Weaker coffee

Coffee prices have been falling on international commodity markets. In August, the International Coffee Organization’s ‘composite indicator price’ fell to its lowest level since September 2009 (see). This reflects changes in demand and supply. According to the ICO’s monthly Coffee Market Report for August 2013 (see):

“Total exports in July 2013 reached 9.1 million bags, 6.6% less than July 2012, but total exports for the first ten months of the coffee year are still up 3.6% at 94.5 million bags. In terms of coffee consumption, an increase of 2.1% is estimated in calendar year 2012 to around 142 million bags, compared to 139.1 million bags in 2011.”

But despite the fall in wholesale coffee prices, the price of a coffee in your local coffee shop, or of a jar of coffee in the supermarket, has not been falling. Is this what you would expect, given the structure of the industry? Is it simply a blatant case of the abuse of market power of individual companies, such as Starbucks, or even of oligopolistic collusion? Or are more subtle things going on?

The following articles look at recent trends in coffee prices at both the wholesale and retail level.


Coffee Prices Continue Decline Equities.com, Joel Anderson (17/9/13)
Arabica coffee falls Business Recorder (19/9/13)
Brazil Launches Measures to Boost Coffee Prices N. J. Douek, Jeffrey Lewis (7/9/13)
Coffee Prices Destroyed Bloomberg (4/9/13)
The surprising reality behind your daily coffee: The CUP costs twice as much as the beans that are flown in from South America Mail Online, Mario Ledwith (23/9/13)
Coffeenomics: Four Reasons Why You Can’t Get a Discount Latte Bloomberg Businessweek, Kyle Stock (19/9/13)
Here’s who benefits from falling coffee costs CNBC, Alex Rosenberg (9/9/13)
The great coffee rip-off is no myth Sydney Morning Herald, BusnessDay, Michael Pascoe (23/9/13)
Monthly Coffee Market Report International Coffee Organization (August 2013)


Coffee Prices ICO
ICO Indicator Prices – Annual and Monthly Averages: 1998 to 2013 ICO
Coffee, Other Mild Arabicas Monthly Price – US cents per Pound Index Mundi
Coffee, Robusta Monthly Price – US cents per Pound Index Mundi


  1. Why have wholesale coffee prices fallen so much since 2011? Are the reasons on the demand side, the supply side or both? Illustrate your answer with a supply and demand diagram.
  2. What determines the price elasticity of demand for coffee (a) on international coffee markets; (b) in supermarkets; (c) in coffee shops?
  3. Why has the gap between Arabica and Robusta coffee prices narrowed in recent months?
  4. Identify the reasons why coffee prices have not fallen in coffee shops.
  5. The cost of the coffee beans accounts for around 4% of the cost of a cup of coffee in a coffee shop. If coffee beans were to double in price and other costs and profits were to remain constant, by what percentage would a cup of coffee rise?
  6. How would you set about establishing whether oligopolistic collusion was taking place between coffee shops?
  7. What is meant by ‘hedging’ in coffee markets? How does hedging affect wholesale coffee prices?
  8. Explain the statement “If they have hedged correctly, Starbucks and such competitors as Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) are likely paying far more for beans right now than current market rates.”
  9. What are “buffer stocks”. How can governments use buffer stocks (e.g. of coffee beans) to stabilise prices? What is the limitation on their power to do so? Can buffer stocks support higher prices over the long term?
  10. What are “coffee futures”? What determines their price? What effect will coffee future prices have on (a) the current price of coffee; (b) the actual price of coffee in the future?