As a coffee importer, we meet a lot of coffee buyers. That is why we have a sense of what makes some buyers successful, and other less. There are a few core traits that make the difference. Subtilties that set you apart from others.
Here we give our two cents on the role of a green coffee buyer, and what good practices could make you more successful.
The job of a green coffee buyer is extremely exciting. You get to travel to origin, meet growers firsthand, and discover new coffees. People that chose this path in coffee, find an interesting career ahead of them.
But this is just the ‘Indiana Jones’ part of the job!
Besides the more appealing and glamorous, buying green coffee is a highly operational job. The buyers who succeed have discipline and possess hard skills. They can estimate needs, negotiate contracts, and communicate clearly to everyone involved.
As a green coffee buyer, you spend money. This means that you work directly with the Finance and Sales departments to get the information on what sells. This information will impact the way you buy.
We see that successful coffee roasters use core blends and single origins. Blends and singles offer you steady and growing volumes. Then you have special projects or coffees that are more expensive. These coffees highlight the pinnacle of your companies’ efforts in sourcing and roasting quality coffee.
As a successful buyer, the trick is to identify a few core coffees that your clients expect and look forward to. You should invest your energy and time in these core supply chains. Travel, source, and build relationships with the people that supply your core coffees.
Your special features, often acidity rich and funky coffees, give you short bursts of sales. Specials tend to fade off over time. So, as a buyer, you need to balance your core coffees and the features until you hit a sweet spot.
The only way to know you’ve hit a sweet spot is to analyze. And that brings us to spreadsheets.
As a coffee buyer, you need to analyze and estimate sales. That is why we advise you to develop your spreadsheet skills. A simple spreadsheet will be your friend. It will help you to make data-based decisions that impact the whole company.
The data in the spreadsheet tells you which year-round coffees will be the base of your growth. Your fuel to strengthen the loyalty of your long-term customer base. Share the sheet with your team and get everyone aligned. From Management, Finance, Production, to Sales.
One of the most important skills of buying is to coordinate purchasing on a monthly basis. Schedule position meetings with your team to make sure your offers are consistent and realistic. Get everyone involved together to discuss the menu, pricing, and margin.
During position meetings, you discuss which coffees move slow or do not perform at all. Then, you decide how to handle non-performing coffees. As a buyer, you need to deal with non-performing inventory just like an importer.
The difference is that a specialty importer takes a bigger loss because they cannot blend the slower moving coffees. But as a buyer and roaster, you can. This is one proven tactic you can use for non-performing coffees.
As a buyer, you will use the financial resources of the company. When you buy, these resources convert to inventory. This inventory is an asset, but also a limitation. If the inventory is not managed carefully, the flow of coffee and money is at risk.
It is important to know that you always pay for inventory. Whether you store it yourself or at the warehouse of your importer. Either way, your coffee is increasing in cost at a rate of 1 to 1.5% per month. Coffee that costs $3.00 initially will cost $3.18 to $3.45 at the end of six months. Then, the cost can double (or triple) as you roast, bag, and ship the coffee. In this case, your margin is directly compromised.
If this happens to your blend or a consistent seller, you need to account for this in your COGS (Cost Of Goods Sold). If it is a special feature that is moving slower than expected, then the COGS increase as the coffee becomes less exciting to your customers.
It’s your job to deal with these issues. You need to make sure that Management and Finance dedicate time to make decisions. An approved plan, or protocol, will help you to act quickly. The plan shows you the inevitable differences between what you expect to sell, and what you actually sell.
This might sound self-beneficial. But forging strong relationships with importers is key to your success. Smart buyers realize that importers facilitate the movement and storage of coffee. They are a partner to your success. In fact, as an importer, we consider ourselves to be your Sourcing, Logistics, and Quality departments from a distance.
Some coffee origins do not need the assistance of an importer. We call these ‘low-barrier’ origins, like the ones you find in Central America. Coffee importers add significantly more value to ‘high-barrier’ origins, like countries Africa. We advise you to make a clear distinction. Decide on a strategical level where you would want to source directly. And, where you need an importer to assist.
Over the course of twenty years, we have seen a lot of buyers grow beautiful and rewarding careers. And time and time again, we see they do the things we described here.
So, in a nutshell. You become a successful green coffee buyer if you;
And yes, all the great perks of travel, sourcing, and meeting people in origin come with this amazing job. Just consider yourself to be an Indiana Jones with master-spreadsheet and business skills.
If you have any questions or comments, our trade team is happy to help you. Please reach out to us here.