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Coffee….Part 3

May 14, 2009

As the final piece of the coffee series, today’s post will explain the last two (of the largest four) certification options available to coffee producers and roasters: UTZ CERTIFIED and Certified Organic.

Stated bias:  UTZ CERTIFIED is one of my clients. I have worked with them for over a year. That said, I chose to work with UTZ because I think they have a very strong value proposition, and I saw real opportunity to make a difference. Additionally, I have also worked for an organic coffee company and with companies that are only Fair Trade. At this point I have strong opinions on all, and am doing my best to state only what I think is most relevant to my readers.

logo_utz_certified_175x175UTZ CERTIFED Good Inside is an agricultural certifier for commodity products (‘agricultural commodities’ refer to the stuff that Mother Earth mass produces…like the Proctor and Gamble of the natural world…includes things like coffee, tea, cocoa, oranges, soy, etc…). UTZ offers two main values that set it apart from the others:  1. They work directly with farmers to help them  become better business people, improve their productivity, and reduce their environmental impact.  2. They have a world-class, only-one-of-its-kind, traceability system. This means that when you buy a bag of UTZ Certified coffee, you can go to their website, put in a number found on the bag and track the coffee in your hand all the way back to the farms where it was grown. Check out IKEA’s tracer here. This is a HUGE idea that, if properly marketed, could change the way people buy things from developing nations. Wouldn’t you like to know where everything you buy comes from? I mean, I stopped feeling warm and fuzzy about those little gold foil ‘MADE IN CHINA’ stickers quite a while ago.

Key points about UTZ:

1. They work in-country. This means that they hire native people who understand the localized challenges and complexities for each coffee growing region to help farmers get certified.

2. They have very few barriers for producer entry. Farms of any size may join and become certified (a challenging, but manageable process).

3. Their business model is designed to help producers become better at what they do, so they can be paid more for a better product, instead of simply setting prices to avoid poverty. Think of UTZ as the ‘teach them to fish’ model. Hand up, not hand out. They are like republican greenies.

4.  UTZ is more than willing to work with any coffee roaster of any size. In my opinion this is good and bad. Because of the nature of the specialty business, no high end roaster wants to work with a label that is also on a Folger’s package…no matter how good the program is. From a marketing standpoint, this is a difficult hurdle, as the high-end roasters often set the trends for the rest of the market. However, no other certifier can handle the volume requirements of the very large companies, they simply do not have enough certified coffee available, so someone needs to grab the middle of the market to steer for more sustainable solutions. That’s where UTZ comes in.

MDA_USDA_Organic_Big_176138_7Certified Organic:

Everyone knows what organic is. I don’t need to go in to a lot of detail here, but the basics are that organic coffee is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or any other man made crap you can think of. Organic is a fantastic program because it improves the nutrient content of the coffee beans, and goes a long way in improving water quality and soil erosion in areas where there is no man-made drainage systems or water filtration.

Key points on Organic:

1. Water is a big issue here. Coffee is grown at high altitudes, often on a terraced hillside. Frequently, area residents live at the bottom of the hill. When the crops are sprayed with pesticides, then it rains….  I’ll give you three guesses as to where the chemicals end up (guess what else rolls down hill). Organic production is known to dramatically improve water quality.

2. Roughly fifty years ago, all coffee was organic. Come to think of it, so was everything else! It is important to remember that chemicals are the new thing. Your grandparents never had to worry about DDT residue on their coffee beans when they were your age. This I can guarantee.

3. Organic has a very high barrier to entry for producers. The cost of transitioning is very high and takes a minimum of three years, however, once certified, producers do make higher average prices and often achieve better yields.

Ok folks….that’s all for your Coffee Certification 101 class. If you have burning coffee questions, feel free to email me at

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