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ICE to Allow ‘Super Sacks’ to Replace Traditional Coffee Bags

ICE to allow super sacks instead of gunny sacks

Traditional coffee bags. Creative Commons photo by Joe Driscoll.

This may be the beginning of the end for one of the coffee industry’s most enduring symbols, the burlap gunny sack.

On Oct 1., the Intercontinental Exchange, the world’s largest commodity exchange for arabica coffees, announced a rule change that will allow large lined containers (a.k.a “super sacks”) to replace the smaller woven and printed coffee bags, which until now had been the only approved vessel in the coffee trade.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the rule change is designed to remove physical barriers to trade on the exchange for some of the world’s largest buyers. But sources in that report also suggest that the super sacks could add to already hulking stockpiles, and some question whether the super sacks could allow for quality control gaps. Here’s more from that report:

Some market experts say that big incoming coffee shipments also could revive worries about the quality of the beans in ICE-certified warehouses, which could suppress futures prices relative to prices on the cash market. ICE tightened standards in late 2010 in response to concerns about the age, color and taste of coffee beans in storage amid a shortage of beans from Colombia, the world’s No. 2 arabica grower.

Many companies, from small Brooklyn, N.Y., roasters to Starbucks, have a policy of only using coffee beans that have traveled from the farm to roasting machines in gunny sacks.

For its part, the ICE has outlined some requirements for quality control in the rule, which takes effect against December 2015 fututes.

Coffee is one of the only commodities in the world still traded in gunny sacks, which of course now come in a range of natural and synthetic materials. Not only will the new rule lead to some operational changes for large coffee exporters and buyers alike, it may also affect the culture of coffee. The bags provide a visual connection to source, with custom printing from producers and importers.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the rule change. Sound off in the comments section below.

For more:

The full text of the rule change

Comment

9 Comments

Tom

May work for the large producers, but how the small roasters deal with this? I see a lot of potential problems with this.

Burlap Jack

Much ado about nothing. This only applies to coffee that is delivered and/or deliverable via the ICE Exchange. Coffee will continue to be shipped in sacks, vacuum packs, and the intestinal lining of mid-sized rodents.

Dave

Do the large producers really need more help? Does this mean that the small guys will be charged extra if they need to receive their coffee in smaller, less-super containers?

On the personal side, I enjoy the burlap bags. Every region has their own style, material, etc…

Not in love with the idea.

Denis

One thing people tend to overlook in this is the “green and socially responsible” image generated by jute/gunny/burlap bags. It doesn’t make sense to boast that the coffee has been produced in ecologically and socially responsible ways all therough the chain and at the end, it is moved in plastic liners, derived from petrochemicals… Furthmore, how will the coffee industry react when it will be rightfully termed as “farmer killers” ? It is kind of weird to claim helping coffee farmers and their families and simultaneousely send starving millions of jute farmers and their families, already living in the world’s poorest countries, starving… All this for a few cents of savings on packaging ???

Susan

I love the sacks! They are all unique to the country and/or farm and I feel that the sack provides a face for the roaster from the grower. They are an essential part of the connection with origin.

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