The pandemic has caused a major shift in the way the world conducts food and beverage sales. Restaurants experimented with to-go dinner kits for families isolating at home, which became the backbone of coffee shops and restaurants everywhere, and the mobile ordering business thrived.
Unfortunately, since customer numbers fell during the pandemic, businesses were forced to cut costs in order to keep their business afloat. For restaurants, this meant more of a reliance on large-scale food suppliers such as Sysco or Green Shamrock as opposed to sourcing from local farmers. Riding greater profit margins is the only way the industry could stay afloat.
In the world of coffee, a similar tendency arose among coffee shops and roasters. A report by Peter W. Roberts and Chad Trewick documents how the pandemic impacted the coffee market and the coffee supply chain. They note a decrease in the purchasing of high-quality green beans from smaller-scale producers and an overall increase in the purchase of regular-quality beans.
This may have arisen due to consumers looking for cheaper coffee, roasters/shops looking for a larger profit margin, or the shuttering of supply lines for small producers as a result of the pandemic.
In the report, the authors note how the New York C market fluctuated throughout the pandemic and impacted speciality coffee producers, how contracts shifted (long-term vs relational prices), and how different countries were impacted. However, the authors also stated:
participants were amazed at the level of resilience that the Covid-19 pandemic revealed in the specialty coffee industry. While relationships may have been stretched by the many disruptions and uncertainties, most remained as unbroken sources of support for both coffee producers and buyers. It is critical that every effort to understand and respond to the changes brought by an ongoing global pandemic leverage and deepen the relationships that passed many stress tests in the Covid-19 harvest year.
Luckily, not all producers ditched their speciality coffee sources and instead focused on a mutual support system. After all, speciality coffee roasters need speciality coffee growers. Ditching the small-scale producers when times were hard would have had long-term damage on the craft coffee industry.