Bram de Hoog: “I believe every coffee has a home”

  • Bram de Hoog of Ally Coffee talked about matching production with consumption during his presentation at PRF El Salvador earlier this year
  • The presentation was entitled Curating Green Coffee: Matching Supply & Demand
  • In it, Bram outlined a different approach to understanding value – and how matching it more effectively with consumer demand can be beneficial for everyone

Bram de Hoog is Specialty Coffee Sourcing Manager at Ally Coffee, a global green coffee company which connects roasters with specialty coffee sourced through sustainable partnerships. 

During his presentation at PRF El Salvador, Bram explored how “value” is assigned in the coffee industry – and how a more systematic approach to understanding value could lead to greater alignment between supply and demand.

In commodity markets, standardised grades provide buyers with everything they need to know about a coffee. Specialty coffee, meanwhile, largely uses quality-based pricing – based on cupping score.

However, Bram believes this approach is still too narrow. “This all tells you something about a coffee, but at the same time, it does not tell you very much,” he says. “And although this is the status quo, I believe we can improve upon this and move forwards.”

Bram highlights three producers that have successfully implemented sustainable production models at their farms, capturing more value for their coffee as a result.

While quality is still an essential part of the conversation, Bram sees his role as broadening the scope of purchasing decisions – showing roasters how to define value beyond cupping score and price.

Bram at a coffee farm

Defining value: Functional, symbolic & sustainability

As part of this, Bram moves to discussing a model rooted in “value over quality”. However, the next step is defining value.

From here, Bram walked the audience through three distinct categories: functional, symbolic, and sustainability. Using these categories, we can develop a more comprehensible framework for conversations about value in the coffee industry.

Functional values are measurable factors that are commonly involved in purchasing decisions. Bram says: “This is when you make rational decisions based on objectivity.” The three main pillars of functional value, he said, are quality, convenience, and price – all of which are generally quantifiable.

Symbolic value, meanwhile, is entirely different. “Symbolic value is much more abstract – you cannot quantify it, but you can value it,” Bram says. He split this into three categories in the presentation: traceability, transparency, and branding.

The third pillar Bram outlined was sustainability. This, he says, can be split into three distinct areas, all commonly discussed in the coffee industry: economic, environmental, and social sustainability. 

By breaking these pillars down and using them to assign value, green coffee buyers can more accurately source coffees that they know will meet their buyers’ demands. 

Beyond facilitating logistics, this is how Bram defines the role of a green buyer: “[It is to] connect producers to roasters, show them the wider value of coffee, and make transactions based on that,” he says.

Bram in his speech about curating green coffee

Matching production to consumption

When we bring this perspective to the marketplace, it is equally important to acknowledge that there are a range of preferences and values among consumers.

Bram explored this in great detail during his presentation. As a brief example, he outlined four distinct market segments: ecommerce, coffee shops, supermarkets, and hotel chains. A roaster selling across these segments will interact with consumers who hold distinctly different values.

It’s the roaster’s job, he says, to identify the differences between these consumer segments and purchase coffee that suits these accordingly.

By defining, categorising, and assigning value, roasters can tailor their approach and match supply with demand. This means joining the coffee they’re buying with the values of their target consumer – something which ultimately enhances the value proposition for both parties.

“Different consumers are going to have different sets of values, and they’re going to choose their coffees based on that,” Bram says. “It’s the roaster’s job to identify their consumers and the values they hold, and find a green coffee that matches that.”

If we want the supply chain to become more efficient, we must focus on matching production with consumption more effectively. As well as breaking down where different consumer segments see value, Bram says the key to this could lie in developing a comprehensive understanding of how value is generated and added at origin.

“There is so much value at origin, and there are so many different markets,” Bram says. “If we are able, as roasters and producers, to identify what value there is, how value can be created, how it can be co-created – then we can find the best market segments for each coffee.

“I believe every coffee has a home – it’s our job to identify the best market segment for each one and generate the most value for the producer.”

Bram’s PRF El Salvador presentation

Ally Coffee is a Bronze Sponsor of Producer & Roaster Forum.