More bad news from corporate coffee

by JulieCraves on August 24, 2007

Kraft Foods recently announced that beginning this fall, all of its Maxwell House brands of coffee (except instant and Master Blend) will be 100% arabica beans rather than a blend of arabica and robusta.

Robusta is the lower quality coffee species often used in cheaper coffees and blends. Robusta is able to grow at lower elevations and hotter temperatures than arabica, and is typically grown in sun. The biggest source of robusta is Asia, mostly Vietnam. Typically, getting any of the big corporate coffee roasters to admit they use robusta and/or how much or where it comes from is like pulling teeth. In a response to Kraft’s move, Proctor & Gamble offered that it will continue to use robusta in its Folger’s brand and Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA will keep on using robusta in Chock Full o’ Nuts. Now we know.

Kraft says they are doing this to improve flavor and quality. However, any sudden pronounced change in flavor profile would risk losing customers. So that reason doesn’t totally hold water, unless the change will occur over a long period, yet Kraft says the change to 100% arabica will be complete by year’s end. Kraft denies that this move is in response to rising robusta prices, brought on by low supply — recent robusta crops from Vietnam have been too inferior for even grocery store blends.

An important fact in this announcement is that Kraft also says the price of Maxwell House coffees will not change. Therefore, they will be buying arabica beans at robusta prices. That, in combination with keeping true to the established flavor profile, means that the arabica beans Kraft will use will be low grade and (for all the cost and economy-of-scale reasons we have previously discussed here) likely grown in big sun monocultures. I expect much of this cheap arabica to come from Brazil and Colombia. An increase in demand for cheap arabica could result in more forested areas or (in the case of southern Brazil in particular) savannah being cleared for production.

If anybody who knows more about coffee market forces can propose other possible environmental impacts, please chime in!

Revised on November 14, 2019

Posted in Corporate coffee

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