T he Greater Houston Coffee Association held its annu-al luncheon at Brady’s Landing, in conjunction with the Commerce Club. Philip Blaber, the Commercial Director of Soluble Coffee for ECOM Agroindustrial Corp. Ltd., gave a rousing talk about current trends in the global coffee market as well as the goals of ECOM’s newly rebranded Atlantic Coffee Solutions here in Houston.
Blaber began with the history of the ECOM Group, a family-owned company with an impressive 165-year history. Founded in Barcelo-na in 1849 by Jose Esteve. ECOM later expanded into the U.S., Bra-zil, and Mexico, starting out in the cotton business before moving into coffee in 1951. Today, “From merchants in Australia to produc-tion in Vietnam, the ECOM Group covers most, if not all, coffee producing coun-tries and coffee consuming countries.” He pointed to crops, droughts, frosts, and investment funds con-tributing to the intense volatility in coffee prices. According to Bla-ber, this market is no longer a club for coffee traders to hedge and minimize risks.” Investors are inter-ested in coffee as an investment because it is a crop whose harvest, barring any major weather events, will remain fairly constant.
As Blaber noted, we have a weather market today. One needs only look towards Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer, where rains this year have been almost nonexistent, preventing the trees from recover-ing fully from last year’s harvest. Coffee trade houses estimate the Brazil crop yielding anywhere from 41 million to 55 million bags this year, revealing the uncertainty sur-rounding the global coffee supply and contributing to price volatility.
On the demand side, Blaber focused on consumption patterns and the exponential growth of the single serve category, with Nespresso leading the sector in Europe and Keurig here in the U.S. Characteriz-ing this growth as a net positive for the coffee market, “as this ensures that most of the coffee is consumed and not wasted.”, he said that, “for many years, the largest consumer of coffee was the kitchen sink.” The average cus-tomer is very brand loyal, Blaber argued, so that in the instant coffee sector, for example, Nestle remains number one in the global market, followed by Kraft (known as Mondelez in Europe) and then more regional players. As creatures of habit, coffee consumers lean heavily towards the “same coffee, same vendor, same product,” day after day.
Blaber explained why Houston is so special: “It has a superb port, ex-ceptional logistics, and excellent storage facilities.. Inin terms of coffee, it is the U.S.’s second larg-est import port.” ECOM’s newly rebranded Atlantic Coffee Solutions is actually five factories in one: a natural decaffeination plant, a roast and ground facility, a roast and ground packing facility, a solu-ble processing facility, and a solu-ble packing line. investments are planned to improve the facility as well as quality and processing. Most importantly, however, Atlan-tic is focused on becoming a relia-ble, sustainable, and efficient part-ner, assisting the brand holders in “further developing their position in this very competitive market.”
In closing, Blaber asked for pa-tience through this process, “Rest assured,” he said, “we at Atlantic look to build Rome.”