corporate responsibility fair trade food

Kuma Coffee – pioneering direct trade

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Rapa Nui clothing company and their innovative approach to traceability. The same week I learned about an equally radical scheme in coffee, from my friend Mark Barany. We were at school together in Kenya, and Mark now runs Kuma Coffee Roasters. Based in Seattle, Kuma produces high end coffees for local grocers and for their cafe. By all accounts it’s a fine cup of coffee, but the company is also making a name for itself for its ethical policies.

This month Kuma became the first coffee roaster in Seattle to issue a complete transparency statement, showing how much was paid for each coffee, right down to the name of the farmer who received the payment. It’s a ‘direct trade’ business model based on relationships, and it generally pays well over the Fairtrade rates. There is no middle man, with sales negotiated online directly between the grower and the retailer.

“Putting it out there kind of says ‘It can be done, and this is sustainable” Mark told the Seattle Times recently. “It also says to the competition, ‘who else out there feels so good about their business practices that they could do the same?'”

In a city of coffee roasters and the home of Starbucks, that’s quite a challenge. Let’s hope some of them take it up.

1 comment


    I praise Kuma Coffee and the marketers of Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffees. They are helping to educate the end-consumer while promoting the story of specialty coffee and the people who produce it.

    But let’s look at the big picture.

    Say I purchase a $2 cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee at my local café. How much is the farmer actually paid? Maybe 10 cents. That’s only 5% of the retail price. Direct Trade is slightly better. The farmer is paid about 6% of the retail price.

    Regardless, as the article points out, it doesn’t give the consumer a real connection with anyone other than the roaster, and the relationship between consumer and producer isn’t direct or transparent.
    What’s the alternative? Support farmer-owned brands. When the farmer grows, roasts and markets her own coffee, she earns much more and she is helping herself by reducing her dependence on importers, certifiers and roasters.

    There are many successful farmer-owned brands on the market today, like Organic Valley, Divine Chocolate, Cabot Creamery, Ocean Spray, Florida Growers, Blue Diamond Almonds and Pachamama Coffee. For consumers who want the most direct relationship with farmers, Farmer Owned is the right choice. And a few of the above models prove that it can scale up.

    Thaleon Tremain
    General Manager

    Pachamama Coffee Cooperative of Small-Scale Coffee Producers
    100% Farmer-Owned

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: