Sponsored by Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee
Consumers are eager to buy sustainably sourced coffee, and many rely on certifications such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and organic certification labels to ensure they are making environmentally responsible purchases.
Not only are consumers willing to pay more for these coffees, but sales of products offering these certifications are growing faster than coffee sales overall. Operators say there are opportunities to attract these coffee drinkers by educating them about another sustainable feature — decaffeinated coffee processed without any chemicals.
According to the National Coffee Association, 49 percent of consumers surveyed said they would be more likely to purchase coffee that was grown on farms that treat workers well, and the same percentage would be more likely to purchase coffee if it were grown in an environmentally sustainable way.
Delicious decaf coffee and sustainable sourcing are two attributes that are high among consumers’ expectations. “Our guests have come to expect sustainability and transparency; it was imperative for us when creating our Night Light blend that we give them responsibly made decaf as delicious and fresh as our caffeinated coffees,” says Benjamin Brewer, director of quality control at Blue Bottle Coffee, based in Oakland, Calif. “Our partnership with Swiss Water Process helps us to meet this need by allowing us to decaffeinate our sustainably sourced green coffee from Sumatra and Central America through a chemical-free process that doesn’t compromise flavor.”
Consumers want to know that they are purchasing coffee that was sourced in a sustainable way in a system that treated the farmers well. “Everyone wants to know what their dollars are doing,” says Jack Kelly, CEO and head coffee buyer for Caffe Ladro, with 15 locations in the Seattle area. They also want to know how the coffee was processed, including how the beans were decaffeinated. Caffe Ladro partners with Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Inc., which extracts caffeine from the beans using only time, temperature and water. Swiss Water Process does not use any chemicals to decaffeinate coffee. Much of the world’s decaf is still processed with methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. These chemicals interrupt the sustainable supply chain and void the certifications of any organically processed coffees. This is one of many reasons Swiss Water Process is seeing a strong demand for its chemical-free caffeine removal process.
Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Inc. has its global facility in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. The non-chemical process makes decaf appealing to coffee drinkers. “When you take a really nice coffee and decaffeinate it, you roast it and drink it soon, and it has almost zero degradation,” Kelly says. “In the old days a decaffeination process took place in Mexico or somewhere far away, and it happened months ago. The coffee had been sitting for a long time, and the chemicals that were used are terrible.”
Baristas at Caffe Ladro often find themselves explaining these details to customers. “If people ask questions, we will open up the conversation,” Kelly says. “We like to do tastings of decaf, where we compare it to other coffees.”
Part of the branding
Some suppliers include messaging about decaf without chemicals on their websites and on packaging. “It’s an underserved opportunity for messaging,” says Tom Matthesen, president of Roswell, Ga.-based Thrive Farmers International, Inc., which supplies coffees and teas to chains nationwide. “For those who provide Swiss Water Process decaf, it’s an opportunity to engage in education with the customer.”
Sustainability is the heart of Thrive Farmers’ mission. The company works to improve the economic condition of coffee farmers by establishing an innovative revenue-sharing model. The result is better pay for farmers, and also better quality beans for customers.
“If you look at our mission, it’s about positively impacting the farms, and also about quality, and delivering best-in-class beans,” Matthesen says.
Thrive Farmers takes sustainability further by partnering with Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Inc. to supply decaffeinated coffee that is processed using a natural method. “We’re not going to deliver best-in-class beans in a chemical wash,” Matthesen says. In fact, Thrive Farmers, which will soon open its own retail location in Atlanta, plans to include information about the non-chemical decaffeination process in its messaging. “If we’re talking about non-GMO, no artificial flavors, no hormones, no high fructose corn syrup, why wouldn’t I go so far as to say our coffee uses the most pure decaf process?”
The chemical-free Swiss Water Process maintains the chain of sustainability from farm to cup. “We take a process that’s already free of chemicals and deliver the highest quality decaffeinated unroasted coffee for roasters while actively managing our resource usage,” says Matt Scruggs, vice president of foodservice for Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee, Inc.
Taste and sustainability
As with any food or beverage, it’s not enough for the product to just be sourced sustainably. Consumers who drink coffee, including decaf, want to drink a beverage which also tastes delicious. “They want to enjoy a great-tasting cup of coffee which happens to be decaf,” says Caroline Bell, founder and CEO of Café Grumpy, with eight locations in New York. “They also want to make sure they're drinking something that was processed without chemicals so they can feel good about their own health as well as the health of the environment.”
Many consumers are willing to pay more for these positive attributes. According to Nielsen, from March 2017 to March 2018, dollar sales in the total retail coffee category declined 1 percent, while sales of coffee products with environmental and Fair Trade claims increased 25 percent.
Offering sustainably sourced coffee which is decaffeinated through an environmentally friendly process is a good way to attract consumers who are interested in these attributes and are willing to pay more. Offering decaf of the highest quality which is processed without chemicals makes coffee even more appealing. Restaurant or foodservice leaders interested in offering the finest decaf as part of their coffee program should ask their roaster for Swiss Water Decaf.