Drink coffee... save a bat?
OSLO - Consumers can now buy coffee which protects bio-diversity and endangered species, such as bats, birds and gorillas.
But farmers should be wary of jumping on this bandwagon in the hope of gaining much higher prices, a three-day European speciality coffee conference was told.
U.S. coffee consultant Susan Spindler told delegates last week that coffee with a cause - a mainly American phenomenon - was confusing for most consumers and did not necessarily bring the big price premium promised to farmers who grow it.
\"We are making promises from the market side which do not materialise,\" she said.
Coffees with a cause give consumers the opportunity to buy a product which protects the environment while at the same time providing farmers with a better income.
Environmentally-sustainable coffee, also known as shade coffee, means the beans are grown in forest-like conditions with at least 10 other native species of tree in the growing area, of which 40 percent should be shade-covered.
Many growers from developing countries are suffering as the coffee industry is going through its worst-ever crisis, which has pushed prices well below their cost of production.
\"The specialty industry is the only hope for many farmers in abject poverty, therefore we need to be very clear about what we are doing,\" Spindler said.
Mike Ferguson, marketing and communications director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), said that 6.5 million lbs of shade coffee were produced globally in 2000/01, with most sold in North America, around five percent in Japan and a small amount in Europe.
He said the average premium obtained for the coffee was 53 cents a lb above New York\'s arabica market.
But coffee with a cause was not really well-known by consumers, with only 12 percent of American specialty coffee drinkers - themselves a minority - aware of shade coffee, falling to nine percent for bird-friendly coffee, compared with 51 percent who were aware of organic coffee.
However, he added that nine out of 10 U.S. coffee companies expected sales of shade grown coffee to increase.
Spindler said that marketing for this type of coffee always pointed the finger at the producer country, where slash-and-burn agricultural practices was having devastating effects on the world\'s forests.
\"But what about the consuming countries...bird-friendly coffee never points the finger at the U.S....we
need to address both equally,\" she said, referring to the use of pesticides and urbanisation which was destroying areas of land traditionally used by migratory birds coming to the U.S from Central America.
This type of guilt marketing meant that coffee was often portrayed in a negative way - leaving consumers with the impression that it was grown in terrible environmental conditions and destroying wildlife - instead of concentrating on the positive aspects of the product.
\"We are lucky caffeine is a drug, otherwise we wouldn\'t have people drinking coffee at all,\" she said.
Story by Clare Black
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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