Caffeine lovers may have heard national and local news outlets raising the alarm: coffee prices are on the rise. It’s a relatively easy-to-understand issue of supply and demand. According to the Wall Street Journal, coffee drinkers could end up paying more for their morning cup in the near(ish) future because there will be less coffee available to purchase due to things such as a historical drought in Brazil, a major coffee-growing country, and shipping delays from other countries that grow coffee including Colombia and Vietnam. Much to the inconvenience of coffee drinkers everywhere, these factors could nurture an imperfect storm wherein prices “skyrocket” on the c-market, the global exchange where most coffee is bought and sold around the world, one expert warned the WSJ.
But here in the San Francisco Bay Area, is it really necessary to begin hoarding bags of single-origin Ecuadorian? Jeremy Brooks, head of sourcing and green coffee buying for Verve Coffee Roasters, says not so fast. Verve is based down in Santa Cruz, but it has a sun-drenched cafe serving excellent lattes in Duboce Triangle, as well as locations in Palo Alto and LA.
Verve sources directly from farmers, so its coffee always costs more. And though Brooks says next month Verve will, in fact, be raising prices for the first time in five years — but it’s not due to rising coffee prices globally. Because Verve negotiates the purchase price for the majority of its coffees directly with growers, rising prices on mainstream market won’t have an impact on the business. Plus, Verve already pays above-market price for the beans it does purchase there, he says.
Verve is raising prices, but not because of coffee, because of paper shortages. The small increases for retail beans and drinks — think a 25 to 50 cent increase on a single beverage and a $1 to $1.50 increase for a bag of beans — customers will see in the coming weeks are due instead to supply chain issues around other things including paper, Brooks explains. Verve has struggled to source the products it uses to ship its products due to “major disruptions” with shipping. That means they’re paying more for corrugated paper and compostable cups and will be passing some of that additional cost on to their customers.
And while he doesn’t predict the spiking cost of coffee will be a long-term problem, he does think it could kick off of a larger market correction. Brooks says coffee prices have been “unsustainably low” for the past three years with c-market prices around $1 a pound, despite the fact that it typically costs between $1.50 to $1.70 to actually produce a pound of coffee. “For the last few years they’ve been definitely producing coffee at below production cost, which has led a lot of producers to move on to different commodities,” he says. “So we’re hoping that this actually allows more coffee producers to see that there is value in staying in the industry.”
In that sense, he says higher prices could be a good thing in the long run. “I’m hoping other coffee companies can see that if we don’t just pay them what they need to continue growing the product, we’re actually going to be the ones causing the coffee industry to grow into an unsustainable market. It really is on us to make sure we’re supporting these farmers.”