Business & Economy

Sub-Saharan Africa’s specialty coffee deals surge

SPECIALITY coffee deals in sub-Saharan Africa have surged in recent months, reflecting the surge in global demand for single-origin, high quality beans. Although specialty coffee— which is grown in micro-climates and has rarefied flavours—represents only 2 percent of coffee trade flows, its share is rising, especially in developed coffee markets such as the US and Europe.

This reflects a change in consumption patterns as increasingly sophisticated coffee drinkers eschew bulk blends for single-origin Arabica beans, which are renowned for their flavours (chocolate, floral or fruit-flavoured). This change has coincided with the growth of the single-serve coffee segment—led by Nestlé’s Nespresso, which has doubled sales of its machines in Western Europe since 2011. Although the capsules contain coffee blends, they predominantly feature coffee by origin and flavour profile. This new market segment is propping up stagnant coffee consumption in developed markets with specialty coffee representing over half of the total US coffee market.
The growth of this segment has rekindled interest in African specialty coffee, notably from countries other than Africa’s traditional high-quality coffee producers, Ethiopia and Kenya. In Uganda, Kawacom, the local subsidiary of Swiss trading house, Ecom, has started selling small volumes of washed Arabica coffee from the Mount Elgon region to Starbucks, shipping an initial 32 60-kg bags in May. Farmers will receive a 30 percent premium for their beans, which are UTZ certified.
Singapore’s Olam also plans to double the size of its coffee farms in Tanzania and Zambia to 5,000 ha in a bid to produce traceable, high-quality, single-origin coffee. In addition, Nestlé has started exporting small volumes of washed Robusta from South Sudan in an effort to revive the country’s coffee sector.
The “Suluja ti South Sudan” single-origin capsule, which is available only in France and retails at twice the price of other capsules, underlines the importance of high quality and a compelling origin story when marketing to high-end coffee drinkers. Nestlé plans to invest 2.5 million Swiss francs (about $2.5 million) into South Sudan by the end of 2016 to scale up production, although this investment is contingent on stability in the southwest Yei region (where the coffee is grown), which has been spared from violence stemming from a civil war in that country.

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