Coffee News Club: Week of October 24th


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At Starbucks, the facade of progressivism is cracking from the inside out, more crystal ball gazing about the future of coffee, and how to biohack your brain using coffee (sort of). 

Time to jump in.

‘Starbucks Corporate Workers Doubt Company Values in Internal Poll’ – via Bloomberg

The tactics Starbucks uses to oppose unionization among its frontline workers are impacting how its corporate employees view the company.

An internal survey showed that office-based employees’ faith in Starbucks’ ethics and social impact fell to historic lows this year. Only 52% completely agreed that the company “behaves in an ethical and responsible manner,” and 48% were “proud of the role Starbucks has in making a social impact.”

Fewer than a quarter fully agreed that “Starbucks leaders make the right decisions for the company.”

These results were seemingly not what the company’s executives were hoping for. “I actually find it heartbreaking that our mission and values are being questioned in the space of labor relations,” Bloomberg quotes May Jensen, Vice President of Partner Resources, telling employees. “I really, really want to instill in everyone that we have not lost our way—it’s just really hard right now.”

For years, Starbucks has crafted an image as a progressive corporation, a facade that might now be cracking with its white-collar employees and hourly workers.

In online comments during the meeting, “some employees questioned why the company was doing so much to resist unionization,” Bloomberg reports, “and voiced concern about how the labor dispute would affect its image.” One person even shared a link to a story from last week about a former Starbucks manager who testified that he was instructed to discipline pro-union employees (a charge Starbucks denies).

Starbucks executives blamed “one-sided and sometimes misleading” news media and “disheartening” social media coverage for influencing the low scores and urged employees to seek out Starbucks’ side of the story.

Read the full story here.

‘Global Coffee Market Favoring Higher Quality, Not Higher Volumes’ – via Reuters

It appears Reuters is doing a series of “coffee leaders gaze into a crystal ball” articles. 

Last week, the head of the International Coffee Organization opined on consumer culture shifting away from cafes due to inflation pressures. This week, Henrique Dias Cambraia, the president of Brazil’s Specialty Coffee Association, thinks that the worldwide coffee market is in a “transformation trend” towards higher quality and more expensive coffee, but made in single-dose quantities using pod machines.

Cambraia, who is also a coffee producer, told Reuters that the COVID-19 pandemic propelled the trend as more people explored home brewing, specifically pod machines, but also new and better quality coffees.

“Coffee drinkers increased their knowledge, acquired equipment – they are willing to spend more on higher quality,” Cambraia said. He argues that this move will result in consumers drinking less coffee but will continue to seek higher-quality coffee options. “This trend will probably limit volumes, because those processes use less coffee,” he says. Single-dose coffee machines require much less coffee than traditional brewing methods call for—Nespresso pods usually have between 5-13 grams of coffee, while Keurigs have 9-12 grams. However, he says current consumption trends “will boost pricier specialty coffee sales.”

The latest trends report from the US National Coffee Association showed that 54% of Americans had at least one specialty coffee serving in the prior week. Although this move towards higher quality coffee is more noticeable in wealthier countries, Cambraia said, it is also happening in emerging economies as incomes improve.

Producers are noticing and adapting, Cambraia said. Younger farmers are learning and applying new processing techniques to their family farms, increasing the share of coffee classified as specialty.

Read the full story here.

‘Coffee Farmers Face Doubling of Fertilizer Costs’ – via STiR Magazine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to affect the coffee industry. Production and supply issues have caused the cost of fertilizer to more than double over the past year.

Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine export a significant percentage of the world’s fertilizer components. There are also concerns that China, another major supplier, could limit exports to shore up its domestic supply.

This has caused prices to spike. In Colombia, a sack of fertilizer has risen from about 85,000 to 214,000 Colombian pesos over the past year, coffee trade unionist Faber Buitrago told a Colombian radio station. STiR Magazine reports that in Nicaragua, producers are reducing purchases due to the high cost, while in Guatemala, they are diluting ingredients to stretch supplies.

Such significant increases will undoubtedly impact coffee producers’ income: a study by Caravela Coffee found that fertilizers and other inputs make up 16-33% of production costs across seven coffee-producing countries in Latin America—and that report was from 2019.

The National Coffee Federation of Colombia is lobbying its government to increase direct subsidies to farmers and asking for more investment in domestic fertilizer production.

Read the full story here.

More News

’22 Producers Win Prestigious Colombia Cup of Excellence Awards’ – via Daily Coffee News
‘Tilda Swinton Saw God In Her Own Latte Art Portrait’ – via Sprudge
‘Logistics Operator Delta Swallows Coffee Holding’ – via STiR Magazine
‘Starbucks is Selling Seattle’s Best Coffee to Nestlé’ – via Daily Coffee News
‘Your Morning Coffee Jolt May Cost Less as Vietnam Lifts Crop’ – via Bloomberg
‘Rapper Jadakiss Enters the Coffee Business with New Brand Launched with His Father and Son’ – via the Kitchn
‘Roast Magazine Announces 2023 Roaster of the Year Winners’ – via Daily Coffee News

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

  • Starbucks is closing a unionized Chicago location just as workers were due to begin bargaining. The Edgewater store will close October 30, with the company citing ongoing safety concerns. Organizers say the move is “no coincidence,” as the location becomes the 10th store with union activity permanently closed over the past few months.
  • Starbucks Workers United has filed a defamation lawsuit against the company. The suit is in response to Starbucks management filing a police report accusing workers of assault and kidnapping, a claim that an investigation later found to be false. It is the union’s first lawsuit against the company—it seeks retribution for defamation because Starbucks never retracted its statement regarding the incident.
  • While the rate of unionization may have slowed in recent months, new Starbucks stores are filing for union elections and winning. This week, baristas in MichiganWashington, and Arizona filed for elections, while workers at stores in Pennsylvania and New York voted in favor of forming a union.

Is Coffee Good For You?

An article in ZME Science used various studies to propose the concept of coffee as a mind-enhancing drug.

Essentially, the article is a rundown of studies that found coffee to increase problem-solving and enhance cognitive abilities. It also gives some handy tips on how to use coffee to stay more alert and vigilant— generally, how to act like Bradley Cooper in the 2011 movie Limitless before all the violent consequences.

Tips include fairly innocuous advice like “drink coffee before micro-napping”—studies have shown that drinking coffee before a short nap can increase alertness and memory function—and “cold brew has more caffeine,” although that’s up for debate. Then there’s stuff like “use this US Army-created website to perfectly time how much coffee you should drink to achieve peak alertness,” which is one of the more intense suggestions.  

Beyond the Headlines

‘Inside the Wild Starbucks Manager Kidnapping Incident That Wasn’t’ by Paul Blest
‘The Joy Of Growing Coffee As A Houseplant’ by Jenn Chen
‘A Rose by Any Other Name: What To Call Your Coffee Company’ by RJ Joseph

Coffee News Club is written by Fionn Pooler and the Fresh Cup editorial team.

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Fionn Pooler

Fionn Pooler is a coffee roaster and freelance writer currently based in the Scottish Highlands who has worked in the specialty coffee industry for over a decade. Since 2016 he has written the Pourover, a newsletter and blog that uses interviews and critical analysis to explore coffee’s place in the wider, changing world (and also yell at corporations).

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