CoE, ACE and the NCA

coffee competitions, auctions, best of panama, etc

Postby xristrettox on Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:16 am

As a barista, (not a grower, importer, or a roaster) my opinion on this is of little value. I don't know too much about CoE, SCAA or NCA other than what I have read. i.e. no first hand experience.

so feel free to skip my post.

but, from what I can gather, it does seem like the big 4 (2nd wavers too) have something to gain by buying CoE. IIRC, "specialty" coffee is on the rise, but big coffee is in a slump (anyone have numbers?). If I was a sharholder with P&G or some other, I think that I would support the company doing whatever it takes to grab back the specialty market that is peeling away from them. P&G may not make very good use of any CoE coffees that it purchases, but it doesn't need to. They may only spend several grand buying a lot, but spend 100x that maketing it. Kinda like the tobacco industry marketing the donations they give.

If they succeed in this, kudos to them. they are playing ball, and playing well.

But they don't need to cooperate with ACE to do this. They could simply just buy the coffees at auction, and market the hell out of it.

And I guess that is where the 2nd tier coffees come in. Right now, it seems, that there is not set way to sell the 2nd tier coffees, and I think that its a rad idea to get those coffees sold. I find it hard to believe that there is not a system already set up, but that's where my ignorance really sets in. If NCA companies want to buy those 2nd tier coffees, go for it. Does the NCA need to be in cooperation with ACE to buy the second tier coffees? I don' think so, but it certainly does not gain anything from buying these higher coffees at higher prices without something to market. I can see why the NCA needs ACE... so they could use the CoE tag. But could there be a second branding instead of CoE for these coffees that could be marketed so that the devaluation of the CoE name doesn't occur?

Conversely, I can see how ACE could use the helping hand of the NCA. I mean, who doesn't need a little extra cash? The CoE wishes to expand... expose more coffees, get the word out, and have a utopian society where all farmers are payed well.

But like my grand-daddy used to say, "Mo' money, mo' problems". Susie says that roasters are not allowed to be donors of the program, but that the NCA can help find money for the program. This, to me, is the same thing. A laundering. NCA companies can't directly support, but their uncle Vinnie can. If enough money starts coming in, the CoE program can expand, but once they expand, they now need the support to keep coming in.... now they need the NCA, now the NCA owns them.

I think that the problems that can occur from this are obvious and don't need to be stated. A valid question, though, is why would the NCA want to "own" the CoE? Well, while leaning on the NCA for support, growth of the CoE will go down the way the NCA wants, or the money will go bye-bye.

From everything that I have read about the big 4, their interests have always been with making money. I mean, hey, that's what companies do. But the way they have made money for decades is by screwing the farmer. If the NCA owns CoE, do we think that they will uphold it's integrity and keep the value of green so high? Wouldn't that lower profits for them down the road?

Now, I know that the NCA isn't just the big 4, but others like Peet's and Sbux. Companies that I generally respect, and don't think that their actions are cut-throat. If they are the members of the NCA that are driving this thing foward then my worries are a bit relieved. But if it's the big guys... watch out.

okay... caffeine has taken over.... must go...
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Postby Mike Ebert on Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:02 pm

And whats wrong with Uncle Vinnie?

I have read this post and all the replies numerous times - even had 3-4 replies typed up myself, before erasing them, for I am very conflicted on this topic. But here goes anyway....

A little background one me for starters - I served on the ACE board for the past 3 years and the SCAA for the past two (and still serving on the SCAA board currently) so I have been very, very close to this issue. Needless to say, even though I have been this close to it, it still blows my mind it came to this.

In my humble opinion, the reason is simple - coffee people are passionate, focused, opinionated, vocal....and big headed and stubborn at the same time. Trying to get these people together to create some common good can be downright frustrating, if not impossible, even though we all want the same things sometimes. At the end of the day - it was not the SCAA, CQI or ACE's fault...it was all of theirs. Each one of them thought their standards were better than the others, or program was better, or whatever, and just shut their ears. Oh sure, I have heard Susies opinion, Teds, a few past presidents of the SCAA, Margaret's, Dan Cox's, etc opinions or fact on why or why not the three are not working together....but..it all comes down to the reasons I mentioned above.

I completely understand the reasoning behind ACE wanting to work with CQI. COE is an amazing thing - it continually blows me away. Yet, its true potential is still a pipe dream - the current model will not support it financially. Some of you may be shocked to hear that, but high standards do not come cheap - the program is basically a break even. That is fine in and of itself - but its quality needs to be THE standard setter - no questions asked - or it will not succeed. In order to keep raising the bar, it needs cash, plain and simple. So...with the SCAA and CQI doors shut...it was the logical choice.

Personally...I voted against this...I was the sole dissentor. While I saw the need (and still do) for cash, I did not see NCA as the solution. For starters - there are no funds involved in this partnership...in fact...look closely...there is not much substance to it at all. It sort of reminds me of the SCAA's big Letters of understanding with producing countries program - ya know, we signed these big "LOU's" which promised sex, drugs, rock n roll and a end to starvation, world peace and Peter's G's first born - but no substance.

What I do know is this - it will probably do nothing. COE's standards are to high and rigid, the lots are too small, etc - for larger roasters to participate. Even if they do...I do not really see a big downside. My customers come to me for quality and freshness - and won't fall for any big 4 marketing campaign. I maybe be a bit nieve, but I do not really see a big down side. In addition, I do not really see the NCA helping with the 2nd tier, or "Q" coffee or whatever you want to call it - to me the solution is partnering with larger importers. Show them how they can make money at it..and those coffees will go quicker than the auction coffees.

I do have one small glimmer of hope here - and I am pretty sure this is at the core of Susie's mindset - an alliance with NCA could potentially help with funding - NGO or whatever. Lets be honest, I am not sure the SCAA will get any funding in the next few years and my personal opinion is CQI is about to lose theirs, or have it significantly reduced at this juncture (complete personal opinion here..I am not involved with the inner workings of CQI at all)...the NCA may be the best choice.

So..to sum up...not sure there is much down side, and hopefully a bit of upside. And maybe...just maybe Peter, Ric, myself and the other SCAA board members have finally gotten our heads out of our arses and can effect some change there...and we can put an end to all this foolish "rubbery rubish" and form a proper partnership and RULE THE WORLD.

(sorry...its just about martini hour as I type..I get a little excited and grandios..see my statemnet about coffee people in general above).

Anyway...my two centers....
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failing to understand

Postby sweetmarias on Fri Aug 25, 2006 9:21 am

I am not getting all the conjecture in this thread about what this actually means, because it is difficult to know based on this:


"Working with the producer committee of the NCA who's mission
statement is to foster positive relationships between coffee
producers and the US industry, the Cup of Excellence program
will be able to strengthen the bridge between quality producers
and US roasters and help create higher volume sales and often
longer term relationships for producers recognized by the Cup of
Excellence program. The two organizations will work together to
enhance Cup of Excellence benefits to the coffee industry, find
creative solutions for the program logistics and utilize the NCA
Fall educational conference to offer the latest in quality
selection techniques to US roasters."


... which basically says nothing. It's a press release, folks. The fact that it's the NCA and not the SCAA is noteworthy, and Mike Ebert provides some insight there. But as a long-time buyer/participant in CoE, i am only concerned with the program continuing on its same mission, and continuing to be a good source for coffee. If it stops doing that, than I would stop participating. That's a decision each of us can make in the future. But as Geoff says, I don't see how this announcement in itself changes anything. I will be interested in any real, logistical changes in future CoE events, but what they might be, who the hell knows at this point???

Tom
let's cup through this ... together.
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Postby Mike Ebert on Sat Aug 26, 2006 5:46 am

I want to be clear - I do not believe this will effect the quality of the ACE program - Susie and team will not allow that to happen. I have worked with Susie closely for the past three years, and for someone who keeps saying shes not a coffee person - I am not sure I have met more of a coffee person. COE is in good hands....the core point to my earlier reply was it appears this is all much ado bout nuttin...


thats as about shakesperean as I get......
Last edited by Mike Ebert on Sun Aug 27, 2006 8:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Mike Ferguson on Sat Aug 26, 2006 5:46 pm

What follows is only my opinion and does not necessarily represent the view of or an official statement by the SCAA. I have posted this elsewhere and if doing so is a breach of etiquette, I apologize. I feel like a larger context would be helpful to the conversation.

The SCAA was conceived in opposition. Like all opposition parties, the alliances within were tenuous, fragile, and often in conflict. Then, as now, the individuals involved found it difficult to agree on definitions of and assessment practices for quality. These were and are strong, independent, entrepreneurial personalities. They were never short on opinions and they argued a lot. In 1983, the SCAA's first year as a chartered organization, a governance policy dispute among the founding board members led to a vote among the membership that in effect removed Ted Lingle from that first board. These are the conditions in the foundry where audacious ideas are given form and brought to life.

But the impassioned diversity of ideas among SCAA's founders converged into a unity of voice when they spoke of who they were not. They were not the NCA. Some of the history that led to this vehement opposition has been recorded in various places, though never in great enough detail for me. To my mind, it can be traced all the way back to the first world war, or further for those truly fascinated by the threads in history. But that work is for another time and place. I only mention it here to establish the context.

In my opinion, to understand the intensity and variety of reactions to the alliance between ACE and NCA, one must understand this: the SCAA was conceived in opposition. And in fact, few people understand this as well as Susie Spindler.

In the 1980's Susie worked for the Coffee Development Group (CDG). The CDG was arguably one precursor to the SCAA and, indeed, partnerships between the two organizations were discussed as SCAA was being founded. Funded by the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the CDG was charged with increasing coffee consumption in the U.S. through marketing and education, and the idea of quality coffee was a component of these programs. In a very real sense, the CDG bridged the gap between the world of the NCA and the world of the emerging SCAA. Despite opinions to the contrary at the time, the CDG was neither fully immersed in coffees 'old guard,� nor was it a knee-jerk member of the opposition. These are Susie Spindler's roots in coffee and, in my opinion, allow for a balanced, diplomatic, and realistic view of the coffee industry as a whole.

In politics, policy is driven by the fringe and tempered by the center. It is just silly to imagine that politics could be absent, or should be absent, in any industry. We are an industry with a long supply chain and multiple stake holders with competing interests. Politics are pervasive. Those who lament politics in any organization or industry cannot be excused their intentional naiveté anymore than a congressman lobbing the same accusation across the aisle can be excused his insincerity.

Those who can function, or at least communicate, on both sides of the aisle without compromising their principles tend to be the people who get real work done, the people who convert the barking from the fringe into functional programs. I consider Susie Spindler one of these people. Those who imagine Susie would allow CoE to be compromised by an alliance with any organization simply do not know Susie, her history with CoE, or her history within the coffee industry. I can think of only a handful of people as well suited for 'missionary work� in the commodity world. I would say the same about the ACE board.

As an association, the NCA has openly recognized the vitality and, I would say, their dependency on the specialty sector and the quality coffee imperative. Though we represent only 15% of the volume of coffee, roughly speaking, within the entire U.S. coffee industry, we represent 40% of the total value. The NCA asks 'gourmet coffee� questions in their annual consumer survey. They have steadily added specialty coffee topics to their various educational program curriculum. And now, they have not only endorsed the concept of an alternative market structures, but essentially acknowledged the true value range for green coffee.

It hardly matters whether you see this as the glass half empty or half full. Have we influenced their segment of the industry or have they infected ours? The fact is that there is no longer an 'us� and a 'them.� The 'two party system� within the coffee industry disappeared some time ago. The 'opposition� is unidentifiable because the coffee industry, like coffee itself, exists on a continuum. Most people interested in coffee can readily identify companies at both ends of the spectrum and they are light years apart. On one end are the companies we admire and the coffees we crave (in several cases, sourced or roasted or brewed by people who post on this forum). We can all name them. These companies, passionate coffee consumers, many SCAA programs, and ACE/CoE define 'true north.� Without them, our compass will fail. You can judge them by the company they keep if you want to, but in my experience, it is their passion that rubs off on those around them, and not the other way around.

As for the obsession with 'personality conflicts,� well, of course there have been conflicts and disagreements, and some of them have been petty. Susie and I had one disagreement a few years ago that I think I handled poorly. But I think the point at which a disagreement in principle can be dismissed as a 'personality conflict� is difficult to judge if you were not in the room, and even then it might be hard to tell. To me it is a pointless exercise. The outcome, whether the result of a stubborn unwillingness to compromise or an intellectually honest disagreement over standards, structure, or process, was an unfortunate distancing between two likeminded and complimentary industry groups. This should be remedied. But at the same time, the CoE alliance with NCA should be celebrated.
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Postby 123coffee on Sat Aug 26, 2006 5:59 pm

Tom Owen, and Mike Ebert have correctly analysed the issue of ACE and NCA. The announcement is in itself another in a string of comeback victories by NCA over rival SCAA in recent years. This particular win is more psychological than anything else, but it certainly caught everyone's attention judging by the amount of activity here on coffeed.com

Cup of Excellence was the forced leisure-years brainchild of George Howell. From the beginning of George's quest, in Brazil, to educate farmers to the perfect cup, and re-invigorate the old Narobi auction idea in the New World, George's legendary aesthetic sense and diffident personality made COE a tough fit with SCAA and Executive Director Ted Lingle.

Through the years COE stayed outside the SCAA orbit, while growing in activity and influence to represent a standard that fully equaled and sometimes exceeded the aspirations of many SCAA Roaster and Roaster/Retailer members. Alliance for Coffee Excellence Inc. who owns the Cup of Excellence brand today is a not-for-profit organization and funding-partnerships, grants and gifts are the only way for the organization to progress in its activities. There being some historic philosophical differences between ACE and its logical partners SCAA and CQI, and as SCAA is Having its own funding issues, National Coffee Association's deep pockets and beguiling Cheshire-cat smile are appealing. ACE should remember the lady from Niger.

There was a young lady from Niger,
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

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