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    World's First Internet Coffee Auction a Success


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001 

    ITC co-organized the world's first on-line coffee auction, selling Brazilian specialty coffee to bidders around the world via the Internet, from 15 to 17 December 1999. The electronic auction generated excitement among buyers and sellers alike, attracting buyers around the globe and generating top-notch prices for Brazilian growers.

    Advance planning is the key 

    The auction, which took months of planning, was conducted as a partnership between the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association, and the Gourmet Coffee Project.

    The coffees auctioned were selected through a rigorous quality selection pro-cess developed by industry veteran George Howell, ITC quality consultant for the project. A "Best of Brazil" competition took place in October, for which 14 prominent international coffee experts were invited to taste over 300 samples. The top ten winning samples received a "Cup of Excellence" award, and were selected as the coffees for the worldwide electronic auction.

    The auction elicited great interest internationally. Bidding was fierce and included a number of American, Japanese and European firms. A specialty roaster from Norway, a well-known Italian broker and importers from the United States and United Kingdom were the winning bidders.

    Samples from each lot were sent in advance to interested bidders, along with information about the coffee and the farm.

    Rewarding growers 

    A successful element in the auction was its emphasis on rewarding growers for producing exceptional quality coffees. For consumers to receive consistently high-quality coffee, the farmer and the processor must share in the reward. "This event thrilled the Brazilian farmers who were involved, and will provide them an incentive to continue the extra effort needed to produce this type of coffee," remarked Marcelo Vieira, President of the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association. "In fact, some of the proceeds from the auction will go back to our association to enhance the quality farm programme."

    New marketing medium 

    The event serves as a model e-commerce project, showing how the Internet can be used successfully in promoting developing country exports. Even after the event, the auction continues to elicit interest in the coffee trade, and has been featured in several coffee industry magazines. ITC has also received requests from producers of other commodities around the world, who are looking at how they can replicate the experience and develop new marketing systems using the Internet.

    "These results confirm the success achieved by the Gourmet Coffee Project in demonstrating that Brazil can not only produce extremely fine coffees, but also secure appropriate premiums. They also indicate that e-commerce is a viable technology to facilitate trading of physical coffee," added Celsius Lodder, Executive Director of the International Coffee Organization.

    The Gourmet Coffee Project is managed as a pilot project by ITC, sponsored by the International Coffee Organization and financed mainly by the Common Fund for Commodities. The project aims to help Brazil, Burundi, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and Uganda develop and market high-quality coffees, in order to improve their export earnings. The project has developed new gourmet coffees from these countries, which were widely acclaimed among the coffee trade at specialist coffee conferences and trade fairs. The project's final results will be presented in May 2000 at a London-based workshop for all members of the International Coffee Organization.

    The Specialty Coffee Association of America and the International Coffee Organization contributed to this article. For more information about the Gourmet Coffee Project, see Forum 3/1998, or contact Morten Scholer, ITC Senior Market Development Adviser, at scholer@intracen.org