A mentor of mine within the coffee industry had a worry come to fruition..
On his way to work one morning, he received a phone call. It was an international number, a number from Guatemala to be exact. He answers the phone. It's his middle-man.
"You need to get down here quick. The big guys have pulled up with their truck, and they are wanting to buy the entire plantation's production this year."
Immediately, he books the first flight available.
He arrives in Guatemala and is able to work everything out. Crisis averted. But, the damage has already been done. He will have to worry about the big guy for years to come...
(The big guy is - you guessed it - Starbucks)
While many specialty coffee importers worry about this sort of occurrence, this isn't just a worry for me. It's a nightmare. It's something I am always thinking about.
Ecuador is untapped. There are multiple barriers to overcome if someone wants to import from the country, but, like all things, it's just a matter of time. Eventually, the big guy will come knocking on my door.
With this nightmare in mind, I considered ways to diversify our supply chain. While El Oro has some incredible products, we needed to bring in coffee from other regions of Ecuador.
So, Arturo and I strategically planned over this past year. He attended multiple coffee conferences across the country. He networked and visited farms in the most remote locations. In doing so, we found farmers on the other side of the country who not only had incredible coffee but who desperately needed buyers.
However, an important question loomed: How in the world were we going to ship the coffee from the northernmost region of Ecuador to the southernmost region? This is a question I needed to go to Ecuador to answer.
In Ecuador, I meet with the head of our shipping company that we utilized last year, Alex Armijos. I tell Alex that we have found a couple of farmers in Ibarra (Northern region), and we would like to bring their coffee to Pinas, so we can process and ship to The States.
Alex responds, "We've never shipped from there before."
I ask him, "Do I need to find someone else?"
He quickly answers, "We can do it."
Do it - he did.
On July 2, 2018, after 2 days in transit, 5,000 pounds of coffee from Ibarra, Ecuador, safely arrived to Pinas, Ecuador. This marked the first time that Z Beans Coffee was able to diversify and purchase coffee from northern Ecuador, and the first time that Armal Express (Alex's company) was able to go up into the mountains of Ibarra and successfully transport coffee.
Often times, to diversify we must leave our comfortable state. We must venture outside of the norm and push the limits. When I talked to Alex the day after the coffee was delivered, he told me, "Shane, I didn't sleep at all while the coffee was in transit. I kept checking up on my guys every hour, making sure they were okay." I assured Alex that I didn't sleep a second either..
While we have successfully diversified our supply chain by purchasing coffee from a different region of Ecuador, we still have a long ways to go with Z Beans. I'm constantly worrying about another business moving in and undercutting my supply chain. However, on the other hand, something tells me Z Beans will be just fine. Something tells me that the countless hours I have spent with the farmers, building tables, meeting their families, and donating organic fertilizers, will prevail in the end. It's one thing to simply purchase coffee from them, but it's something completely different to invest in them.
You give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
While I like to think our farmers will remain loyal, I understand this is a business. Thus, we will continue to work hard everyday. We will continue diversifying our supply chain to ensure that we can continue supplying you with the highest quality coffee Ecuador has to offer.