Brew’s up: Why coffee is becoming more expensive
If you find that you’re running out of coffee faster than you used to, or that your usual groceries don’t taste quite the way you remember them, maybe don’t imagine it.
he price of green coffee — or unroasted coffee beans — has risen and is now trading in commodity markets at its highest price in a decade. But instead of increasing the price of the pack in the supermarket, some big brands and private labels are reducing the weight of the contents – say from 250g to 227g or from 227g to 200g or even 180g, a practice known as “shrinkage”. is known. – or reformulate their recipes and use cheaper but lower quality coffee.
It’s worth taking your reading glasses with you to the supermarket and studying the fine print.
For the last few years I’ve been buying Red Rooster coffee in bulk from a small family roaster in the west of Ireland and ordering 20 packets at a time – 40 during exam season – of their Bantam’s Brew, a delicious mocha java William Davenport says is their favorite Product. The price hasn’t changed in years but last month when I placed my usual order I received an apologetic email from William.
“We’re too small to import directly, so we use a broker,” he explains. “The cost of one of the beans in Bantam’s Brew is up 43 percent, the other is up 18 percent. Historically, coffee prices are cyclical, rising and falling. This time around, brokers say they might go down a bit, but are unlikely to ever go back to where they were. Fuel costs have increased, and the cost of boxes, packaging, and shipping have also increased. I should have raised the price sooner, and I probably should have raised it even more. Pragmatically, I have to support the family, but I don’t like raising prices, so I hesitated as long as possible.”
Evan McLoughlin of Smack Coffee in Balally Park, Sandyford, which has been using Davenport’s coffee since it opened seven years ago, received the same apology.
“I follow Ryanair’s method of keeping costs down,” he says. “Cup prices have gone up lately, and so has the milk. William needs to raise his price. I haven’t posted my answer yet as I’m trying to keep prices reasonably low. Our cappucino is currently €3.20 which is low for the Dundrum area.
“I would say about half of my customers are price conscious. Most just walk away and you never see them again, say the brave. When the 20 cents per disposable cup comes later this year we need to pass that on too, so we’re encouraging people to use Keepcups and giving them a 10 cent discount.”
When ordered online, a 227g pack of Bantam’s Brew now costs €7.50. So how come in some supermarkets you can still buy the same sized pack of private label coffee for €2.29, which is €10/kg?
“I don’t understand how they do it,” says Davenport. “My cheapest green Arabica coffee is now €7/kg and it takes 1.2kg of green coffee to make 1kg of roasted coffee. Add freight of €0.13/kg and I’m at €8.53/kg before energy, labour, rent, packaging, shipping etc bring my costs to around €10/kg.”
Davenport suspects some of the bigger brands are using lower quality coffee to keep the price down for the consumer.
“To their blended coffee,” he says, “they add more inferior robusta, which is cheap and rough, and subtract arabica, which is more expensive and smoother. And the Arabica they use is the cheapest Arabica they can get. But even the cheapest Arabica has gone up in price quite a bit, so I’m guessing they’re selling say ‘Ethiopian’ but no longer the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Sidamo or Harrar or even Limu or at least grade 1 or grade 2 of those individual origins . No, I think their Ethiopian is a Class 5 Djimma now. Terrible coffee but still Ethiopian.”
Davenport’s theory is that people have gotten so used to drinking inferior coffee from capsules that if they add enough milk and sugar, they either don’t realize or don’t care how bad the actual coffee is.
Food writer Caitriona Redmond, who keeps a close eye on food prices in Irish supermarkets, believes consumers are yet to feel the brunt of the price hikes.
“Although there are few special offers, discounts are fewer than they used to be and BOGOF (buy one get one free) offers are much less common than they used to be, I think actual price increases are coming and we’ll see a lot more of them coming across the board September/ October,” she says. “Smaller independent producers [such as Davenport] need to pass price increases on to their customers sooner than larger suppliers who hold inventories and set their prices after agreements negotiated six to eight months in advance.”
None of the supermarkets I contacted in relation to this article commented on the specifics of coffee prices.
But in relation to overall rising costs, Aldi Ireland Group Managing Director Niall O’Connor said: “Ireland is facing unprecedented cost pressures across the economy due to a range of global factors. Aldi will always protect our customers from price increases as much as possible and are always guaranteed to offer unbeatable value for money… Before making any changes, we examine all possibilities to absorb additional costs and only increase the price as an absolute last resort .”
Aldi acknowledges that coffee suppliers are facing cost increases caused by a variety of issues, including the rise in green coffee prices, which are currently at record levels and have risen by 160 percent between 2020 and 2022.
Velo Coffee in Cork, part of the supermarket’s Grow with Aldi programme, produces the supermarket’s best-selling tandem blend of 100 pieces of Rainforest Alliance certified beans sourced from farmer cooperatives.
“We only roast coffee of special quality,” said a spokesman for Velo. “Our customers notice the difference and this is one of the main reasons for repeat purchases. Nothing has changed in our blend over the last few months, as thanks to Aldi’s commitment, we can forward our coffee by contract. This ensures a consistent product year after year.”
Another supermarket that works with specialty roasters in Ireland is Dunnes. The Simply Better range includes single estate coffee (ground and whole bean) roasted in small batches from Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua and Ethiopia, manufactured by Two Fifty Square in Terenure in Dublin.
Davenport’s advice to anyone looking to buy a decent coffee from the supermarket is to shop around and experiment with a few different ones until you find one you like. “Look out for single-origin Arabicas, maybe from Ethiopia,” he says. “A little Robusta in a blend can enhance it, but too much makes it tart and bitter. Like 90 percent of people, I don’t need the latest, best, coolest, I just want a decent cup of coffee.
“Personally, I’m not a fan of capsules, the inconvenience of making coffee doesn’t bother me and the sustainability of the capsules is an issue. I’ve had an OK cup from a capsule, but it’s usually less than OK. Sometimes when I stay in a hotel I use the capsule machine and I usually regret it and end up going out and buying coffee in a coffee shop.”
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