Almost exactly a year ago, Zoégas, a Swedish coffee company owned by Nestlé, launched their first Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee packages in stores. Overall, Sweden has seen the greatest increases of certified coffee in Europe, with more than every other cup of coffee originating from certified crops. For Zoégas, Rainforest Alliance certification is a way of assuring the quality of the company’s own sustainability work.
The coffee they are selling, however, is in danger. Climate change poses a major threat to coffee-producing regions. Extreme weather, drought and longer periods of rain highly affects both the quality and quantity of certain coffee harvests. The high-quality bean enjoyed by coffee lovers, Arabica, needs a stable climate. As the globe becomes warmer and the changes in weather more extreme, that climate is harder to find, and cultivation areas suitable for Arabica moves to higher altitudes. This leaves a natural limitation in the areas that can be cultivated for high quality Arabica.
There is another factor that is crucial to growing coffee in the future; recruitment of next-generation growers. Many young people have seen their parents struggle to support the families in the countryside, and therefore move to cities in hopes of a better life and a completely different career.
Additionally, it has been difficult to adequately communicate the story to consumers about the challenges the world’s coffee farmers face and how it will affect future opportunities to consume coffee. “Communicating to consumers, it would have been easier to put an organic-stamp/seal on all packages, but growing organic does not ensure future coffee production. Many factors are important and we needed a broader labeling,” said Minette Rosén, coffee buyer at Zoégas.
According to Zoega’s marketing director Hans Nilsson, about every other coffee package in Swedish stores is sold today at a discount. The consequence is that the consumer does not always appreciate the value of the coffee and the work done from growers to the coffee cup. “We do not certify to sell more, but to drive sustainable practices and be able to sell coffee in the future. The environmental issue is of course central, but it must be profitable to grow coffee. Otherwise, the farmers will grow other crops”, Nilsson says.
Through Rainforest Alliance certification, growers learn climate-smart farming methods that make their crops more resilient to environmental threats, and giving them the opportunity to improve their family’s livelihood and their community’s well-being. With grocery coffee sales decreasing, and a clear move to more people drinking coffee outside the home, Nilsson sees an opportunity to reach consumers, and create an awareness of the commodity, and all the work that lies behind every cup they drink. With growing recognition of the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, already at 38% in Sweden alone, there is hope that consumers will begin to understand the importance of sustainable coffee, and invest in brand that ensure its availability for years to come.