Re:co reimagined

With international travel abandoned and global trade shows cancelled due to COVID-19,  the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) decided to connect this year’s Re:co symposium in a digital way, bringing in-depth discussions to the households of hundreds.

This year’s Re:co involved two full days of live and recorded talks, experiences, and conversations from 16 to 17 July. Presentations were shared, sensory experiences enjoyed, and coffee breaks still encouraged.

In keeping with tradition, SCA’s Chief Research Officer Peter Giuliano kicked off proceedings.

“It’s been quite a year,” Giuliano told the virtual audience. “Since the time we were together last in Boston, so much has happened. In February we became aware of a problem, and that was before we even knew it was a pandemic. The events of the weeks since have been transformative to our culture and the specialty coffee industry.”

Giuliano reminded audiences that just before the first Re:co symposium in 2008, the economy crashed. And in the years since, the coffee market has experienced the C price crisis, market consolidation, and the rapid growth of the specialty coffee industry.

“Here at our symposium, we’ve discussed innovation, science, economics, and social issues, and will continue to do so through this year’s Re:Co digital and home experience,” Giuliano said.

Professor Laura Alfaro of Harvard Business School was the first presenter to talk about the macro economic factors shaping the course of the specialty coffee industry. She spoke about the pandemic impacting supply, demand, and financial decisions.

“It is a global economic shock that has impacted advanced, emerging, and developing countries,” Alfaro said. “This shock differentiates itself from the global financial crisis because emerging countries actually got out of the crisis very quickly and pulled the world economy [forward], but this time around, it’s affecting everyone.”  

SCA CEO Yannis Apostolopoulos presented on the impact COVID-19 had on the current state of the global coffee industry, in particular, it’s spread in the Americas – South and Central – where the majority of coffee is grown, and in the North, where the United States has enjoyed a reputation as the world’s highest consumer of coffee.

“The COVID-19 recession has seen the fastest, steepest downgrade at about 6 per cent in consensus growth projections among all global recessions since 1990,” Apostolopoulos said.

He noted there is a lot of speculation about what the industry’s recovery will be like.  Apostolopoulos predicted “potentially an L-shaped, slower recovery”, meaning businesses may not regain the position they held in Q4 2019 until 2022.

“Interestingly, there has not been a crisis that has impacted all countries this greatly since 1871, according to the World Bank, with most countries expected to face recessions in 2020,” he said.

Valuable insights on the current and future state of the industry were also shared by Jim Watson, Albert Scalla and Jan Anderson.

SCA Chief Sustainability and Knowledge Development Officer Kim Elena Ionescu, and Mario Fernandez passionately led the discussion on mapping pathways in specialty coffee between the farmer and consumer, with guests including Rene Leon-Gomez, Kyle Murphy, Rocco Macchiavelo, and Michelle Bhattacharyya. Each shared their perspectives on the different ways coffee is moving from its place of origin to  consumption.

Day two of Re:co saw Mansi Choskhi lead an important discussion on racial justice in the global specialty coffee industry and the urgent need for progress. Heather Ward invited a range of presenters to share their views on what the specialty coffee experiences will look like for consumers going forward, based on beverage preferences, experiences and innovation to keep up with industry advancements.

At the end of the sessions Giuliano thanked attendees for their participation and commended that this digital Re:co saw the most diverse audiences to date – geographically and age-wise.

“In every session, we saw about 300 sitting around listening, learning, and connecting with each other, which is exactly what Re:co is about,” he said.

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