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How to back a winner

The coffee industry, the second largest commodity traded after oil, is immense. With now over 150 million bags bring produced annually (and rising) from over 60 countries and a conservative estimate of 11m farmers – how do you know what to buy and from whom? With so many options available, how do traders choose where to place their trust, and more importantly their hard earned and non-exhaustive capital? Get it right and a fruitful sustainable relationship blossoms, boosting business, and with it profitable sales. Get it wrong, and the consequences can be at best problematic, and at worst – catastrophic. Think defaults, huge financial loss, and insolvency. It’s not pretty.

With so much at stake, how do we, at DRW ensure the suppliers we work with in origin can be trusted – not only to deliver the right coffee at the right time, but also at the right quality, at the right price with appropriate levels of trace-ability, transparency to boot. With an expanding sales book each year – DRW needs to secure more and more volumes from trusted suppliers. At times our existing supply chains aren’t able to provide and we need to widen our supply base. Fortunately, we have contingencies in place.

It can’t be stressed enough that the coffee industry is one built on strong foundations of relationships networked to within an inch of their lives. Our origin suppliers are not just business partner’s, they are our friends and our family. Confidants.  These friendships have been born out of mutual respect for each other’s principals. They get us, and we get them. We understand their needs, and they understand ours. DRW are not, and never have been in the industry to make a quick buck. We aim to build long lasting, sustainable supply chains that will endeavour to last for decades to come. This philosophy may take many years to create workable relationships, but it pays off.

Our producer network from Colombia to Congo, Brazil to Burundi and El Salvador to Ethiopia has been carefully nurtured over the past 45 years with regular visits to origin to see them in action. Field visits with our roaster clients, and reciprocal visits to the UK for the producers to learn what happens to their coffee further down the supply chain. For us it is as important for our producers to understand us and our market, as it is for us to understand our roasters (you) and your customers. This incredibly strong relationship has in the past enabled us to request single estates certify themselves with one of the many certification schemes at the behest of one of our clients  – a request that would not be completed had it not been for our mutual understanding and respect.

But what about the new kids on the block?

It’s true that DRW has grown over the years nurturing the seedlings of its relationship status with suppliers, and this has taken many years. But how do these relationships begin? Well events like the SCAA, SCAE, London Coffee Festival to name but a few. Here we often meet new suppliers willing to work with us – our excellent name and reputation often precedes us, and we are actively searched out from origin thanks to our history, our well known ethical values, and strength in the industry. It all starts with a sample – any prospective supplier to DRW will send us a stocklot offer of coffee they have to supply. We will of course always cup it to the highest standards and provide feedback to our prospective suppliers – approval of samples don’t necessarily mean we buy it, but we do remember it. Those keen to work with us tend often to send multiple samples, and once we have confidence in the level of quality and commitment being offered, we make a primary purchase. Its worth noting though that we look at new suppliers only for coffees that cannot be sourced through our existing supply chain, perhaps our suppliers do not offer certain grades, or certain certifications. Or perhaps our volumes have outgrown the supply level open to us – after all for every bag of coffee we buy from a new supplier, is a bag we are not going to buy from suppliers who have trusted us often for decades. And where is the sustainability in that?

For those new producers that have joined our supply chain recently – welcome to the family! For those out there, who have not yet sold to us – there’s still time – and as we grow from strength to strength, the chances are if you have excellent quality coffee, ship on time, and understand our core values there’s a good chance we’ll find ourselves working together soon!