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Behind the Beans: Starbucks

A bag of Starbucks House Blend Medium Whole Bean Coffee

The worldwide coffee giant labels its House Blend Medium as “Latin America Whole Bean Coffee.” Starbucks public relations says: “We believe there’s a connection between the farmers who grow our coffees, us and you. That’s why we work together with coffee-growing communities—paying prices that help farmers support their families and improve their farms, and funding education, healthcare and environmental projects that benefit those communities. It’s all part of our commitment to sustainable growing practices and an equitable relationship with farmers that allows us to deliver superior coffee to you.”

According to the company, its Arabica coffee beans are produced in Latin America, Africa, Oceania and Asia. “Finding and purchasing the best green beans in the world is the first step that differentiates Starbucks Coffee from the rest of the coffee industry.” Starbucks stores are now found around the globe, from Cyprus to Qatar.

As one of the most popular coffee companies in the world—earning 5.8 billion dollars in net revenues during the first three quarters of 2006—Starbucks has been slammed with accusations regarding fair business practices. The company does sell the Fair Trade Certified Café Estima blend, but the coffee is only available as whole beans, and not brewed in stores.

The Ethiopian government asked Starbucks to sign a licensing agreement that would allow the country legal control over the names of its coffees, thus setting an export price that would guarantee better wages for coffee farmers. Control of coffee name brands could increase Ethiopia’s export income by more than 88 million dollars each year. While Starbucks consumers might pay 20 dollars a pound for Ethiopian coffees, the farmers earn less than ten percent of the retail value.

Although the company only buys two percent of its coffee from Ethiopia, Starbucks initially tried to legally block the country’s trademarking efforts. However, in early May 2007, Starbucks softened its stance and reached an agreement “in principle” with the Ethiopian government on a licensing, distribution and marketing deal that would recognize the importance and integrity of the nation's specialty coffee names.

Read about Whole Foods >>

modified 5/8/07


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