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May 8, 2023

A Sustainable Future for Coffee

When you think of Dunkin’, great coffee certainly comes to mind. As a global food service supply chain management company, NDCP is grateful to help source and deliver your favorite brew to nearby Dunkin’ restaurants. However, it’s easy to take the transformation from coffee bean to cup for granted.

A fresh-roasted cup of Original Blend begins its story thousands of miles away—on emerald-green coffee farms in places like South and Central America. The trees growing on these farms produce a honey-sweet, red berry containing a seed, which we call coffee beans. To properly access a quality bean, the fruit and parchment layers must be removed, and the seed must be dried and “rested” until it is ready to ship halfway around the world for roasting and brewing.

Sounds simple enough, but it is anything but that.

Coffee is one of the few global commodity crops that is produced primarily by smallholder farmers, not industrial agriculture, and these smallholders produce over 60% of the world’s total supply of coffee.

There are 12.5 million coffee farms in the world, and of those, 95% of farms are under three acres of land.  Every coffee seller is reliant on the success of those 12.5 million small farms to continue producing a steady supply of high-quality beans that meet consumers’ expectations. Yet, coffee farmers, like all farmers, face huge risks to their business, from worsening weather due to climate change, to increasing pressure from diseases and pests, to changing consumer expectations. In response to these challenges, many farmers are getting out of the business of growing coffee and the supply of coffee is consolidating.

To put it into perspective — today, just five countries produce 74% of the world’s coffee. Ten years ago, the same percentage of the world’s coffee was produced by seven countries.

So how can we protect these farmers, their crop, and our morning cup of joe?

To help combat these risks, the coffee industry created World Coffee Research (WCR) in 2012. The non-profit agricultural research organization recognizes that innovation in coffee agriculture is necessary to secure the long-term supply of coffee around the world. Today, WCR is guided by over 200 global member companies working to ensure coffee’s future. We are thrilled to be one of those organizations supporting WCR’s important mission.

In particular, WCR focuses on helping coffee producing countries develop new and better varieties for their farmers. Better varieties aren’t just helpful for sustaining the world’s supply of coffee, though; they also address multiple sustainability and business challenges at the same time. For example, creating highly productive, disease resistant varieties can increase farmer financial stability and profitability, while decreasing the need for agrochemicals and reducing deforestation. Coffee trees create billions of dollars of economic value globally and support hundreds of millions of livelihoods, from farmers to baristas. But coffee has seen alarmingly low levels of investment in crop improvement, leaving it one of the most under-researched and under-innovated crops in the world.

How does the NDCP and Dunkin’ partnership with WCR promote coffee sustainability?

For the last five years, NDCP has supported WCR’s work to increase the availability and access of better plants for coffee farmers in 11 countries, including many that are key for Dunkin’ coffee blends. Half a penny for every pound of Original Blend coffee beans sold to Dunkin’ franchisees for use in Dunkin’ restaurants goes to World Coffee Research. To date, we have contributed $1.6 million toward WCR’s research program – making us one of the largest WCR donors and a leader in collaborative, pre-competitive agronomic research and development.

Together, this partnership makes a difference in benefiting farmers around the world to succeed today and in the next generation. We are combating the impacts of climate change, develop more vibrant varietals, and ensure farmers can grow healthier trees, resulting in better quality and higher volumes. In turn, Dunkin’ can continue pouring the best tasting, freshest coffee available into the cups of millions of Americans every day.