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.
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