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  • Bulk coffee in containers: background

     
     

    Recent years have seen a substantial increase in the movement of coffee in bulk, using normal dry containers fitted with a liner. Exact data are not readily available but informed shipping sources suggest that for a number of large producing countries most shipments, other than to the United States, are now 'in bulk'.

    Shippers save on the cost of bags (and there is no need to dispose of them at the receiving end), minus of course the cost of the liner. Also, a container can hold about 21 tons of coffee in bulk compared to only about 18 tons in bags. This payload increase of almost 17% represents a freight saving of about 15% per container (basis US$ 1,000 per container). And at the receiving end the inland transport of say 50,000 tons green coffee in bulk a year for a large roaster is reduced from 2,777 movements of 18 tons to 2,380 movements of 21 tons. In Brazil, for instance, 2 million bags shipped in bulk means close to 1,000 fewer individual containers! Other obvious advantages are time and labour savings because bulk containers are emptied mechanically, using a tilt chassis. (Jumbo bags or super sacks are much larger than conventional bags, holding as much as 500 kg or more. They are mostly used for intermediate transport cum storage and must not be confused with liners that make use of the container's entire load capacity which jumbo/super sacks cannot.)

    But there are other advantages, which are not always immediately apparent.

    • Coffee in bulk arrives in a better condition than coffee in bags when shipped under similar conditions: Air in-between the beans and in-between the bags is called interstitial air. Interstitial air in a bulk load hardly moves since the individual beans are obstructing the free flow of air, so the hot air cannot easily move to the top of the container. As a result the temperature of the inside air at the top of the container is lower for bulk coffee than for coffee in bags, and the risk of condensation is reduced. This is why the saddle stow (previous page) is recommended for bagged coffee.
    • There are far fewer claims on coffee shipped in bulk: Shipping in bulk avoids most of the problems associated with bagged cargo: no baggy smells any more, no weight losses due to handling, generally better preservation of quality. When correct liners and procedures are used, and the coffee is shipped at the correct moisture content, there are far fewer claims on coffee shipped in bulk than there are on coffee shipped in bags - according to some, claims are reduced by up to two-thirds. Good quality liners also help to preserve coffee quality.

    In recent years, a few of the originators of the bulk coffee shipping process have patented in the United States some of the more ingenious parts of the bulk liner. The patents are on the strapping and bulkhead systems that hold the liner in place when the container doors are opened. All major importers and roasters in the United States have been cautioned to use only licensed liners for coffee shipments. As no one has contested the patent claims, the United States coffee industry has more or less agreed to use only licensed liners for coffee shipments. Shippers should therefore check with their United States buyers what brands of liners are licensed under present patents.

    Most shipping companies and freight forwarders will be able to provide information on the availability and cost of liners but it may be advisable to obtain your buyer's agreement before choosing any particular type or make. Note also that coffee should only be shipped in bulk with the buyer's prior consent.

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