A conversation with Dave Behrends

Good morning, Dave. Could you please tell me your current role?

I am the global head of trading and a partner at Sucafina.

What is the key to success in coffee trading?

To get to the top in physical trading, you must first master the fundamentals. Successful coffee traders have experience in operations and finance and understand research, balance sheets, costing structures – all the minutiae that make up our business.

Once you have that base, coffee is still a people business, so you need a certain charisma and an ability to work with people. You need to understand the complexities of what the more prominent brands want – what do you need to do on the sourcing side to meet your clients’ expectations today and tomorrow. Traders need foresight and vision. The business is evolving so rapidly that you will fall behind if you do not think about those things.

Today’s successful traders have more quantitative backgrounds than in the past; they understand and process data in a meaningful way more than trusting their gut instinct. They also need to be digital natives and have sustainability embedded into their DNA.

How important is coffee in terms of development?

Can coffee save the world? No, but we can improve farmer incomes for the 12.5 million coffee farms worldwide and remove some of the volatility inherent in the business. We can work towards better social and environmental practices. If we do that, we give our customers an additional reason to enjoy coffee, which drives more consumption and has an increased impact on the whole supply chain.

To what extent does traceability affect your ability to be a trader?

Traceability is fundamental to our business. If you go to a supermarket and pick up a product that doesn’t list the ingredients and nutritional information, you will probably put it back on the shelf. That is the way traceability is going. In the future, if you don’t know where a product comes from and its route to get to you, you won’t buy it. Not only that, but you also want to see the product’s environmental and social impact – you want to feel good purchasing it.

In a way, it de-commoditises the coffee supply chain. Different clients have different needs, and various producers harvest different coffees. As merchants, we are the bridge between the two.

We are also increasingly involved in prefinancing farmers, improving quality while reducing inputs within the supply chain. Increasing the visibility within the supply chain gives our clients greater confidence in buying from us. It moves us towards building long-lasting partnerships with producers and customers.

You were the founder and the driving force behind Farmer Connect. How is that going?

Farmer Connect is an end-to-end platform that allows participants to share traceability, price transparency and ESG data in a standardised way across the supply chain.

I am pleased with the progress so far. I never set out to be the founder of a tech start-up company. I was just a trader that believed in traceability – and I thought that traceability depended on data. There was no mechanism to get data from the farm to the consumer, and I felt we needed one.  However, when I spoke to brands and retailers, they constantly told me how hard it was to go into every supplier’s website and see the data presented in different formats.   Their big ask was that the industry rally around a standard solution.

Although I did help get Farmer Connect started, I am not involved in the day-to-day operations. I don’t want any conflicts of interest, and I genuinely hope that it can be a tool that benefits the entire industry, including competitors of Sucafina.  Farmer Connect has expanded now into cocoa and has quite a few conversations with other agriculture verticals, so I am pleased to see it become more than just a coffee traceability platform.

Additionally, brands using Farmer Connect have been pleased with their sales and consumer engagement.   For me, that further validates the voracious appetite consumers have to embrace new technologies and learn more about the products they love the most.

Thank you, Dave, for your time and input. 

© Commodity Conversations ® 2021

This is a short extract from my book Commodity Crops & The Merchants Who Trade Them – available soon.

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