Direct Sourcing Imports

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Postby andibean » Wed Jun 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Just today in a conversation, the notion that roasters participating in direct “relationship” sourcing do not use importers came up again. In this particular case, there was actually an implication that, should a roaster involve an importer, the transaction was no longer considered transparent/sustainable/socially progressive. As an importer, you can imagine that my first response was a little defensive, particularly because I do quite a bit of direct source importing for clients-- both roaster and producer driven-- that I feel are on the cutting edge of social/transparent business practices. Then I remembered that this particular person is not a roaster or importer but peripherally involved in our industry, so it makes some sense (or at least isn’t really insulting :D ) that they had confusion around this. It does make me wonder, however, if there is still a lot of misconception within our industry about roaster direct relationship purchasing.

Do most roasters realize that importers and exporters are very often a part of roaster direct sourcing?

My very rough estimate is that 90% of roasters involved in direct sourcing actually use an importer and you can probably assume that there are nearly as many exporters on the other side, too. I'm curious to know if there are more roasters out there managing the entire process on their own than I think? I'm also curious to know if others feel that using an importer somehow inherently reduces the power behind the intention of direct relationships?
andibean
 
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Postby c.hallien » Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:27 pm

There are many benefits to using an importer, their line of credit, their relationships they maintain within the supply chain and their expertise (and influence) in logistics. I'm not sure how utilizing the leverage of an importer would corrupt a "relationship" coffee but I have heard similar things said. Specializing in one thing is not a bad business case. I know in my positions in the coffee business I've had enough to worry about without getting involved in importation or agricultural products! I would estimate even less than 10% of the companies are importing and probably only some of their inventory rather than the entirety but I could be wrong.

Chris
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Postby Scapistrant » Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:50 am

I agree with you Chris, utilizing an importer for resources is key. Credit, development, fees, education, etc Frankly, not everyone can afford the rockstar coffee lifestyle. Building a strong relationship with a good importer is essential. Plus, the risk is substantially lower, in some cases. Not to say that direct respect coffees are a bad way to go. Logistically speaking, at the moment, importers work best for us.
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Postby andibean » Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:06 am

On the broader subject of direct importing, I'm amazed at the growth in roasters jumping particularly the very micro. Not only are we growing volume amongst roasters I've worked with before/who have been in this business for a while, but we're getting requests from a number of smaller roasters I've never heard of before (not suggesting that means a lot). Generally, I love it! P do sometimes wonder if everyone is really aware of everything involved before they jump in, however, and I'm wondering how some of us with more experience can help upfront.

I've definitely run across more than a couple of situations where roasters make commitments to producers before they have any idea how they might go about getting the coffee to them. Unfortunately, this often means that by the time they actually get the coffee they tasted, many months (yes, months, not weeks) have gone by and, obviously, that's a problem.

Is there a way we can create a more open dialogue about what is involved in direct importing before folks jump in on the ground? I know that some roasters talk very openly, sharing information and even coffee lots, but I'm also seeing that some folks are feeling a need to keep a lot more secrecy around their direct trade purchasing these days. As an importer, this leads me to two questions for roasters:

- Why the secrecy? I have some ideas, but it kind of seems have like a contradiction to the model I always think of direct trade as transparent trade, but maybe they are very different things?

- To the roasters who have recently jumped in, what information do you wish you had known before you made commitments? Also, what information do you still wish you understood better?
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