapt to new technology, customer service, given us accessibility 24 hours a day and set up virtual meetings weekly with clients. We’ve adopted peoples’ homes, basements, kitchens. Mancaves became work caves. And we’ve added some extra technology like having multiple screens. A minimal investment has led to a massive benefit.
By Danielle Wood, Sustainability Manager, Dunkin’ Brands
Danielle Wood, Sustainability Manager at Dunkin’ Brands, recently sat down with Jasmine Murphy, Green Coffee Trader for The J.M. Smucker Company (JMS) to discuss her background, how she got involved in coffee, her current role with JMS, and her advice for budding coffee professionals. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How long have you been working in coffee?
I’ve been working in coffee for eight years – two years at JMS and prior to that I worked with Nestle at an R&D center in Marysville, OH.
How would you describe your role at JMS?
I am in the green coffee trading group, but my primary role is with sustainability. I am tasked with driving and managing the sustainability strategy forward, which includes projects linked to sustainability and green coffee.
What’s your favorite memory with NCA?
I really enjoy having the opportunity to meet and see people I work with regularly, face to face, and get to know them a little more. Especially when I was first starting out in coffee, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the trade. With NCA, you get the opportunity to learn from coffee experts. In this industry, everyone wants to help each other learn.
Being an NCA Next Gen-er yourself, what advice do you have for other young professionals in coffee?
I would say, don’t be afraid to ask questions. People in coffee typically spend their entire career in coffee, or leave and come back. It seems like a big industry, but it’s actually very small and relationships are extremely important. Don’t be afraid to use the resources and people available to you. Make sure you’re fostering relationships with people and reach out to keep those relationships strong, as you never know when you’ll interact with those people in the future.
What’s something you’ve recently learned that you wished you’d learned sooner in your career?
I wish I pushed harder for myself in the beginning of my career. Especially as a woman, it is important to advocate for opportunities for training and travel. Over time I have learned to push for myself and bring opportunities up early, and often. For example, I wish I became a Q Grader earlier on in my career as it has helped me gain credibility in my quality approvals. Don’t be afraid to fight for yourself and your development.
What is something about coffee or the coffee industry in general that you wish more people knew about?
I wish people understood how many people are involved in growing and processing and the other steps throughout the coffee value chain. So many steps are involved to get to what ends up in your cup.
Speaking of your cup, how do you prepare your coffee?
I am not a coffee snob, I am a Q Grader and cup all the time, but right now I’m drinking coffee that was made in a normal drip coffee maker and has lots of liquid creamer. I also have all of the coffee making tools including a Chemex, French Press, Nespresso, etc., but I usually use a drip coffee maker.
What excites you most about the coffee industry now?
Moving forward, even the major players are seeing huge value in sustainability and understanding how sustainability risks can impact the coffee business and future of coffee. We are seeing a movement driven by the needs of the industry and consumers, and the industry is truly trying to push progress forward. Sustainability commitments are coming out almost monthly, and a lot of big players are jumping on board.
With all the momentum you just mentioned, what technology do you see having the biggest impact on coffee in the future?
Having more connectivity for farmers. It will be imperative for producers to have increased access to phone or internet connectivity to report on their crops. We are not there yet in every origin or region. Being able to receive texts would make a huge impact especially from a sustainability perspective.
I know this is almost impossible to imagine, but what would you recommend for someone who doesn’t like coffee or isn’t a regular coffee drinker?
We see young coffee drinkers starting with really sweet drinks, coffee with a lot of creamer, or specialty drinks – try that out. There are so many ways to prepare coffee, so if you don’t like drip coffee, it doesn’t mean you won’t like a well-prepared espresso. Just give it a try, there are so many options out there, you will probably find something that you like!
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the coffee industry?
Sustainability issues, climate change, aging farmer population, really any of the sustainability challenges that we’re hoping to address under the environmental, social, and economic risk spectrum. These risks need to be recognized in the near-term. Luckily, more companies are taking this seriously to meet the short-term goals for coffee sustainability.
As a young coffee professional, what are some challenges and opportunities that come with working for such an established, well-known brand?
In my career so far, I have been extremely lucky to work for such well-known and established coffee brands. There are so many resources available as they have well-established relationships, but also have opportunities for trainings, travel, [professional] development and more. I have been able to piggyback on the established relationships built by JMS and Nestle. Growth as a coffee professional would have been much more difficult in a smaller coffee company.
NCA Next Gen recently had the chance to chat with Bambi Semroc, VP of Sustainable Markets and Strategy at Conservation International. The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Next Gen: How did you first become interested in conservation and sustainability work? Did your Peace Corps work in Togo help set you on this path?
Bambi: As I was finishing undergrad, I started becoming more and more interested in international development and in working overseas. One of my professors, however, challenged me, asking what skillset I would bring with me if I went abroad. What can you do that those in your hosting region couldn’t do better? So, realizing I needed to bolster my skill set, I went back to school to study international development with a concentration on the relationship between gender and successful agroforestry systems. This led perfectly to my Peace Corps assignment in Togo, where I was living in small, rural community located next to a protected area and worked on agroforestry and other community development programs. Returning from Togo, I joined Conservational International (CI), which was just developing its Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and haven’t looked back since.
Next Gen: You’ve spent most of your career with Conservation International (CI) following your time in the Peace Corps. What about the work and culture at CI keeps you excited and motivated?
Bambi: Well, when I first joined CI, the idea of an environmental NGO working with the private sector was still relatively new. It took some effort to convince the corporations we approached that we were not looking to launch an attack, but rather that we wanted to collaborate with them. It was an exciting time. Overall, CI has a culture of innovation. It allows you to stake a course for yourself, and there always seems to be something new and exciting to work on.
Next Gen: How has your career at CI evolved and how did you come to lead the Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC)? Have you always had an interest in sustainability within the coffee sector?
Bambi: It’s evolved from an internship while in grad school to now leading the coffee program and forming a new Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters. And while I have worked on coffee the entire time, I don’t actually drink coffee. Rather than a love of the beverage, my drive comes from a love of the coffee tree. It’s a crop that can grow under a tree canopy and holds great potential for rural development. So, my role at CI is constantly evolving, and coffee is only a portion of the work I do. Leading the SCC, however, is basically a dream job: managing the coffee program, engaging with major corporate leaders, and working closely with local communities. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Next Gen: It seems that leading the SCC you wear many hats. Do you have a favorite part of the job? A least favorite?
Bambi: Overall, I could name two favorite parts. The first would be getting to meet and speak with producers, visit coffee farms, and see amazing natural areas. The second would be trying to get industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. Seeing this alignment happen is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. And, well, my least favorite part would be… trying to get the industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. While seeing the alignment happen is fulfilling, it takes a lot of time and I know that, when it comes to our gravest environmental concerns, time is not a luxury we have. So, I worry about not being able to drive collective action and alignment fast enough.
Next Gen: You’ve taken on a very exciting role within sustainability and coffee industry. Is there anything you can point to that helped you achieve this success?
Bambi: In the first place, you have to find your passion, then you have to work hard. My first role at CI was an internship in which I had one task: research how to grow cocoa sustainably in one region of West Africa. I poured my heart and soul into that internship. As a result, my research grew and grew, and I received recognition within CI for this effort. I’ve been working side by side for the last 18 years with that same manager who took over the cocoa program while I was an intern.
Next Gen: The SCC’s mission is to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. It seems “sustainability” means something different to each actor in the industry – what does “sustainability” mean in the context of the SCC?
Bambi: SCC recognized that there was not alignment regarding what sustainability means throughout the industry, so we set out to try to establish a common framework. The framework is based around four compass points: Improve livelihoods, conserve nature, sustain supply, strengthen market demand. We are now embedding carbon sequestration more formally in the conserve nature point. However, in additional to a common alignment on sustainability, we’ve also developed a common definition for success. But yes, in the end, the question still comes up: What counts as sustainable coffee?
Next Gen: During your tenure leading the SCC, are you happy with the changes and improvements you’ve seen across the industry? In terms of sustainability, where do you see the industry heading?
Bambi: We have seen a lot of progress but, ultimately, I feel we are never moving fast enough. This is the reason behind forming the SCC: How do we catalyze more effort? We have major challenges—climate change, deforestation, freshwater degradation, etc.—but we can get there. Moving forward, we need to see more innovation around sustainability. We need to talk more about living incomes for producers and workers. We need to talk more about capturing CO2. And, in the end, we need to take a very holistic approach and ask what is good for the producers, communities, landscapes, and regions.
Next Gen: What challenges do Covid-19 pose to the work of the SCC and, more broadly, to the sustainability efforts across the coffee industry?
Bambi: Covid-19 brings tremendous challenges to the entire coffee sector. It’s changed where people drink their coffee, which has profound impacts on retailers and roasters in particular. Covid-19 also forces us to recognize the fragility of the coffee industry – from the safety and availability of workers picking the coffee to those milling and roasting the coffee. Then, it also gives us a moment to reflect on why we are so fragile and how we can find a better balance with people and nature. With regards to sustainability in general, Covid-19 only emphasizes how important the work we are pursuing is.
Next Gen: What advice do you have for someone trying to get involved in sustainability within the coffee industry?
Bambi: Again, first you have to find your passion. If you want to get involved in sustainability, find exactly what it is within the space drives you and gets you excited. Then, on a very practical level, field experience in invaluable. It gives you empathy and an understanding of the reality on the ground in some of the world’s most vulnerable places.
Next Gen: What changes would you like to see in the coffee industry moving forward? The audience of this interview is comprised of the young coffee professionals that will drive the coffee industry in the future—what message do you have for them?
Bambi: I see so much hope with the younger generations. These are generations in which the majority actually care about social and environmental issues. So my hope is that this generation sparks a new wave of sustainability in the sector – that harnesses this interest and passion to truly transition the entire sector to a sustainable and resilient future.
New research out of Harvard Medical School shows coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers.
“Don’t talk to me till I’ve had my morning coffee.”
We’ve all heard that cliché before – but a new review conducted by Dr. Alan Leviton, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, of existing, independent research, suggests that coffee doesn’t just give you a much-needed jolt in the morning — it may actually help you stave off clinical depression.
In the times we find ourselves living in, it’s no surprise that reports of anxiety and depression are on the rise. Between the constant barrage of negative news headlines and very real concerns over the health and well-being of our loved ones, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t exactly lend itself to good cheer and contentment. National Mental Health Month couldn’t have come soon enough.
But America’s favorite beverage could help with that. The results of Dr. Leviton’s independent research shows that coffee drinkers are less likely to be depressed than non-drinkers – and that the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to be depressed, with the benefits peaking right around 13 oz. each day. That’s slightly more than your go-to Tall coffee from Starbucks.
Let thy morning coffee be thy medicine.
The results don’t just lend credence to the “don’t talk to me till I’ve had my morning coffee” quip — they also carry profound implications for how we understand coffee’s role in our mental health.
According to Dr. Leviton, there are several factors that could be contributing to coffee’s mood-boosting effects. For example, coffee is known to be rich in antioxidants. Depressed people tend to have higher levels of stress-related oxidants in the body and are more likely than others to have diets low in antioxidants – attributable, at least in part, to lower coffee consumption. The antioxidants found in coffee may very well help offset that deficiency.
Coffee also has anti-inflammatory properties, some of which have been directly linked to improved mood. Depression and suicidal ideation are both correlated with higher levels of inflammation, research shows, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some of the anti-depression effects of coffee are due to its anti-inflammation effects.
And then there’s caffeine. One might assume it’s the stimulation caffeine provides that brightens one’s mood, but a compound in the blood called adenosine is a more likely explanation. The more caffeine one consumes, the higher the concentration of adenosine in the blood. Depressed people tend to have lower concentrations of adenosine than non-depressed people – and one study found that the more severe the depression, the lower the concentration of adenosine. As if we needed another reason to skip the decaf (kidding, of course…).
Dr. Leviton says some of coffee’s mood-boosting effects are present right there in the mug, but other positive effects of coffee are only unlocked as coffee interacts with our bodies[W4] . You may have heard of probiotics before – they’re those little pearls you can buy at the pharmacy that promote a healthy gut microbiome. But there’s also prebiotics and postbiotics, which, like probiotics, provide health benefits once properly processed. The prebiotics found in brewed coffee, for example, are readily metabolized by organisms in the gut. This process transforms them into short chain fatty acids or other metabolites, including brain-penetrating neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, and dopamine – the four major regulators of our mood.
Dr. Leviton’s study goes into much greater detail, and is a worthwhile read for the curious. His findings are welcome news for anyone seeking a little comfort in these uncertain, turbulent times — so burr up those beans, fluff those filters, and put a fresh pot on – trust the research, it’ll make you feel better.
Agricultural research and development (R&D) are critical for securing the future of coffee. World Coffee Research has created a global survey on agricultural research priorities, designed with input from coffee industry organizations that are also helping distribute the survey to their members to ensure as much participation as possible. Your participation is critical for helping shape global coffee agriculture R&D priorities, ensuring that the global research agenda supports the needs of the industry, drives increased sustainability and prosperity, and makes coffee better.
The survey questions focus on agricultural issues in coffee, the supply of coffee, the qualities of green/roasted coffee, and how they impact business. The survey takes between 5 and 10 minutes to complete.
The survey is completely anonymous—no information is collected that could be used to identify you personally or the organization you work for. Results will be used to inform the development of a five-year R&D strategy for WCR; anonymous aggregated survey results may be incorporated into the public strategy document. Anonymous data may also be shared with industry associations involved in the survey design.
By Bill (William) Murray, President & CEO, National Coffee Association
After hitting historic lows in mid-2019, coffee prices began to rebound in November of 2019, an upward slope that continued through the end of December 2019. Dramatic world events in early January 2020 have already caused spikes in commodity markets – including in the price of oil – that could drive coffee prices up further.
And so the question on everyone’s mind is whether this upward price trend will continue.
We can’t predict future coffee prices – but here’s what we do know:
Last year’s historically low coffee prices put unprecedented pressure on some of the 25 million farmers who grow coffee. This, in turn, led to an unprecedented industry-wide conversation about the impact of low coffee prices on farmers.
Initially these conversations were simplistic, in today’s click-bait style – broad, black-and-white portrayals of a supply chain populated with villains and innocents, with equally simplistic solutions that could easily cure all ills.
But as the conversation continued, it became apparent that the truth is more complex – just as coffee itself is a complex beverage.
The reality is that many of the challenges facing coffee farmers are not unique to coffee. Price volatility, poor infrastructure at home, a lack of information, and other factors are the same issues facing small-scale famers in all agricultural sectors.
And while there are common elements bedeviling all small-scale farmers, there is no simple, appealing, one-size-fits all “solution” for helping coffee farmers improve their lot.
This is why it is crucial – especially if coffee prices continue to rise – that we continue to work together as an industry to support farmers. If you want to be part of the solution, here are four things you can do now:
Understand the Facts. Current low prices are due to an oversupply of coffee, with other factors, such as the natural, cyclical nature of the market, and foreign currency fluctuations, further challenging farmers. Devising solutions starts with accurately identifying the challenges.
It Takes a Village. Know that solutions involve many hands – from international organizations such as the United Nations, to the governments of coffee-growing countries, NGOs, corporations, and even coffee drinkers who send a signal about their values and what they are willing to pay for every time they buy a cup of coffee. A local – or national – dimension to helping farmers is especially important, as communities must shape programs designed to meet their needs.
Take Action. Join us. Work on your own, through your company, and with others to do what you can now and make a commitment that will persist regardless of price levels. Hundreds of companies and organizations are supporting program work and buying practices that support farmers. NGO programs, such as Conservation International’s Sustainable Coffee Challenge, are convening companies to collaborate and directly help farmers — as is the Global Coffee Platform. More immediately, there are charities that are working on a day-to-day basis to help farming communities in need, like the Coffee Trust.
Drink More Coffee. Market prices were driven down by an oversupply of coffee, and drinking more coffee – to help lap up the surplus – not only helps farmers, but can bring health benefits.
In the meantime, the NCA will continue our work, together with others — for change will not come quickly or easily. We’ve been supporting, sponsoring, and participating in the ICO’s work; We’ve partnered with the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, including creating resources to help improve labor practices at origin; and we’ve identified charities through our Showcase and Award Program that we believe are worthy of your support.
Where are coffee prices going in 2020?
Up or down, one thing is for certain: there won’t be any coffee without farmers to whom we are all connected.
Yes, coffee is good for you. But
did you know you that more of it can be better? Our resident Coffee Doctor,
Mark Corey, PhD, recently traveled to Montréal, Canada for the East Coast
Coffee Madness festival, where he spoke about how coffee’s not only good for the
drinker, but good for the people who grow it, too. Read on for a window into coffee madness:
East Coast Coffee
Madness (ECCM) (Festival du Café de Montréal) was held on October 19-20th,
2019 in Québec, Canada, at the gorgeous Montréal Science Center. Organized by Jonathan Gabbay and Nathalie Gabbay
of RGC Coffee, the event brought together professionals young and old from every
corner of the coffee industry – from baristas to roasters to purveyors of the
finest self-contained, bicycle-powered espresso carts. (Really.)
Dozens of exhibitors showcased their artisanal craftmanship
and expert ability to source, roast, and prepare coffee to perfection. But I wasn’t just in Montréal to sample some
of the finest single-origin coffees in the world (though that was a nice perk –
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, anyone? I had a mission: to take the stage and help spread
the word about the surprising — and under-reported — health benefits of
Raising the Floor
The theme of the
keynote presentations was “Raising the Floor” of coffee prices. A diverse
roster of experts offered compelling insights into how we can address this
complex issue for which there is no magic bullet. Phyllis Johnson of BD Imports,
former Board Member of the NCA, spoke about the need to elevate the voices of
women and minorities in coffee. By having their voices heard and increasing
awareness of their contributions to the value chain, she said, we can help
build stronger coffee-growing communities – in a sense, ‘raising the floor’ at the
As we all remember from Econ 101, supply and demand
dictates that when there is an oversupply of a something, market prices tend to
fall. This is the situation we find ourselves in with coffee. Before coffee prices
reached their current low, farmers were already struggling to stay above the farmgate value, or
break-even cost of production — so asking them to limit production at the
expense of their own livelihoods is not a viable solution. Instead, we should
be working to increase consumption – and one way to do this is to spread awareness
of the health benefits of coffee. This
was the focus of my address.
Coffee is Good For You — and More is Better
As a food scientist, I’ve spent much of my career evaluating
the scientific consensus and the latest research to make sure coffee is safely
produced and healthy to consume. The data is clear on coffee: It’s healthy, and
the greatest benefits may be derived by drinking 2-4 cups per day (1). The problem is, most consumers don’t know
that coffee is good for you — let alone that more is better. In fact, the 2018
National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) Breakout Report on Coffee and Health
reported that 69%
of consumers were unaware of the potential health benefits of coffee. To
capitalize on this massive pool of consumers who could help balance out the
coffee oversupply, my presentation highlighted the possible benefits of coffee
consumption, such as how coffee drinkers:
It was frankly a lot of information for anyone to absorb in
a short period of time, but I’m hopeful that by interpreting the data and
presenting it in an informal, conversational way, coffee pros are better
equipped to share with their customers that they need not feel guilty about that
extra cup of joe.
Several thousand years ago, Hippocrates said, “Let food
be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
I think we can all drink to that!
Mark Corey, PhD, Director of Scientific Affairs at the
(1) Kim Y, Je Y, Giovannucci E. Coffee consumption and all-cause and
cause-specific mortality: a meta-analysis by potential modifiers Eur J
Epidemiol. 2019 Aug; 34(8): 731-752. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31055709