10 tips for finding European coffee buyers
Europe has the largest number of coffee buyers in the world and each has its own approach to business, its own expectations and specific demands. As a result, finding the right buyer can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Be prepared that it takes time. Work through the following tips to help you find your European buyers.
Contents of this page
- Explore your target market
- Use sector and trade associations
- Participate and visit trade fairs and events
- Contact trade promotion agencies, embassies and chambers of commerce
- Use online trading sites
- Get to know your buyers
- Use the trade press for market information
- Use online marketing
- Tell your story – make it marketable
- Be persistent
Before starting your search for European buyers, it is important to understand the characteristics of your target market. Each national coffee market in Europe differs from the next. These differences may relate to factors such as consumption patterns, levels of trading, preferences for specific coffee varieties, how many roasters there are and how big these roasters are.
You need to profile the target market and its structure. You need to ask yourself questions like: which markets and channels offer the most opportunities for your product? What is the demand for coffee per country? Who else supplies your variety of coffee to Europe? Where and how do they enter the European market?
Analyse this market information and identify the main coffee buyers and their requirements. Without this market knowledge, you will limit your success.
- Consider which entry channel is most suitable for your company: directly to coffee roasters, through an importer or trader, or through an agent or broker. Or maybe you are too small, and need to export through an exporter in your own country, for the time being.
- Define your unique selling points and what you have to offer to European buyers.
- Read our study on the demand for coffee in Europe.
- Read our study on the channels and segments in the coffee sector.
- Compile your own trade statistics on ITC Trade Map and/or EU Export Helpdesk: My Export. (Trade statistics for coffee can be found under Chapter 9 of the Harmonised System (HS) Code.)
- Read the annual European Coffee Report. It is also a valuable source for more quantitative and qualitative information on the European coffee market.
- Learn more about the European (and other international) coffee markets in “The Markets for Coffee” from the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) Coffee Guide, chapter 2.
- Use the International Coffee Organisation’s coffee trade statistics per country in your market research.
The European Coffee Federation (ECF) plays a prominent role in representing the interests of traders, roasters, manufacturers and other companies involved in the European coffee sector. The companies affiliated to the ECF represent a total import volume of about 40 million bags. In other words, more than half of the world trade volume.
ECF and its associated members publish lists of member companies on their websites. This is a good source of information on buyers in different European countries. You can find potential buyers on the European Coffee Federation’s member list (see the company members). Also check the websites of the national associations that are mentioned. Focus on associations in countries which have a high demand for your product.
Participating in, and visiting trade fairs, coffee events and festivals is a good way of meeting potential buyers. It is also a very good way of acquiring market information. If you exhibit at a trade fair, you can increase exposure for your company and your products. You can also assess your competition.
It is best to find out whether or not a trade fair is interesting for your company. You can do this as a visitor. This is less expensive than exhibiting and is recommended as a first and initial step.
Visit the booths of coffee importers. Introduce your company and establish initial business contacts. Study the trade fair catalogues online before you go. This is a good way of identifying potential buyers in advance.
Most online trade fair catalogues allow you to search specifically for coffee companies. The most important trade fairs in the coffee sector are:
- SCAE World of Coffee - European trade fair with a focus on specialty coffee, held every two years in different European cities.
- COTECA - international trade fair for coffee, tea and cocoa in Hamburg, Germany, held every two years.
- Tea & Coffee World Cup – international coffee trade fair, held annually in different cities worldwide.
- Triestespresso Expo – trade fair specialised on espresso coffee, held every two years in Trieste, Italy.
- BioFach – the most important international exhibition for organic food and fair trade products, held every year in Nurnberg, Germany. It is a crucial trade fair for companies that sell organic-certified coffee.
- Anuga - is the world’s leading food fair for the retail trade and the food service and catering market. It can be a useful trade fair to discover new trends and to learn about the European consumer market for coffee. It is held annually in Cologne, Germany.
- SIAL - is one the world’s largest food exhibitions, encompassing a number of food ingredients and final products, including coffee companies. SIAL is held every two years in Paris, France.
Other interesting events are:
- European Coffee Symposium - the leading event for senior executives from across the European coffee shop and food-to-go sector.
- London Coffee Festival - the UK’s largest coffee and artisan food event.
- Caffe Culture Show – the main gathering event for the café and coffee community in the UK.
- Kaffeecampus – one of the largest coffee events in Germany, bringing together coffee growers, logistic parties, green coffee traders, roasters, suppliers, gastronomes, baristas and consumers.
- Amsterdam Coffee Festival - a two-day event celebrating Amsterdam’s coffee scene.
- Dublin Coffee Festival - a show dedicated to the coffee and tea scene, including production, catering and equipment.
- Check out the exhibitors’ lists of the above-mentioned events to find out whether they are interesting for you.
- Make appointments with exhibitors in advance; you can find their contact information on the website of the specific trade fair / event.
- Set clear objectives and targets for yourself, whether you are an exhibitor or a visitor.
- Write down questions which you cannot answer directly in your notebook or on a business contact form.
- After the trade fair or event, follow up on specific requests such as quotations, further information on the company / product and certificates.
Many European countries have governmental organisations promoting imports from developing countries. They target mostly mostly small and medium size enterprises in selected partner countries that aim to export their products to Europe.
Next to the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), there are other organisations active in the coffee sector like:
- Belgian Development Agency (BTC) in Belgium
- Finnpartnership in Finland
- Import Promotion Desk (IPD) in Germany (in cooperation with CBI)
- Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) in Switzerland.
Check which import promotion organisation of your interest specifically targets your country.
Think about applying for export programmes. These offer matchmaking services and support for exhibiting at trade fairs, for example.
In addition to these agencies, you can contact your country’s embassies in Europe, as well as European Chambers of Commerce with offices in your country or region. Examples are:
- Ethiopian-Netherlands Business Association
- German-Colombian Chamber of Industry and Commerce
- Indonesian-Benelux Chamber of Commerce.
As a coffee exporter, it is important for you to join your national / regional coffee association. These can offer interesting services, such as up-to-date market and price information, trade fair participation and marketing support. Examples are:
- African Fine Coffees Association
- Uganda Coffee Federation
- Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation
- Anacafé (Guatemala).
- Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia.
Online trading sites are not very popular in the coffee sector as a whole. Most European buyers require direct contact with suppliers for a detailed assessment of your potential. Nevertheless, there are online trading sites which provide access to coffee buyers in less traditional market channels such as microlots and other niche markets. This is a new trend in the coffee trade.
- Alliance for Coffee Excellence is a recommended online trading website for high-quality coffees. It puts you in contact with buyers of micro lots. It is difficult to access this very small market segment any other way.
- Organic-Bio could be an interesting database of potential buyers of organic coffee.
- Similarly, the FLOCERT website provides a list of Fairtrade-certified operators worldwide, including buyers in Europe (Select “Product category” and "Coffee").
- Check whether portals as: Cropster or Algrano could be useful for you.
- Read our study about the market channels and segments in the coffee sector for more information about market entry strategies.
- Use online trading sites to help you map your target markets.
- For high-quality coffees, try the Alliance for Coffee Excellence trading website.
- Find buyers of organic coffee at Organic-Bio
- Find Fairtrade-certified operators on the FLOCERT website.
Once you have found a potential buyer, it is important to understand their business, their culture and their individual requirements and demands. Coffee buyers differ significantly from country to country, and this can make the next steps in doing business quite challenging.
Visit the website of the buyer you have found. Uncover as much information as you can about their business, their philosophy and business practices.
Find out which segment they operate in, for example. Do they buy mainstream or niche products such as speciality, organic, and fair trade coffee? Do they expect certification or specific requirements on bean quality, packaging or transportation?
Contact them directly to find out.
What are the trends in the coffee sector? What influences business in Europe? And what affects your (potential) buyer’s decision-making and business practices? The only way to find out is by keeping yourself up-to-date on market news.
Find out what is going on in the coffee sector. Follow market developments published in trade magazines and market trends. This can also be a good way of assessing the competition. You could also consider using magazines for advertising your business and your products to your new target audience.
However, magazines can also function as a way of finding potential buyers. Not only do these publications bring up-to-date information on the coffee sector, but also provide a database of potential buyers (such as traders and roasters).
The following magazines or news portals focus exclusively on coffee:
- Coffee & Cocoa International – coffee news and a Buyer's Guide Index.
- Tea and Coffee Trade Journal - when you subscribe to it, you get a free copy of the UKERS Guide, a very useful catalogue for finding potential buyers and placing your own ad.
The following journals could also be interesting for coffee exporters:
- Comunicaffe Magazine – coffee news and advertisement possibilities.
- Global Coffee Report – coffee industry news and advertisement possibilities.
- Public Ledger – one of the main information sources for various agricultural commodities, including coffee. Full access to the news items requires an annual subscription.
- Study our tips for doing business with European coffee buyers.
- Keep yourself up-to-date on market news by exploring the websites mentioned above.
- Consider using magazines as way of advertising your products.
- Find potential buyers in the company directories of the magazines given above, such as the Buyer's Guide Index of the Coffee & Cocoa International.
- Learn about your competition by browsing through the ads of other producers / exporters in your own country and elsewhere.
The right marketing can help you to be successful in Europe. Choose professional marketing to communicate an image of reliability and credibility. A professional website is a vital tool for this. Social media is another.
A high-quality website offers you the opportunity to market your business and your product(s). You will need to include the following aspects:
- Coffee varieties, grades, sensory characteristics
- Origin of your products
- Quality and delivery reliability
- Certificates: mention the year of certification and explain how it contributes to the quality of your products and services. Certificates can be related to quality management or ethical aspects such as Fair Trade, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and organic. Read our study about buyer requirements for more information about certification.
- The mission and history of your company
- Describe your company’s processes for implementing and monitoring quality.
- ‘News’: give recent, updated information about your coffee region. Give an overview of your travels, market visit or trade fairs, and any other news item that could be interesting for potential buyers.
Internet also provides increasing possibilities for marketing and communication. Online video sharing platforms, such as YouTube, make it possible for you to refer potential buyers to a video about your company.
European buyers are regularly active on social networks, such as like Facebook and LinkedIn. These types of social media platforms can help you to find and get to know European buyers. However, two-way communication predominantly takes place through e-mail, phone and face-to-face contact.
- Communicate reliability and credibility with a professional website
- Use video sharing platforms, such as YouTube to advertise your company’s best qualities
- Take a look at this example.
- Find and get to know European buyers using social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Collaborate with others to promote your country, region or sector as a whole.
What makes your business stand out? Where do your products come from? And how are they grown? Many coffee buyers are interested in the answers to questions like these, and use them as a story to distinguish their products (sourced from you) from those of the competition.
Frequently, these types of stories are closely linked to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). You see a lot of this type of marketing in the speciality coffee segment.
Think about what your story is. What sets you apart from the competition and how do you contribute to society? Certifications are very important tools to underline your story and to emphasise the quality of your coffee. The main certifications for coffee are:
- UTZ Certified
- Rainforest Alliance
- 4C Association
- C.A.F.E. Practices
- Nespresso AAA Program
- Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO)
- Read our study about buyers requirements for more information about certificatio.
- Research your target market(s) before engaging in costly and time-consuming certification processes.
- Discuss certification needs with your (potential) buyers.
- Contact local representatives of the different certification schemes to ask for information.
- Look for certification services and training possibilities in your region/country.
- Never make claims that you cannot support.
It takes time before a buyer decides making a contract with a new coffee supplier. Usually, he has a number of good suppliers with longstanding relations. Do not expect to have a deal after you submitted a first coffee sample: Sometimes, it takes one or two years of exchange of information and samples, before you get an order.
- Make sure you have someone who speaks English available, and who checks and answers emails every day.
- If a buyer does not answer, do not hesitate to remind him and ask for feedback on the cupping of your coffee sample
- Plan your export marketing activities: schedule Skype/phone calls to prospects, schedule updating the ‘News’ tab on your website, and inform all prospects when you visit Europe for example.