Why organic coffee will thrive over the next few years

Mayorga organic coffee
  • While the overall certified coffee area decreased by 2.5% in 2020, organic shot up by 24.6% in the same year
  • Organic is an easy concept to grasp for consumers experiencing label fatigue 
  • It looks like a promising trend for the industry to bank on

ORGANIC COFFEE is surging back on roasters’ menus, and market observations show that while other certified coffees may be lagging, organic sales are on the upturn. After initial market success years ago, it fell back in the race as a wave of innovations and sustainability certifications hit the coffee sector.  

Now, organic coffee is back with showing steady growth, and a new value proposition. In 2021, the global organic market was worth $133 billion – with demand for organic coffee highest in North America, Germany and France. In 2020–21, the minimum certified coffee area decreased by 2.5%. Meanwhile, organic achieved the highest one-year growth, with a 24.6% increase in the same time frame.

With global issues linked to a climate crisis making the headlines, and new generations of consumers that are more environmentally conscious than ever before, it stands to reason that the global demand for sustainably produced products should expand.

Organic, regenerative, and other sustainable agricultural production systems are all trending right now, because of a combination of factors. Other than consumer demand, new corporate sustainable due diligence regulations are also pressuring companies and producers to invest in more sustainable value chains and systems of production.

Coffee that has been grown and processed without the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or other chemicals through monitored and evaluated processes offers the reassurance both consumers and regulators need – while contributing to greener practices that can allow nature to regenerate.  

Despite the price premium attached to organic, consumers remain largely undeterred and the segment continues to expand. The fact that “organic-certified” is a well-established, easily recognisable label with a concept that is simple to grasp is a big part of why. 

Consumers need product differentiation, but simple   

“Organic” is just one of many options in a plethora of sustainability-oriented certifications including Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Bird Friendly and 4C. On top of this, voluntary sustainability standards and initiatives have multiplied within the coffee sector, making it hard for even the most discerning consumer to choose. 

Some argue that the proliferation of different schemes is confusing for consumers and is causing label fatigue, ironically disengaging them on issues of sustainability, rather than the opposite. While demand for other sustainable certified products is waning, organic stands out with growth.

“The continuous emergence of new labels and certifications can be confusing and exhausting for consumers,” says Martin Mayorga, Founder and CEO of Mayorga Coffee, The largest exclusively organic coffee roastery in the US.

“The organic label is easier to understand – it will always succeed because it ensures verified practices linked to soil protection, farmer health, and consumer health. There are few grey areas, and you can ultimately test products for pesticides.”

However, not everyone is convinced. Some argue that the higher production costs cannot be realised as consumers are unwilling to pay prices that reflect the increased overheads. They also posit that the certification process is overly cumbersome and too expensive for farmers to achieve, especially those with small-scale businesses.   

“The certification process requires effort, organisation, and a commitment to sound organic practices,”  says Martin. “That’s why roasters should work in partnership with farmers and assume some of the overheads. At Mayorga, we’ve supported producers with costs and provided agronomists to support in the process.”

The array of different certifications and labels points to the growing trend that “just” coffee no longer cuts it.  Amongst young consumers in particular, many people look to their coffee to provide something more. Organic coffee has a strong value proposition in that sense, as it delivers both on health and sustainability benefits.  

“Fortunately, consumers these days want to be part of something that goes beyond high quality and good value – something that also creates a positive impact,” says Martin.

Tapping into the growing health and wellness trend 

Organic products in general are associated with healthy living.  Although there is still debate on the proven health benefits of drinking organic coffee, the organic and wellness association is strong for consumers. 

There is also increasing interest in the link between health benefits and coffee itself, reflected in the rise of health-based coffee marketing and products, like coffee for runners, or coffee used in natural energy boosters. 

The global economic downturn and cost-of-living crisis in many countries has led to decreasing disposable incomes, yet younger demographics continue to place health at the centre of their purchasing choices. This means coffee brands that are now investing in the organic segment are likely to see long-term benefits, if younger consumers remain loyal.

But it’s not just about the consumers – the health and wellness of coffee’s production environment, including its growers, is paramount. Long-term commitment to organic coffee will only solidify if all parties in the coffee sector understand its holistic value across the supply chain, and are committed to it beyond the bottom line.  

“Industry players need to genuinely understand and care about the impact of harsh chemicals on the soil, surrounding bodies of water, and the people who live on and near the farm,”  says Martin. 

“Very few roasters are aware of how incredibly damaging conventional farming is to communities and coffee farmers. Those of us who understand that, understand that organic is a commitment to our future. It needs to stop being a movement, and go back to being how nature intended our food and communities to be.”

The return to popularity of organic coffee comes as no surprise, at a time when most are concerned about the health of both people and planet, and gravitate towards what they perceive as greener, healthier options. 

Consumer demand for that segment is definitely growing, and producers and roasters are both giving weight to that. It will be interesting to see what other value propositions arise that cater to those same trends in the industry. Regardless, the organic label, it seems, will be a hard one to dethrone.

Please note: Mayorga Coffee is a sponsor of Coffee Intelligence.

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