Coffee is a delicate commodity, needing special care and attention whilst being transported. Many factors have to be taken into account for assuring a seamless process chain from the plantation to the coffee roasters and stores. What it needs to ship coffee dry, fast and fragrance-free from origin to destination was vividly illustrated during a trade event organized by shipping company Hapag-Lloyd in their Hamburg, Germany headquarters.
“We are living in a world where consumers are increasingly becoming a driving force,” stated trend researcher Oliver Leisse of SEE MORE Institute in his introductory remarks, a think tank where future trends and habits are put under the magnifying glass. Related to coffee this means that they demand first-hand information from trading companies about specifics like the cultivation conditions in the countries of origin, the environmental requirements, the labor conditions or the way this specific commodity gets to the consumer markets.
The right solution for every taste
Nevertheless, it’s not just information people ask for, it’s also the feeling that counts while drinking coffee. This has changed a lot, mainly influenced by coffee shops that popped up like mushrooms in many parts of the world during the last 10 to 15 years. While in the old days people traditionally just drank a cup of coffee at home, in a restaurant or at stands, they expect that today’s shops offer a special atmosphere, addressing clients personally.
An evolution that went hand in hand with a phenomenal increase of different types of coffee developed by the industry and asked for by consumers, like Babychino, Cortado, Short Black, Espresso Romano, Flat White or Hammerhead, to name just a few. Coffee is lifestyle, coffee is a quick "Latte to go", coffee created a culture of indulgence,” remarked Holger Preibisch, Secretary General of the German Coffee Association at the event. “Telling friends that you got a new car is old style, trendy is surprising them with the latest coffee machine model you’ve obtained,” he exclaimed.
What does all this have to do with the commodity as such? A lot, as figures prove! Coffee consumption grows between 5 to 6 percent each year – globally. The product quality has increased tremendously enabling manifold flavors. New growth markets have emerged, like China, South Korea and Japan in the Far East or countries in Eastern Europe. Production has diversified and geographically shifted from South and Central America to places in Southeast Asia. Although Brazil is still holding the pole position, Vietnam picked up fast, ranking meanwhile second, followed by Colombia.
For shipping lines like Hapag-Lloyd this spread of production sites has consequences. “It impacts our operating areas since speed is a key factor in this business,” says the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, Thorsten Haeser. Required are direct steaming services with vessels operating point-point instead of calling on different ports, thus needing less time to discharge their coffee loads at the harbor of destination. Also, H-L has set up so called ‘Coffee Desks’, special departments whose members focus exclusively on customers and traders involved in this specific business.
Containers have long replaced coffee sacks
However, of utmost importance was their decision to develop in close cooperation with a manufacturer a unique container that is equipped with a special steel floor. “This box prevents green coffee getting wet no matter what the external climate conditions are and its interior is absolutely odour-neutral,” Herr Haeser says. He adds to this that one out of hundred steel boxes shipped by H-L is a container filled with coffee beans or coffee powder. In total, his line transports one million tons of coffee a year which makes H-L one of the largest steaming companies carrying this natural product.
Touching the air freight topic, the manager stated that due to its weight coffee is too heavy to be transported by air. Except for urgent samples, it would be too costly to use planes for carrying larger amounts of this specific commodity. “It’s a pure ocean freight commodity,” he emphasized.
An advice came from a Nicaraguan expert
During the event, plans were introduced by H-L to increase transport capacity on trade lanes linking key export areas in Latin America and Southeast Asia with Hamburg, Europe’s largest hub for coffee. Simultaneously, sales and customer care will be strengthened, confirmed Thorsten Haeser.
Panelist Javier Román applauded this step vigorously. He is a Nicaragua national and plantation owner who meanwhile runs an extremely successful roasting plant in Wismar, northern Germany. “More
and more clients beat a path to my doors, demanding different varieties, tastes and flavors.” Javier’s advice to Hapag-Lloyd: “Shipping coffee the best possible way is a vital precondition
to ensure the highest product quality. This, however, needs to be complemented by a sharing of information and extensive communication involving all participants, from the plantations to the
trading firms and roasters.”
So roasters have also become a driving force for bettering this joyful type of cargo.