Import Partners and Direct Trade
If you've ever purchased full bags from us, you may have spotted logos other than the "Coffee Shrub". These are the logos exporters and importers who provide us with logistics services to get our coffee to the Port of Oakland.
A long time ago we considered doing our own importation. It's not that difficult. But it also can be a major distraction when things go wrong. We realized, after a few containers we arranged ourselves, that wrestling with the importation logistics wasn't worth the effort, or risk. And those shipments were for merchandise along easy transit lines, unlike the routes that serve coffee ports.
In brief, we find using coffee importers as "logistic service providers" allows us to focus our efforts on the what we're good at, like selecting the best possible coffees we can. Plus, in the shipping world, volume counts. If we use an importer who is already moving many containers from a place like Colombia, buying coffee for their own Spot position or bringing in coffee for bigger clients like Green Mountain or Starbucks, they have clout to get things moving promptly. What incentive does a shipping line like Maersk have to deal with our 1 container versus 10 boxes from Olam or Ecom or Volcafe?
Importers write up contracts between us and the coffee farmers we buy from, which helps to manage financial risk at both ends of the transaction. For the farmers, they make sure that the price we agree on for their coffee is paid. And for buyers like us, they make sure the coffee we select is not only shipped in a timely manner, but that the quality of the shipped coffee is on par with the original offer samples we taste.
Once the coffee is state side, importers handle the paperwork needed to pass inspection with government agencies like Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, and Customs and Border Patrol. Coffee is a food product after all, and so there are strict rules as to what foods can be brought into the country. Employing the help of importers is crucial for us here, as they are experts in navigating the myriad of paperwork involved, ensuring all documentation, bills of lading, certificates of origin, and so on are in order to avoid any hold ups when our coffees land ashore.
This added link in the supply chain might seem to challenge the term "Direct Trade". But like many other small green coffee merchants, the services handled by import and export companies is what allows us to meet the challenge of remaining small. We buy most of our coffees direct, provide extensive marketing materials for each and every lot of coffee, and ship orders as small as 50 lbs locally on up to several pallets of coffee internationlly, all with just a few individuals. So when you see names like "Olam", "Falcon Commodities", "Volcafe Specialty", and others printed on our bags, remember that it's these partners who allow us to do this work, and to do it well.
-Dan and Tom