Coffee Global Quality Research Initiative

“Have you considered the price of not doing coffee research?”

Dr. Petiard.This is the question I was first asked as I sat down with Dr. Vincent Petiard to discuss GCQRI coffee research.  A candid speaker and esteemed researcher, Dr. Petiard has been in the coffee and cocoa business for over a quarter of a century.  Originally a breeder, Dr. Petiard became involved in the coffee industry through his work with Nestle.

Now, Dr. Petiard is executive VP of Nature Source Genetics a company he co-founded with two scientists from plant breeding at Cornell University. He also accepted to serve as the Technical Committee Chairperson for the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative (GCQRI).  In our conversation, he briefed me on the progress of the GCQRI research agenda and Technical Committee while explaining the urgency of beginning collaborative research.

“It is important to know that GCQRI is not a 6-month program; this is a long-term project.  You cannot improve the situation within 6 months, but not beginning now is really putting the future of the crop at risk.”   Dr. Petiard is concerned by the threats to the coffee industry – the competition with other more profitable tropical crops, the effects of climate change and threat of pandemic catastrophe combined with the existing paucity in research raise fear about the future of the coffee industry.  Dr. Petiard puts it bluntly, “No crop, no business. More expansive crop, less business. I’m sorry to be so brutal but that’s the reality of the situation.”

To mitigate these risks and improve quality, GCQRI has begun to develop its technical advisory committee which will carry out research that is collaborative in nature.  When asked about the benefits of collaborative research, Dr. Petiard responded by first offering a distinction between competitive and precompetitive issues.  “Precompetitive” issues are those issues which are universal to all stake holders such as the risk of shortage, increasing productivity and increasing the livelihood of coffee growers.  Therefore, with precompetitive issues, sharing the cost of research between companies is for the benefit of everyone.  However, a “competitive” issue might be a certain flavor compound unique to one coffee company who will not share that information with other companies.

Dr. Petiard explains: “Something that has to be well understood is when running precompetitive projects, you can screen in a collaborative way for precompetitive traits, but you can also screen for your own competitive purposes.  All of the information that belongs to the precompetitive process will be shared.  However, if each company wants to screen for a specific flavor trait, it could be run individually and those results could be kept fully confidential. This method will benefit all players in the chain and not preclude one player from creating something more competitive for itself.”
Despite individual interests, Dr. Petiard believes “these coffee companies are facing the same problems: securing the supply, differentiating the product and better knowledge of the raw material.”  The research objectives of GCQRI are designed to meet each of these problems, simply characterized as either supply or quality.  Dr. Petiard said that in order to improve coffee quality, “the first thing is to know and agree on is what quality is and in order to do so we must develop common sensory criteria.”  This is the one of the first projects that GCQRI has been working on with sensory analyst Paul Songer.

Dr. PetiardUpon determining what quality is, Dr. Petiard asserts we must understand what is making the quality – is it genetic, the environment, post harvest treatment, or is it the roasting?  “And this is where we have to make things quite clear.  Each of these phases may influence the quality and each of them could be optimized.  However, we very well know that variety is a prerequisite.  You will never get a good quality from a bad variety just by using a good environment, post harvest practices and roasting.  You cannot get something that didn’t exist at the beginning.”

Dr. Petiard further explains “That doesn’t mean that GCQRI won’t have to look at other processes, it is clear that all of these factors will impact quality at the end.  But we have put emphasis on variety because it can deal with both aspects of the project, that is, supply and quality.”
Dr. Petiard ended our interview by explaining that “coffee consumers are concerned with issues of sustainability and are beginning to ask key questions. GCQRI could provide the industry with answers.”  He goes on to say, “If research is done in a collaborative way, it will improve the global image of the coffee industry.  If a consumer hears something bad about one coffee company it will be negative for the whole coffee industry. So it’s better to be together than separated in this process.”GCQRI is poised to be the impetus and uniting entity behind this research, will you join us?
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