Mercanta’s Stephen Hurst highlights the importance of standing by principles and looks to the future with optimism as 25-year anniversary in business approaches

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on January 17th 2021, 12:12pm

Mercanta The Coffee Hunters celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021, and the milestone could not come after a more testing year. 2020 will never be forgotten for the challenges that society and individuals worldwide have faced and continue to face, and the same applies to the specialty coffee business that provides a living for so many.

Managing director Stephen Hurst has already reflected much on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic with the Leaders Council, which has affected his business considerably. He and his team were left having to find ways to restructure virtually everything that they were committed to at origin, without cancelling or abandoning their purchase contracts. They also had to move ahead with business that had only been agreed on a “good faith” basis.

Staggeringly, Mercanta pressed ahead with doing business in this way, according to Hurst, when several other operators in the industry were already setting about cancelling their own origin purchase contracts.

In Hurst's eyes, it was never an option for Mercanta to operate in any way but the right way.

Writing on the Mercanta blog, Hurst said: “The Covid crisis exposed a moment in time when the power of commitments and long-standing came to mean something. I did have to reorganise and restructure many shipments, to plan product flow and inventory build-up. April 2020 sales were the worst in Mercanta’s recent history – and it was crucial to reposition incoming coffees to match the virtual halt of outgoing orders, at least for 4-6 weeks. But nothing at origin was cancelled, just reorganised.

“With a commodity coffee price hovering around US$1/lb, I felt our commitment to buying Arabica coffee at origin never less than $1.80/lb FOB was even more important/relevant.

“Many people buy unsustainably priced coffee, but the fascinating thing is nobody sells it. I actually have no problem with the reality of the world that a great deal of coffee is transacted at unsustainable prices, but I am yet to see any coffee sold as cheap and unsustainable. Another key point to the Mercanta Minimum Price guarantee is that we apply it to EVERY single arabica coffee purchase from origin [we conclude one robusta contract a year]. So many other companies buy some coffees at decent prices and but not all of them. Our policy is applied to 100 per cent of Mercanta arabica coffee purchases at origin.

“Principles and ethics need to be long-standing and durable in all weathers. And no challenge has arisen more complicated and visceral than Covid in 2020.”

Another significant source of pride for Hurst is that the business and the industry together have shown a significant amount of resilience and adaptability to keep connected and keep going through the crisis.

Mercanta itself comprises of 22 people spread across seven offices and coffee labs on three different continents, and through the use of technology and a concerted effort they have managed to remain connected and keep working through the pandemic.

Hurst adds: “Mercanta celebrates 25 years in 2021. I am at once pleased, surprised, and rather proud at the resilience and fortitude of the specialty coffee business, whose doom was announced earlier this year. I hope vaccines can eventually bring about a return to “normality” and some of the positive developments, even unexpected developments, over the past months may continue. Genuine quality on arrival will never go out of fashion, ethics in purchasing is not only socially responsible but good business as well, to guarantee and sustain the supply line of quality coffee for future years.

“I founded Mercanta 25 years ago. We are a small business of only 22 people in seven offices and coffee labs on three continents. My wish over New Year went out to that hand-picked team, as well as the plenitude of specialty coffee suppliers’ partners, so many of them personal friends, and other stakeholders in the specialty coffee supply chain that move fine quality beans from 15 producing countries to fine quality buyers in 42 countries.”

Thanks to the determination shown within the industry over the previous year and the fact that a lockdown-related increase in home coffee consumption has fuelled demand from clients that supply retailers, Hurst believes that through the remainder of the pandemic and as life slowly begins to return to normal, the sector can look ahead to the rest of 2021 with real optimism.

“2021 has the potential to be a very special year for many reasons, and I have every hope for the future of our business and the wider specialty coffee world. We are nothing without our customers, and I offer a special thanks to them for not only surviving but, in some cases, thriving, in these uncertain times.

“As long as fine quality, sustainably sourced, traceable, raw coffee beans are needed virtually anywhere in the world, Mercanta will be here to supply them.”

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
January 17th 2021, 12:12pm

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