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So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis by Mark Prince
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MarkPrince
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Posted Wed Nov 27, 2002, 12:00am
Subject: So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis by Mark Prince
 

So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis
by Mark Prince

Mark Prince gives a strong viewpoint on the current Coffee Crisis, and offers up some advice on how CoffeeGeek readers can help resolve it.
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DrZeus
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DrZeus
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2002, 9:56am
Subject: wonderful!
 

It's so good to see articles covering this important issue.  We all need to realize just how influential our consumer dollar is in shaping the lives of those farmers who's crops we consume.

I've put together a little site myself at http://www.drzeus.net/coffee/ that I tag at the bottom of every email I send.  It's my small way of spreading the word of this important issue.
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narc
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2002, 10:48am
Subject: economics, politics & the almighty $
 

Thanks Mark for the article.  In 1989 the US withdrew support for the International Coffee Agreement.  Part of the agreement was a price range for green beans. I don't recall the range( ? ~$1-4US).  The BIG 4 account ~40% of world wide use of green beans. Coffee is the 2nd largest traded  commodity worldwide.  My guess would be the BIG 4 lobby reps had to influence the US government pulling out of the ICA. Opportunity for a larger profit margin in a stagnant market. The crisis situation for the small growers & coffee workers (the vast majority of coffee is grown on farms of less than 10 hecatare) requires immediate action.  Something that is not going to happen without government intervention. Both from the importing countries (US, EC, Japan) & the exporting/producer national governments.  The causes of the crisis are multiple,intertwined & comples.   I feel the one common denominator or driving force is the greed factor for an excessive profit margin.  Feedback the BIG 4 receive regarding the crisis in the long run is probably filed under "we don't care as long as we can profit".  Governments must respond to the crisis.  Individuals  must inform the uninformed , support groups lobbying for the growers/workers, help finance orgainizations that are dealing directly with reducing the impact of the crisis. Right now I'm unaware of any "lobby" in the US for the grower/workers.  I support CoffeeKids for their work in Mexico & Central America.  It's too bad the crisis is worldwide & CoffeeKids resources limit them to concentrate their efforts in the Americas.
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caffeinegeek
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2002, 1:21pm
Subject: A Very Good Overview...
 

Mark,

You presented a very good overview for those that aren't familiar with the current "coffee crisis."  Keep up the good work!

Ben
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fookoonetwork
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2002, 3:56pm
Subject: comment
 

I don't buy the Big 4's coffee anyway, so that I can't contribute anymore to the cause.  But, consider that the big deal these days seems to be manipulating espresso based drinks with something tasty and sweet - see all the ad's in Fresh Cup.  Straight espresso is a very hard sell because it is not that easy to pull off.  I would think that the minimal standard for commercial espresso is what is seen in Illy's book, but the vast majority of businesses can't even meet that.
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terryz
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2002, 4:50pm
Subject: Right on!
 

Mark, Thanks for your thought provoking insight into what we in the biz, know to be true. Hey whats that black unmarked van doing in front of your house? ;-) Seriously though, awesome article.
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dana_leighton
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2002, 11:38pm
Subject: Address for the CEO of Nestle
 

From www.babymilkaction.org:

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is the CEO of Nestlé. Write and let him know what you think of his company's behaviour.

The address is:

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe
Nestlé SA
Avenue Nestlé
1800 Vevey
Switzerland

If you prefer to write to the UK office, send your letter to:

Mr. Alastair Sykes
Nestlé (UK)
St George's House
Croydon, Surrey
CR9 1NR
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2002, 4:05am
Subject: Thanks everyone
 

Thanks everyone for the positive feedback. I was a bit worried about this one - I spent weeks researching the article and was actually ready to publish it Friday afternoon when the Fortune article (a must read, btw) was emailed to me. Some things I researched were confirmed, and other things rounded out the article more, so I spent most of Friday evening doing a re-write.

I am growing concerned with more and more behind the scenes comments I'm hearing about the big four. I talked about some rumours I've heard in parts of this article, but there's actually a lot more things I left out. Suffice to say, conscience is something lacking in the decision makers at the Big Four if what's being said is true. Not just a conscience about what's happening to farmers, but a conscience about the quality of the product they sell.

One thing I didn't write about is Illy. I have a very large respect for the company because they are businesspeople, but they practice ethical (and very profitable) business in doing what they do. They benefit farmers, they benefit the espresso drinking community as a whole, and of course, they benefit themselves and their own profit margins. Illy's a pebble in the landscape of the Big Four, but lessons are definitely worth learning there.
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jim_schulman
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jim_schulman
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Posted Mon Dec 2, 2002, 8:42am
Subject: Blaming the Messenger
 

Great Article!  But ...

While it's easy to pillory the big 4 and their slime ball PR machine, their execs' only ethical obligation is to make as much money for their shareholders as possible. This they are doing.

Ultimately, the fault lies with us, for drinking the swill they sell. As long as most coffee is instant, or preground, then misbrewed; there's little difference between steamed Robusta and La Minita.

If the way most coffee is made doesn't improve, there's no incentive for anyone to sell or buy higher quality beans.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Mon Dec 2, 2002, 1:31pm
Subject: The Ultimate Fault
 

I don't know if I agree the ultimate fault lies with the consumer. See, consumer are sheep, and the Big Four know this, and work this angle to increase (or maintain) their sales. They purposely sell blah coffee as "specialty" coffee when it isn't, selling a mystique, a marketing spin, a lie. That's the basis for me at least - they lie, or fabricate as much as possible within the law. If Truth in Labelling laws had any teeth at all, they'd all be in jail. I mean, if you buy a Kona Blend, you'd expect that to have 100% Kona, with blends from different Kona sources, right? But Kona Blend only means that it may have up to 5% real Kona, then garbage could fill up the void. The public doesn't know this. The Big Four do.

How about "Premium Colombian Blend". Same deal - how much real colombian is in there? How much of it is actual arabica? They don't tell us with their labels. Something like that should be enforced (aka govts), and from reading Uncommon Grounds, there are truth in labelling laws on the books, but there's either workarounds, or they simply aren't inforced. The Big Four know this, and work it to the max.

Imagine if the Big Four would have to detail on their labels exactly what type of coffee is used (incl. percentages), how the coffee is brewed, and what chemicals or processes were applied to the "coffee"? The buying public would turn away in droves. They'd still sell millions of pounds a year, but I would gets that as many as 20 or 30% of their consumers would balk at the products if they knew what really went into their Vanilla Mocha Latte Lemon Twist Gourmet Instant.

But that will never happen (the label law scenario, not the movement) - the NCA exists primarily to serve the Big Four's interests, and would lobby like mad to prevent any law from passing.
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