10 January 2013

Coffee Industry Overview

Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

There are exporters, importers, and roasters. There are frantic traders in the pits of the coffee exchanges. There are expert cuppers and liquorers who spend their day slurping, savoring, and spitting coffee. There are the retailers, the vending machine suppliers, the marketers, the advertising copyrighters, the consultants.

Everyone in the coffee industry appears to envy everyone else. Growers object to the brokers making a commission just by picking up the phone to sell their beans to exporters. The brokers think the exporters have it made, but exporters feel at the mercy of importers, who sell to rich Americans. Importers, caught in savage price swings, fell pinched with a tiny profit margin, but they think the roasters make millions. Roasters see retailers doubling the price of their roasted beans, while coffee bars convert the beans to expensive beverages. Yet the coffeehouse owner is working fifteen-hour days, six days a week, fighting the health inspector and the Starbucks that just opened down the street.

US tobacco giant Philip Morris owns 14 percent of the world coffee market, Sara Lee bites off another 11 percent of the world market, and Proctor and Gamble is 8 percent. 

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