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What Is The Big Deal About Organic Coffee?

Aug 18, 2007
What is organic coffee? Organic coffee is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic farmers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production.

What does it mean to be certified organic? In order for coffee to be certified and sold as organic in the United States, it must be produced in accordance with U.S. standards for organic production and certified by an agency accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. requirements for organic coffee production include:

1. It must have been grown on land without synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for three years.
2. There must have been a sufficient buffer between the organic coffee and the nearest conventional crop.
3. The farmer must have a sustainable crop rotation plan to prevent erosion, the depletion of soil nutrients, and control for pests.

What is the size of the U.S. organic coffee market? Organic Trade Association data shows that organic coffee sales in the United States amounted to approximately $89 million in 2005, up 40.4 percent from the previous year.2 Data collected by ACNielsen during 2005 show organic coffee sales increased 54 percent through Nov. 6, compared to the same period in 2004, while non-organic coffee sales increased just 8.5 percent. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), at least 56 percent of U.S. specialty coffee firms sell certified organic coffee.

Given the current popularity of Starbucks and other specialty coffees, it may be surprising that U.S. per capita coffee consumption is only half of what it was in the mid-1940s. Man, was I surprised when I found this out. You would think with all the Starbucks and their competitors on every corner that coffee consumption had gone through the roof. ERS's food availability data, a proxy for consumption, show a rise and fall in coffee consumption over the past century. Per capita availability of coffee in the United States peaked in 1946 at 46.4 gallons per person, compared with 24.2 gallons in 2005.

During the first half of the century, U.S. coffee companies sought to provide consumers with a consistent, convenient product for home use and to expand their markets through innovative production and marketing strategies. Instant coffee, first introduced in 1938, was issued to American soldiers during World War II, fueling an appreciation for its convenience. The companies paired technological advances, such as vacuum packaging and freeze drying, with giveaway offers and catchy advertising slogans like Good to the Last Drop. Per capita availability of coffee rose 78 percent between 1910 and 1950.

So why the post-War downturn? One likely cause is the increased availability of alternative beverages, particularly carbonated soft drinks. According to U.S. Bureau of the Census data, estimated consumption of carbonated soft drinks stood at 10.8 gallons per person in 1947. It then began a long steep rise over the next half century or so, hitting 51.5 gallons per person in 2005. Coffee historians have speculated about other reasons for declining coffee consumption since WWII, such as changing lifestyles and adjustments to blending and roasting practices.

Data on per capita coffee availability are starting to reflect the growing popularity of specialty coffees. Declining supermarket sales of coffee have been offset by increases in coffee consumption away from home. Private market research data show sales at coffeehouses increased by 97 percent between 1998 and 2003. Per capita coffee availability has risen almost 20 percent since its recent low in 1995. Upscale coffee shops appear to have hit the mark for affluent coffee drinkers desire for a cafe atmosphere that serves diverse, quality coffee and coffee beverages, such as lattes, cappuccino, espresso, and frozen coffees.

So why would I want to drink organic coffee? I guess the bottom-line is that it is free of chemicals. Lord knows I put enough chemicals in my body from eating processed foods. I am your typical American, overweight, and enjoy eating foods that are preserved with preservatives that I can't even pronounce. My daddy would tell me of the times when he lived on a farm and how they used what they had to preserve their foods. Anyway, drinking coffee that is organic seems like a good idea. I guess I will have to go out and buy me some so I can experience organic coffee. At least I am not one of the people who are contributing to the less consumption of coffee in the United States.
About the Author
Jerry Johnson owns the Organic Coffee Store as well as several other successful web stores. He has a passion for sharing information that can make life easier for all of us. Visit the Organic Coffee Store for great deals on organic coffee.
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