• QA 071
    What proportion of the global trade in coffee is shipped in bulk? How much can a bulk container hold and is there a minimum tonnage requirement?
    I would like to know what amount of trade is comprised of coffee shipped in bulk. How many tons can a bulk container hold and is there a minimum tonnage necessary to ship coffee in bulk?
    Asked by:
    Student - Germany

    It is our estimate that as much as 70 percent of all mainstream coffee  is today shipped in bulk.* Mainstream makes up over 90% of all coffee traded so we believe that around 65% of all coffee traded internationally is shipped in bulk. But the real figure could be (much) higher. Unfortunately exact data are not available and our information is based on feedback from coffee shipping and trading sources. Large mainstream roasters are the major receivers of bulk coffee and a number of them today accept nothing else. But for importers and smaller roasters, especially specialty roasters, the proportion of bulk is much less.

    The net content of a standard, general-purpose, steel TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent) container is on average about 21,000 kgs green coffee. However this varies, depending on the type of coffee being shipped (large beans can be as low as 19,000 kgs - small beans perhaps as much as 24,000 kgs). The maximum permitted weight of a TEU is 30,480 kgs gross (about 28,000 kgs net), but it is impossible to use the entire theoretical net weight capacity because coffee is relatively bulky.

    Ocean freight for coffee shipments is always charged per container. As such it is entirely up to the shipper to decide how much of the available space to use, respectively how much space to leave empty... However, bulk containers were in part developed as well to do away with handling and also from this perspective it would not appear to be beneficial to use them for small quantities only. Instead the semi-bulk option might be more advantageous, using Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers (FIBC's). A number of these can be combined in a single container, providing an intermediate solution between 100% bulk and conventional bags. For more on FIBC's go to www.fibca.com.

    Posted 31 January 2006

    * Go to section 11.02 for details of the quality segmentation of origin coffees. Note that in this context 'bulk container' refers to a general-purpose steel container, fitted with an inner liner.

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