Meeting the Challenges Ahead

Despite all the uncertainty in the global economy, the world of coffee – at first glance – appears to be on a steady and solid footing.

The NCA’s 2014 National Coffee Drinking Trends report shows that consumption in the US, the world’s largest consumer market, is essentially steady, but strong.  Against this backdrop the single serve format continues to grow and drive opportunities.  Ever better, younger generations of coffee drinkers have embraced coffee and café culture as never before, boding well for the future.

But looking more closely, it is clear there are challenges ahead:  climate change has the potential to affect supply, even as greater global demand is requiring increased production.  The volatility of coffee prices in the commodities market seems to have increased this year.  New and emerging formats are vying for attention and a place in consumers’ kitchens, and coffee is under increasing scrutiny from regulators.

Some of these challenges – for example pricing and the adoption of new formats by consumers – are driven by market forces, and are inappropriate for discussion among industry competitors.  Other challenges – such as addressing regulatory issues or making the industry more sustainable – are the kinds of things that can be addressed on a collective basis, and often the NCA is the forum through which these matters can be confronted.

For this reason, the NCA has taken a fresh look at itself – mindful of the industry’s current and pending challenges – and has begun a process of change.  This process started with a “Think Tank” in June 2014 of industry leaders to discuss current trends and how the NCA could best address the industry’s most pressing needs.  Over the course of two days participants engaged in a facilitated discussion from which emerged four top priorities:

•    Advocacy.  We are strengthening our advocacy efforts on behalf of the industry, whether with government, media, the public, or other audiences. We’ve also strengthened communications to our members through new “Member Alert” communiqués – single topic reports on breaking issues – and developed a new “Coffee Reporter Weekly” digest, which curates industry news and features every Friday.
•    Science.  The NCA is amplifying the prominent role of the NCA Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) which is comprised of expert food scientists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and botanists, leveraging their expertise to ensure that the NCA’s positions on coffee, science, and health are firmly grounded in facts, research, and expert opinion.
•    Sustainability.  We’ve convened a cross-sector task force to look more closely at sustainability so that the NCA can reinforce and sharpen its focus on a critical topic that impacts everyone in the supply chain. The first step:  determining the NCA’s role on this key topic.
•    Certification.  To better identify and encourage industry talent, we’re assessing the certification landscape to determine how best to plug existing gaps and support special skills in areas where programs currently do not exist.

At the same time, we’re in the process of ratcheting up our infrastructure and capacities.  We’re expanding our social media presence (with a new Linkedin Group, for example); have installed new media monitoring capacities; and are upgrading our internal and external technologies, including a state-of-the-art “Association Management System” (or “AMS”) to support new levels of internal data reporting and analysis; member support; and industry service.

On this enhanced technology base, we’ll be able to incorporate advanced technical standards and functionality in a redesigned NCA website, which we anticipate starting in 2015. The website redesign will improve the user experience, as well as result in a “responsive site design” which will be more user-friendly to visitors from mobile platforms.

So what does this mean as a practical matter?  Caffeine has been under greater scrutiny in 2014, with energy drinks and powdered caffeine creating new behaviors in consumers and tripping the government’s radar. We’ve gone on record with the FDA to argue that caffeine as typically consumed in coffee is safe, as tested in the lab and over time.  We’re continuing to work with industry counsel in support of the industry’s defense in Proposition 65-related litigation in California.  We confronted – and obtained a retraction – earlier this year in response to a misleading article implying that consumers’ coffee could well be tinged with sticks and twigs. And, as new regulations continue refining compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, we’re recommending changes to proposed rules to reflect the reality of your business.

Yet even as we’re changing, one aspect of the NCA remains the same, and would even now be recognized by Julius J. Schotten, who served as the NCA’s first president 1911: we remain led by experienced, passionate and committed industry leaders, and are dedicated to serving and protecting the common business interests of our members – whatever the future may hold.

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