What is in my Cup of Coffee?
The Risk of Food Fraud
Author: Annika Wessels, Quality Services International GmbH, Tentamus Center for Food Fraud (TCF²), Bremen, Germany
Coffee is one of the most important trade goods. Worldwide
167 million bags of green coffee are harvested per
year. 70 % of these bags are exported from their producing
countries. Germany alone imported 1.1 million tons of
green coffee in 2019. The biggest producing countries for green coffee
are Brazil (30 %), Vietnam (17 %), Colombia (9 %), Indonesia (7%),
Ethiopia (5 %) and Honduras (5 %).
But is coffee simply coffee, or are there differences between varieties
or the country of harvest? There are two main coffee varieties
on the world market – Coffea arabica, also known as “Arabica” and
Coffea canephora, also known as “Robusta”. Arabica coffee accounts
for about 61 % of coffee production worldwide, while Robusta coffee
accounts for roughly 39 % of the market share.
Coffee is an agricultural product and therefore highly dependent
on climatic conditions. Harvests can be threatened by environmental
disasters, leading to worldwide shortages in coffee production.
Is coffee at risk for food fraud?
First of all: What is food fraud? Everyone is talking about it, but what is
its definition? Food fraud is an intentional act of consumer deception
for economic gain. There are various ways of adulterating food, of
which the most common ones are dilution and substitution as well as
the misleading labelling or presentation of a food product. Although
there are so many different ways of adulteration, the motivation for
food fraud is always the same: economic profit.
Coffee is among the products at high risk for food fraud. According to
the number of cases reported by Decernis food fraud database Coffee is
among the Top 10 Hitlist for food fraud. There are different aspects to be
considered to evaluate the risk for food fraud, such as the supply/demand
ratio, price differences between different qualities, crop failures or sudden
price increases. Many of these factors apply to the coffee industry.
First of all there are two main coffee varieties on the world market
– Coffea arabica (Arabica) and Coffea canephora (Robusta). Arabica
coffee reaches higher prices on the world market, making it profitable
to blend it with mostly cheaper Robusta coffee. The higher the price difference
between Arabica and Robusta at time of delivery, the higher the
risk for addition of cheaper Robusta to more expensive Arabica coffee.
Another reason why coffee is vulnerable to food fraud is its many
intermediaries. On each step of trade there is a possibility of fraudulent
practices to increase economic profit. 95% of coffee is traded as a
raw commodity, which is how it gets from the country of origin to the
country of consumption. Further processing such as decaffeination or
roasting usually does not take place in the country of origin, but in the
countries of consumption. The following are therefore often involved
in the process from cultivation to the finished product, roasted coffee:
growers (small farmers or plantation owners), farmers' cooperatives,
intermediaries, exporters, importers, agents, makers, decaffeinators,
roasters and manufacturers of soluble coffee and coffee products.
At each step of trade there is a risk of fraudulent practices. It is not
uncommon for livelihoods of people in this supply chain to depend
on fulfilling contracts and being able to deliver the product despite
Photo: Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash
20 Food profiling/Food fraud