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Nine Ways to Better Plan Your Green Supply Ahead When You Buy Directly

The Head of Coffee of Henauer Kaffee and Plot Roasting’s Green Buyer share their basic forecasting principles so that you can start a sourcing plan to keep the green flowing at the right time, in the right amount and with the right quality.

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Sourcing green coffee can often feel like walking into a minefield. From suppliers to logistics, pricing, warehousing and quality control there is a lot to organise and it usually falls into the hands of one person (maybe a few people, if you’re lucky). How do you reach out to farmers? Who do you reach out to? Then what? What is the difference between FCA and FAS? Will I be insured? These are some of the questions faced by roasters when they start their journey.

As resources on how to source coffee are not widely spread, this journey usually starts with buying coffee from a spot position (landed in the destination country and stored in a warehouse ready to release). It’s the easiest option, with little to no planning required. But is it the best option? And is it the most sustainable one? As your volumes and demands grow, planning ahead is essential to keep a steady supply without falling short on orders. It also allows for more financial stability for all involved in the supply chain.

To help new roasters avoid common sourcing pitfalls, we turned to two experienced roasters for advice. Dario Stoop is the Head of Coffee at Henauer Kaffee in Switzerland and Matthew Orchard is the Green Buyer & SCA Educator at Plot Roasting in the UK. According to them, the buying process can be straightforward - and fun! - when you follow the following principles:

1. Start small
Most roasters who source directly says there is more effort involved in the process than buying spot but that what you get in return is worth it. “If you are new to forecasting and have been used to buying spot, then start slow. Just forecast one coffee at a time until you get used to it”, suggests Dario. Testing the waters helps you find out what can happen along the way without compromising your immediate need for supply.

2. Build a dynamic offer with variable prices
For better or worse, price fluctuations are a part of buying coffee. “It’s important to be aware that you don’t always know the final cost of the coffee until it ships. There are also fluctuations in exchange rates to consider”, warns Matthew. The roaster explains that Plot keeps their house espressos at a fixed price but also works with “a dynamic pricing scale which allows for fluidity in costs” for their filter offers. “This allows us to communicate to customers why the price of a coffee may be more expensive from one origin over another.” It’s like training your customers to expect price variations.

Dario of Henauer (top image) and Matthew of Plot Roasting (bottom image) are established roasters with complex planning systems (Photos: Henauer and Plot Roasting)

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3. Know the harvest time & contract early
Knowing when the harvest takes place is one of the first things roasters should know when sourcing. The time to close deals is when fresh samples of the latest crop become available, usually from mid-season onwards. The lower grades become available first, then the high commercials and finally the high altitude micro-lots or experimentals which take longer to dry.

There are many harvest calendars available online to assist you with forecasting but they are usually tailored to the timelines of a specific importer. Look at them all and build your own - you can do it on Algrano by creating a custom planner. It’s important to consider that producers in different microclimates will harvest at slightly different times and that certain countries, like Kenya and Colombia, produce pretty much all year round. By building relationships with suppliers, the precise time to ask for offers, cup samples and make offers becomes clearer. 

Dario explains that, in ideal circumstances, Henauer contracts their large lots one year in advance. In less than ideal scenarios, they contract it 6 months ahead. “Knowing harvest times is really critical. After a while, you get to know what’s due when. We also use the Algrano calendar. Listen & breathe the market, understand what’s happening daily and what might be about to affect things.”

Matthew’s approach is different, but just as rooted in pre-planning “I’ve built my own harvest calendar based on my experiences and contacts. We plan our coffee menu ahead and can get to know what we want and when we want it.”

4. Log data, even if it’s in a spreadsheet
Both Dario and Matthew use Cropster to profile roasts and as a forecasting tool. “It enables us to track volumes easily and compare pre-shipment samples to landed sample information”, Dario explains. You should log data in a spreadsheet even if you don’t want to invest in roasting software. If you’re not Excel-savvy, get “help from an expert”, Matthew recommends. 

For the two roasters, by having good records you’ll know the performance of your monthly, quarterly and yearly sales - and looking back is the only way to plan ahead. “We usually allow for around 5% to 10% growth [in volume] depending on what coffee line it is”, Matthew says. 

You can find all the data you need about your orders, including projection costs for warehousing and an estimated time of usage for a given coffee, when you source through Algrano. Your dashboard gives you a quick overview of everything from sample orders (even if you didn’t log them to Cropster Lab) to previous purchases, prices, and shipping information.

5. Build relationships, even if you can’t buy a container
Relationships bring stability to producers and to you. You secure the supply of the coffees you like over time, without having to worry that an importer will sell that lot you loved to someone else. by partnering with innovative growers, you can also have a guaranteed influx of experimental or weird stuff. That way, you don’t have to hunt for it. 

“We have some relationships with producers that go back 40 years”, Dario says. “We can’t buy from everyone all the time and we only buy small volumes of some of our [high scoring] specialty lots to keep the listings fresh but we still maintain great relationships.” According to the roaster, events and competitions are a great way to stay in touch with suppliers and communicate more even if they can’t travel to origin.

Matthew: "We usually allow for around 5% to 10% growth" (Photo: Plot Roasting)

Dario always keeps enough of the green offer sample to cup against the PSS and compare (Photo: Henauer)

6. Quality evolves. Account for changes in cup profile 
Green coffee is a live coffee and its quality changes over time. This is one of the reasons why coffee is so exciting! However, new roasters might be surprised by this. “We cup pre-shipment samples (PSS) and landed samples of each lot but we know that we will encounter some change. Be mindful of this and understand that it is normal for this to happen and that it does not necessarily indicate that the producer has done anything wrong”, Matthew recommends.

Though coffee isn’t expected to change completely, fresh samples might have greenish or herbal notes which fade once the green develops. Experient traders and roasters will even cup samples that are not fully rested to be ahead of the competition! “Some PSS can even be overly bright, maybe astringent when first cupped, so all this you learn with experience does not mean it is a complete representation of the finished product.” 

At Henauer, Dario will always store pre-shipment cupping scores and notes digitally. “If we receive a 100g sample, we use 50g to cup initially and store the other half. If we buy that coffee, we will then use the final 50g to compare the PSS alongside the landed sample. Although we know to expect a change, it’s a great way to look for consistency.”

7. Be flexible and have a plan B
Covid-19 showed roasters that business can change overnight. Some roasteries saw up to 90% of their wholesale accounts drop orders and had to adapt in order to grow their online presence. Buying coffees that are flexible and can be sold as single-origin or as part of a blend is a big help. Matthew says that Plot has a wide number of suppliers for different coffees so they don’t have to rely on a single one.

8. Feel the mood of your customers
For Dario, it’s paramount to collect insight from the roastery’s sales team before making decisions. Before committing to a final volume, he needs to feel the mood of his clients. “Sourcing for wholesale customers versus home retail users may need to have a different feel”, he suggests.

9. Be wary of ageing
If you focus on high-end micro-lots and have customers that are very sensitive to quality changes, Matthew advises that “it is always better to have too little coffee than too much, especially when you are driven by quality because you don’t want coffee ageing in a warehouse.” It’s important to have an idea of the shelf-life of different coffees. Fully washed Ethiopians or Kenyans will typically keep their properties for longer than low altitude naturals, which are more brittle. In these cases, he says roasters should consider falling back on spot because the quality is less likely to change soon after. 

"You don’t want coffee ageing in a warehouse", says Matthew (Photo: Plot Roasting)

This article was written by Emma Haines, the founder of UK-based Caffeina Consulting. For the last ten years, Emma has focused on specialty coffee training and how to incorporate specialty elements into commercial environments. She is a resident trainer at the London School of Coffee and part of the SCA Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity Taskforce. Access to education, especially in producing countries is a driver in her career. 

Emma has experience with the supply chain and a focus on sustainability and gender equity. As a coffee professional, she strives to drive change through education, whether working with a client to oversee a new café start-up or supporting producers with access to a new market.

3 Ways to Have Your Sourcing Under Control in 2022

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