The term traceability is commonly used in the food industry. But, what does it mean exactly? How is it applied in the specialty coffee industry and is it just a marketing term or a verifiable process?
Let’s start at the beginning: What does it mean?
A Traceability System is a set of established procedures that allows us to know the complete history, the location and trajectory of a product throughout the entire production chain, and/or to locate it at any point of that chain.
Depending on your set-up, the traceability system can cover the whole production chain (origin, treatment applied, processes, storage, transport, distribution, product location etc) or just a specific part of it.
Each company can design their own traceability system based on their needs, goals, and/or availability of resources. However, the basic question you have to ask yourself in order to start shaping your traceability systems are:
What: refers to the kind of information you need to record. Is it the volume of an application or the amount of cherries harvested per day?
Where: refers to the exact point where you are recording the information. Is it at the mill or the farm, or in the lab?
When: refers to the exact time and date that you are recording the information.
Who: refers to the person responsible to record the information.
With the answer to these basic questions, you can start modeling your traceability system. The level of detail used will depend on the level of information you require.
Why has Cuatro Caminos developed its own traceability system?
There are countless reasons why we consider it necessary to have our own, in-house traceability system. In the case of specialty coffee production, many of these reasons are directly associated with the nature of the product itself and the need for managing production systems that ensure consistent high quality. And, it can also be used as part of your marketing strategy.
The following is a list of determining factors needed to design a traceability system for agricultural products, with an emphasis in this case on specialty coffee:
Existing regulatory frameworks are required to manage a certain level of traceability
Currently, some laws require that an edible product of agricultural origin has a traceability system, mainly to ensure in some way the quality of the product and its origin.
At the national level, in Panama, a bill was approved in the third debate at the end of 2016: The National Program of Good Agricultural Practices and Traceability (BPTA), called ¨El Program of BPTA¨.
The BPTA Program established the guidelines and directives for Good Agricultural Practices and Traceability in the primary production of food, of plant origin, for human and animal consumption. This contributes to guaranteeing safe food for national consumption and export, incorporating sustainable practices in the social, economic and environmental spheres” (Draft Law 299, 2016).
At an international level, many of the main coffee consuming countries in the world require traceability information of the product to ensure quality, prove origin and ensure fair treatment of the workers in the industry.
Part of the value of producing Specialty coffee is knowing its story.
Specialty Coffee is distinguished by its fragrance, aroma and cup flavor, which are the result of the characteristics and composition of the soils where they are produced, the microclimate of its origin, the high specialization in its product and finally….by its perfect traceability.
In other words, knowing the history of the product, from the seed to the cup, is part of the definition of a specialty coffee and what the market requires.
New trends are seeking, among other things, a direct channel to market, sustainable systems, clearer roast profiles, innovative extraction methods, but also, real and traceable information regarding the coffee. Experts define “third wave” as an experience and specialty coffee as what is served in that experience.
In this sense, it is essential to tell customers the story behind the coffee bean, says Tetsu Kasuya, the winner of the 2016 World Brewers Cup Champion. The story includes the production, the import, the roasting and finally the barista. “This is how knowing the traceability not only allows us to assure a high quality, but it is also a vital marketing element in this new trend”.
Manage an internal control of the production chain
At the production level, it is necessary to manage regularly updated data that reflects what happens daily in the farms. This information allows us to study the evolution of the same, as well as the effectiveness of the activities that are carried out.
At the mill, the detailed registry of the information allows us to detect real-time problems that could be affecting the quality of the coffee and the efficiency of the equipment. All of this is achieved through the implementation of a traceability program designed for a particular system.
This allows for the continuous recording of quantitative and qualitative variables that, when interpreted, can serve as a valuable, continuous diagnostic tool.
What defines the scope and complexity of a traceability system?
Traceability systems are designed according to the standards required to be met and the specific needs of the company. In our case, we identified these four elements as the most important.
The established objectives. These objectives established by the company (and in certain cases by the legal framework) define the scope and complexity of the traceability system. As a result, this defines the variables to be taken into consideration as well as the level of detail and data required.
Cost of implementation and availability of an investment in equipment and personnel by the company. This will define the feasibility of carrying out certain activities for data collection and interpretation.
As with the majority of the customized traceability systems, at Cuatro Caminos we started with a basic system: paper, pencil, and some excel sheets. After many years of managing this system, getting our team used to recording data and internalizing the value of this activity, we are shifting to digital software!! (more on that software in a future article)
Availability of staff. This refers to the number of people required for the implementation of the traceability program, as well as the personnel trained to carry out the activity.
Available data. Refers to the required data that may or may not be available. Likewise, it refers to the data that cannot be obtained, unless investment in equipment is made.
As you can see, traceability is much more than just a marketing term.
It is a useful and necessary management tool that can improve our operations on so many levels. All with the end goal of producing high quality, fully traceable, zero defect exportable coffee.