Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

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Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

Postby Mark Prince on Mon May 19, 2008 8:22 pm

Press release from Counter Culture today:

Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification Unveiled as

World’s First Third-Party Certified Direct Trade Coffee Mark




Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification Sets New Standards for Quality, Sustainability & Transparency -

Durham, NC (May 19, 2008) – In an effort to better communicate its fair, sustainability-focused business practices and help coffee lovers make more informed purchasing decisions, Counter Culture Coffee today introduced the specialty coffee industry’s first third-party authenticated direct trade coffee certification. The new Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification engages USDA-accredited Quality Certification Services (QCS) to verify Counter Culture’s compliance with four measures related to individual coffees sourced from the roaster’s grower partners. Each Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified coffee meets the following criteria:

1. Personal & direct communication with coffee farmers: Counter Culture has visited grower partners on a biennial basis, at minimum.

2. Fair & sustainable prices paid to farmers: Counter Culture has paid at least $1.60/lb. for green coffee. This exceeds the Fair Trade Certified floor price by at least 19%, not including quality-based financial incentives paid to growers.

3. Exceptional cup quality: Coffees have scored at least 85 on Counter Culture’s blind 100-pt. cupping (cup quality) scale.

4. 100% supply chain transparency: Counter Culture maintains direct communication between buyers, sellers, and any intermediaries. All relevant financial information is available to all parties in the supply chain.

“The Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification was born of the realization that we needed to create a standard that better communicates the guiding principles behind our coffee purchases, relationships with coffee farmers, and quality-driven approach to sustainability,” said Counter Culture Director of Coffee and co-owner Peter Giuliano. “Specifically, the Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification is based on our core values for coffee purchasing: personal interaction with growers, exceptional quality in the cup, consistently fair prices that reward quality, and transparency throughout the supply chain.”

PERSONAL & DIRECT COMMUNICATION WITH COFFEE FARMERS
Counter Culture Coffee staff members spend an unprecedented amount of time at origin working directly with grower partners. This personal, direct communication builds trust and lays the groundwork for long-term, mutually supportive relationships that allow the roaster to work side by side with farmers to improve quality; encourage ecologically responsible cultivation methods; assess social practices and working conditions; and learn more about the cultures and people who produce great coffee. Such direct relationships – and the quality, sustainability, and learning they foster – are the essence of the Counter Culture Direct Trade model.

Fair & Sustainable PriceS PAID TO FARMERS
The Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification guarantees at least $1.60/lb. for green coffee purchases, a minimum price that exceeds the Fair Trade Certified floor price by 19%. The Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification minimum of $1.60/lb. is based directly on discussions with Counter Culture’s grower partners and their costs of production. The roaster chose not to index its baseline price to the Fair Trade Certified floor price because it, like the commodity market price, is subject to unpredictable daily fluctuation. While the $1.60/lb. minimum also sets a new, higher standard for green coffee purchases, Counter Culture will pay more than this minimum price for most Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified coffees, not including the additional financial premiums the roaster pays to growers for exceptional quality.

EXCEPTIONAL Quality & Grower incentives
All Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified coffees must score at least 85 on a blind 100-pt. cupping (cup quality) scale. In addition, the roaster builds quality-based financial incentives into its coffee purchases and rewards the most exceptional coffees with the highest prices. In other words, a coffee farmer receives more for a 95-scoring coffee than a 90-scoring coffee; and more for a 90 than the $1.60/lb. earned for the minimum score of 85. Most Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified coffees, however, score higher than 85 and therefore receive more than the minimum price.

“We firmly believe that everyone involved in producing great coffee deserves to prosper, and we are committed to establishing farm-specific programs to recognize, reward, and support quality development,” said Giuliano. “Quality in the cup is of paramount importance to us, and we’ve found that establishing a transparent relationship between coffee quality and the price paid to farmers is a proven way to sustain long-term quality improvement. The Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification is the first coffee certification to establish the essential link between a minimum base price and a minimum level of quality.”

100% Transparency
All Counter Culture Coffee Direct Trade Certified coffees are purchased via transparent transactions that recognize each individual’s role in the coffee supply chain. In each transaction, Counter Culture collaborates with grower partners to determine the prices they receive for coffee first, and only then negotiates for other services such as processing, export, and import. This complete transparency enables all parties to understand clearly their responsibilities and compensation. Counter Culture is also committed to sharing all financial information related to its coffee purchases and business practices with everyone, including growers, wholesale customers, and end consumers.

Initially, five coffees will carry the Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified seal: Finca El Puente from Marcala, Honduras; La Golondrina from Cauca, Colombia; Valle del Santuario from San Ignacio, Peru; Ikawa Rwanda from Rusenyi, Rwanda; and Finca Nueva Armenia from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Counter Culture plans to certify 3-4 additional coffees before the end of 2008, and has the goal of certifying 6-8 more in 2009.

Quality Certification Services (QCS) is a USDA-accredited certifier of food and craft products. QCS certifies Farming, Wildcrafting, Livestock, Processing, Packing, and Handling operations. For more information, please visit http://www.qcsinfo.org.
Mark Prince
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Re: Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

Postby Mark Prince on Mon May 19, 2008 8:23 pm

Sounds awesome, but my question:

Is this just for CCC, or are they going to, in effect, act as a broker, grader, rater of green for other third parties who want to buy this in bulk?

Mark
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Re: Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

Postby Tim O'Brien on Tue May 20, 2008 8:31 am

My question is, who pays the third party for the certification? Counter Culture or the grower?

I ask because from our perspective as the grower, there are already so many certifications, and different buyers want different certifications. Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Starbucks' CAFE Practices, Shade Grown, etc. They all cost money and therefore have a negative impact on that "fair price" paid to the farmer. It is unsustainable for the small farmer, or small chain to maintain multiple certifications.

What about an alternative to the "certification" system. I don't have a suggestion as to what that might be, but would definitely be interested in hearing ideas that others might have. :idea: :idea:

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Re: Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

Postby jmc on Tue May 20, 2008 9:04 am

The alternative is what I think most folks here are working towards every day: exquisite coffee enjoyed by someone who appreciates it and understands that for something to be so damned good that it was crafted and nurtured along every step of the chain.
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Re: Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

Postby Peter G on Tue May 20, 2008 9:29 am

Hello from Rwanda!

I don't have enough time to discuss in depth, but I wanted to answer the specific questions:

Mark, the system is for CCC and the coffees we buy and roast. We don't plan to go into the certification business. It is important to note that CCDTC certifies our practices as a roaster/buyer of coffee, along with the transparency of the supply chain.

The standard is designed to elucidate our principles and practice of coffee buying, and the third-party certification simply provides a guarantee to consumers that we are living up to our own standard. I have some of the same misgivings about certification that many here do, but I also recognize its value. It's an interesting topic!

Judi, this certification carries no cost to the farmer whatsoever. At its core, we are the ones being certified, and therefore we bear any costs.

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Re: Counter Culture's Direct Trade Certification Program

Postby Tim O'Brien on Tue May 20, 2008 9:43 am

jmc wrote:The alternative is what I think most folks here are working towards every day: exquisite coffee enjoyed by someone who appreciates it and understands that for something to be so damned good that it was crafted and nurtured along every step of the chain.


I agree wholeheartedly. And this is what we strive toward on our end. As part of the wave of micro-mills in Costa Rica, we have decided not to pursue certifications that bring no real added value, in favor of coaxing out fantastic micro lots of specific varietals, farms, elevations, and giving the coffee a place in the sun, so to speak, and finding them a loving home with someone who will savor them.

But, why then this compulsion toward certification? While it is an added value for less-than-exquisite coffees, bringing them better prices, they still have to pay for the premium. In these situations, what could the alternative be? Say, a coop of family farmers with a mediocre coffee who commits to Rainforest Alliance practices. This will bring them a premium price, but RA certification is pricey to maintain for small producers. Is there another way to conceive of the certification (or to finance it) so that the impact on the farmer is less?

Judi, this certification carries no cost to the farmer whatsoever. At its core, we are the ones being certified, and therefore we bear any costs.


Glad to hear it, that makes much more sense! Compare to another certification system that is required to sell coffee to a particular company, but which costs the small chain on average of $1500 a year, and must be renewed yearly (for small, partial chains, i.e. dry milling is not "owned" by the small chain being certified). That's big money for a small chain! And I can't get past the idea that this is paying the company to buy your coffee (although I know that the $$ for certification goes to a 3rd party, not the company). Still ...
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