COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges to the coffee supply chain. We faced a number of changes, from the way coffee is picked to the way it is consumed. New patterns were observed in 2020, like a rise in online sales and higher coffee consumption in the homes of millions of coffee drinkers worldwide. Many of these trends will continue in 2021, but what happened at the base of the chain?
2020 pushed us to make modifications in farms, mills, and the entire exportation process. Some of these changes have been tough, but they have also helped us innovate and improve. Keep reading to learn about some of these challenges and how we faced them.
Lockdowns and restrictions
Guatemala's restrictions and regulations were some of the first obstacles we encountered. We had a strict lockdown that complicated transportation and mobility.
Our priority was, and still is, to protect our staff and collaborators' health which meant applying safety protocols at all levels. This was not easy for anyone. Once we ensured the new measures were set, and we had a safe place to work, we tried to keep operations running as normally as possible.
Costs increased due to the implementation of safety and health protocols: bringing pickers had a higher cost as mobility was almost impossible due to the strict lockdown. Currently, as we experience another harvest season, these expenses are still present, but we now know what to expect.
Harvesting during the pandemic has been challenging. Usually, pickers and other laborers who work during the harvest fill temporary jobs that last approximately 30 days. After these periods, new pickers arrive; therefore, educating and training these workers and expecting them to change their labor practices by following health filters, complying with temperature check-ups, taking sanitizers to the fields, continually washing their hands, etc., was time-consuming and elevated costs.
We hired people who checked workers' temperatures every morning and after lunch; we duplicated the number of showers and sinks, and we supplied every worker with masks and replaced them if they got lost. Even though these measures meant incrementing our costs, we understood that having a safe work environment was a priority and would allow us to keep operations running.
One of the most difficult aspects of 2020 was the uncertainty. We are fortunate enough to say that coffee is a basic good, so we knew people would still consume it. However, would partners fill their orders as usual? What would happen with the lockdowns? Would we be able to pick coffee and ship orders on time? Would buyers keep their contracts?
Furthermore, we had to do a few financial adjustments and modifications, close the mill for several weeks to design a new action plan and get things in order, meet government regulations, and get the necessary documentation to keep operations running as smoothly as possible.
Some buyers did cancel their contracts, so we had to place those shipments with different buyers. In the end, all we could do was wait. Keep in constant communication with our clients, check up on them and the situation in their country. Wait and see if our partners would open up their doors again. All of this while analyzing the market’s behavior.
Operations slowed down and the market’s instability made us cautious. Nevertheless, we had to keep moving. We never shut down operations completely, we just had to make a few alterations. We are proud to say that we were able to deliver the same quality coffee as always.
Maintaining relationships alive
During the pandemic, maintaining our partnerships has been one of our priorities and, in order to achieve this, we strive to give our partners the best attention possible.
The situation wasn’t easy for them either; some had to close their doors for weeks or months. We knew we had to be ready and expected a few of our clients to request lower volumes, as well as lower prices. This would prove to be especially challenging since our costs were higher.
How would we keep these relationships alive without origin trips, expos, and other coffee events? Well, just like with any other long-distance relationship: with constant communication!
We tried to stay in touch, calling and messaging partners to see how things were doing on their end, or just to say hi and to discuss how to continue the business and relationship. As visits were not possible, we sent small but meaningful presents to let them know we stood together.
We were all having a hard time, but as mentioned before, we are a big family and stay together through tough moments. We attempt to work closely and be flexible with our partners.
Even though we are still living through this global pandemic and its many restrictions, we are better prepared to face these challenges.
We are committed to working as hard as always, hoping to deliver the same quality coffee we strive for year after year. We look forward to sharing more exciting coffees with our partners and all the coffee lovers around the world.