For Peet’s Sake: The Contents of This Planet are Extremely Hot
As global temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift, the coffee industry and its growers are left scrambling for solutions to a supply crisis that has hit suppliers, retailers and consumers where it hurts most – in the pocketbook.
You may think you’re picky about your coffee – but your coffee is picky, too, and its niche appetites for specific temperature and humidity ranges leave it vulnerable to the changing atmospheric conditions across the planet. Approximately 125 million people globally are dependent on coffee farming to survive, and with 25 million (mostly small) coffee farmers in 70 different countries, the stakes are as high as they could be. Already coffee supply has started to slow as yields have declined steadily in many of the world’s top coffee-producing regions due to factors linked to climate change; the most crucial of these factors are rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns. Higher temperatures, in particular, have allowed the coffee borer (a pest that eats coffee plants) and “coffee rust” (a fungus) to exist in regions where they had previously been kept at bay by cooler temperatures.  Changing rainfall patterns leave growers exposed to periods of drought that can devastate entire harvests. Globally, coffee is becoming more difficult to grow in a sustainable manner, and that means higher costs for suppliers, retailers and customers, as well as a shift in the quality and flavor of various coffees.  Even McDonald’s, the ne’er-do-well of the food industry, has an eye toward the long term, as they have pledged to source 100% of its coffee from sustainable sources by 2020. 
Peet’s Coffee, a Bay Area-based coffee chain, carefully manages a network of growers and partners to source their coffee, and they have begun to shift to a model that focuses more heavily on organic, fair trade, and Rainforest Alliance-certified beans (Rainforest Alliance is an organization that helps train coffee farmers to boost yields and preserve the land for future use).   This shift means that Peet’s is dedicating an ever-larger pool of resources to managing specific relationships with growers who are having an increasingly difficult time maintaining yields and fighting the effects of climate change.  Peet’s is also actively engaged in several projects in collaboration with the World Coffee Research Group to take steps to try to prevent further degradation of coffee yields by building a gene bank (to preserve the genetic diversity of Arabica coffee as it becomes increasingly threatened) and a “variety catalog” to determine how different species are reacting to climate change. Finally, in a more customer-focused effort, Peet’s and the World Coffee Research Group are creating a “sensory lexicon” of coffee to determine which new varieties of coffee (made necessary by changing climate conditions) will be most palatable to consumers.   With global coffee consumption expected to increase by up to a third by 2030, the pressure is on Peet’s and other coffee retailers to proactively address the issues introduced to their supply chain by global warming.
It is becoming clear that Peet’s and others will have to aggressively engage with the issues at hand by working as closely as possible with the growers who make up the initial stage of their supply chain. One approach that I think will become absolutely necessary (if it hasn’t already) is to work with growers to make site-specific adaptations to their farms and their crops to fortify them against the effects of climate change. These site-specific adaptations can include irrigation improvements, pest control measures, and careful monitoring for (and prevention of) “coffee rust”.  Additionally, I think that Peet’s should take the lead on scouring coffee-growing regions for new land that is suitable for coffee growth at higher elevations. As the earth continues to warm, moving “upslope” will allow growers to plant in a temperature zone that matches their coffee plants’ needs, with support from Peet’s to make the change.  These projects must be focused on the long term and executed in a sustainable manner (both for the growers and for Peet’s). For Peet’s, this means allocating the capital required to execute these projects in a systematic way that first targets the regions deemed most at-risk before moving on to other growers who may not have been hit as hard by climate change to this point.
If you’ve been wondering why it seems like the price of your single-origin drip coffee has been increasing every time you swipe your card, it’s due in large part to climate change and its effects on the supply chains of Peet’s and similar companies. The effects of the crisis are beginning to be felt around the world, and further price jumps and production difficulties will continue as temperatures increase and rainfall patterns become less typical and less frequent. Global organizations and corporations can work together to try to mitigate these effects, but coffee as we know it is already changing for good.
 Corey Watts, et. al., “A Brewing Storm: The Climate Change Risks to Coffee,” The Climate Institute, September 2016, http://fairtrade.com.au/~/media/fairtrade%20australasia/files/resources%20for%20pages%20-%20reports%20standards%20and%20policies/tci_a_brewing_storm_final_24082016_web.pdf, accessed November 2016
 Jonah Engel Bromwich, “Climate Change Threatens World Coffee Supply, Report Says,” New York Times, September 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/science/climate-change-threatens-worlds-coffee-supply-report-says.html?_r=0, accessed November 2016
 Multiple Authors, “How Does Climate Change Affect Coffee?,” The Specialty Coffee Chronicle, April 15, 2016, http://www.scaa.org/chronicle/2016/04/15/how-does-climate-change-affect-coffee/, accessed November 2016
 Josephine Asher, “Climate Change Could Cut Coffee Production By 50 Percent by 2050, Report Shows,” ABC News, August 28, 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-29/climate-change-could-halve-coffee-production-by-2050-study-says/7793752, accessed November 2016
 Whitney McFerron, “Global Coffee Shortage Looms as Market Braces for Climate Change,” Bloomberg, October 1, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-01/global-coffee-shortage-looms-as-market-braces-for-climate-change, accessed November 2016
 Leslie Patton, “Global Coffee Shortage Looms as Market Braces for Climate Change,” Bloomberg, October 5, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-05/mcdonald-s-is-moving-to-sustainable-coffee-in-latest-menu-change, accessed November 2016
Student comments on For Peet’s Sake: The Contents of This Planet are Extremely Hot
This is interesting (and a little scary as a coffee lover!). It’s interesting to me that coffee chains aren’t doing more to educate consumers on climate change, the way they have educated consumers on fair trade. If this is really a major issue affecting their business, it seems like it would make sense to inform, educate and invite action from consumers (for example, Starbucks has photos and maps in their stores showing their growers to educate consumers on fair trade supply chain and offers consumers the option of buying fair trade coffees at a premium price — it seems like Peet’s could do something similar for climate change). Perhaps they haven’t because of the way climate change has been politicized (unlike fair trade) and they may not want to alienate some consumers from one side of the political spectrum…
Thanks for sharing! I had no idea how sensitive coffee beans were to small changes in climate. It was also interesting to learn that some coffee companies take climate change more seriously than others. My fear, though, is that eventually the native growers will move as far ‘upslope’ as they can possibly get. At that point, even the most eco-conscious coffee company can probably not do much on its own to help these families. In contrast, I’d imagine that local governments may be able to do some good for these farmers. Do you know if these relatively large coffee companies (Starbucks, etc) do any overseas lobbying on behalf of their growers? Having some continuous source of government aid feels to me like a more sustainable solution, but then again I’m not sure how sustainable it would be in practice?
Certainly an issue on my mind. There’s an interesting element here where, traditional climate-sensitive coffee may not be the needed. Other large agricultural conglomerates invest in research from universities and industry looking at creative ways of engineering or curating crops cultivated with creative properties. Peet’s, while a consumer coffee, may be able to justify such an investment, particularly given the scary coffee supply outlook.