Demystifying the Coffee Supply Chain

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Coffee is the most popular beverage globally. From agriculture to waste management, the coffee supply chain undergoes many stages to deliver your morning coffee fix.

Coffee bean supply depends on many dynamic factors such as weather conditions, insect induced spoilage and the political and socio-economic influences of the coffee producing countries. The entire supply chain includes farmers, manufacturers, global transporters, exporters, importers and retailers, with factors affecting inventory management at every stage.


Coffee comes from the seed of the Coffea genus, a flowering plant that grows in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The agricultural phase includes the cultivation of green coffee, with different treatments such as soil management, fertilisation, pest treatment and harvesting dependant on whether the coffee is conventionally or organically farmed.

There are many factors affecting inventory management at the cultivation stage. Picking the ripe coffee beans is a repetitive, manual task. The fruit or seed is picked when a bright red colour and not all seeds ripen at the same time. Inclement weather can damage crops, affecting harvest volumes and bean quality.

Transport and Distribution

Transportation and logistics operations represent a sizeable and significant network within the global coffee supply chain. From farm to factory, manufacturer to retailer, coffee beans will make several stops before reaching their destination at your local café or your kitchen cupboard.

Factors affecting inventory management exist throughout the supply chain and greater stability is required the greater the number of supply chain intermediaries. A stable and cost-efficient supply chain relies on good relationships and trust between all parties.


Roasting, grinding and packaging was once the domain of large manufacturers and commercial operations. Today, smaller establishments are purchasing the green coffee bean to roast and grind, creating new and unique blends for the coffee connoisseur.


No longer limited to supermarket purchased instant, freeze dried and plunger coffees, we can now purchase whole coffee beans to grind at home. A plethora of coffee machines allow us to have a virtual café on our kitchen bench.

Coffee is now a burgeoning industry of many flavours, hot, cold and ready-to-drink selections that we can purchase from an ever-expanding choice of cafes and mobile coffee outlets. But, coffee connoisseurs are looking for more than just great tasting quality brews. They also expect producers and manufacturers to support ethical trade and sustainable practices.

Customers more frequently are seeking out coffee products with Fair Trade and Forest Alliance Certifications. One of the key factors affecting inventory management within the coffee industry is to ensure transparency throughout the supply chain.

Waste Management

The coffee bean journey doesn’t end with the consumption of your daily espresso, long black or macchiato. Environmentally sustainable practices require proper waste management and recycling of the used coffee grounds is a valuable component of the coffee supply chain.

Recycling initiatives include the composting of coffee grounds for use as soil fertilisers, conditioners and mulch. Coffee waste is an excellent substrate for mushroom cultivation. The grounds can also be converted into pallets, turning them into a source of renewable fuel that can be used in wood-burning stoves.

Progressive new industries and enterprises are converting coffee waste into flour products and turning bio-waste into fuels. This could mean that even your vehicle of the future will rely on a caffeine fix to get going in the morning.

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Melanie - Unleashed Software

Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.

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