From the Field, News, Resources for Roasters

Monday, October 3, 2022

Your Rainforest Alliance Questions Answered

Rainforest Alliance released their new sustainability standard in 2020. That standard is now in place and farms and supply chain actors are now required to be audited under the new standard. In order to learn more about the standard and how it impacts our producing partners and roasting clients, we spoke with Olivia Bartelheim, Strategic Account Manager, Global Coffee Traders, at the Rainforest Alliance. Olivia helped shed some light on a variety of issues including supply expectations, changes in cost structure and the temporary coffee supply shortage policy.

What is the current supply of coffee certified under the 2020 Rainforest Alliance (RA) Standard?

The volume of coffee certified to the 2020 program continues to grow. As of 29th September 2022, 77% of the combined volumes of the pre-merger UTZ and pre-merger RA standards are certified to the new program. The most significant recent process was made in Brazil and Peru.

In the pre-merger UTZ and pre-merger RA programs, many certificate holders (CH) were certified under both standards. Therefore, the total volume certified to the 2020 program will not be a 1:1 ratio.

The following graph shows the ratio of volumes certified to the 2020 program to volumes certified under the pre-merger programs during the previous year. These figures are constantly updated as more certificate holders receive their licenses to the 2020 Standard.

How have the costs of certification changed with the new standard? 

The increased requirements of the 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard and higher level of assurance have impacted auditing costs for Certificate Holders. We want our program to reward producers and deliver on buyers’ expectations for assurance without exceeding reasonable costs. We have made a few changes to directly reduce the costs of auditing while reasonably maintaining the quality of assurance.

  • We implemented a second transition year for farm certificate holders which means that, in their second year, they will only be audited against the core criteria. In subsequent years, they will also be audited against continuous improvement standards.
  • We revised the minimum audit duration calculator to reduce the number of minimum audit days for some certificate holders in less risky contexts.
  • We reduced the audit sample size for multi-farms and groups with large farms. This reduces the scope of the audit to a more reasonable level.
  • We developed guidance for certifying bodies (CB) to enable them to carry out follow-up verification audits remotely when appropriate.
  • We provided guidance to CBs to ensure that they take a risk-based approach to auditing and keep the audit duration manageable.
  • We designed the surveillance audits in the 3-year certification cycle to be more strategically focused on continuous improvement.
  • We keep the costs for CBs to operate in our system intentionally low so they do not pass on high participation costs to certificate holders (CHs). We charge a much lower fee to CBs to be accredited to audit our Standard than other certification schemes.

We also recognize that CHs and CBs are experiencing a learning curve that has an impact on cost. As CHs become more experienced in implementing the Standard and CBs become more experienced in auditing the standard, efficiencies will reduce costs.

How has Rainforest Alliance addressed supply shortages in the past few months?

Because verification under the new process has taken longer than in past years, suppliers are facing delays in receiving their licenses. The ongoing effects of COVID-19 on supply chains and adverse weather events that have reduced harvest volumes have also impacted availability. We have addressed the license delays through a policy that grants producers who meet certain criteria the ability to sell up to 50% of their estimated harvest volume before receiving their final certificate. To be eligible, a CH must have completed their audit and not have any open non-conformities on critical criteria like deforestation, traceability and child labor.

We have seen that pre-authorizations are a useful measure, so we are refining our approach to issuing them in the future so producers can obtain them faster. This will give producers access to their volumes in the traceability system earlier, enabling them to issue transaction certificates to their buyers.

Is UTZ still relevant? When does it phase out? Do I have to put a different logo on my coffee now?

We have been a fully merged organization since 2018 and producers are no longer implementing the pre-merger UTZ Code of Conduct or 2017 Rainforest Alliance Standard. Roasters labeling with the old Rainforest Alliance seal or UTZ logo can continue submitting trademark requests for products bearing the UTZ logo through December 31, 2022. Artwork approvals are valid for two years after the date of approval. We will never require companies to scrap packaging or remove products from shelves with the old Rainforest Alliance seal or UTZ label, but we do encourage companies to transition to the new Rainforest Alliance seal at their earliest convenience. More information about our timelines for labeling.

What does the new standard mean for my roastery’s certification status?

Roasters that purchase Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee have always been certified and participated in traceability. Your organization will continue to work with Rainforest Alliance in this way and you should be aware of the date your current certificate expires to guide your transition to the new certification program. We created a guide for coffee supply chain actors that explains the steps you need to take to get certified.  

What’s important to know is that the new certification program is “opt-in”, not “opt-out.” You need to ensure your organization is registered and completes an audit.

Do farmers receive premiums with this new model?

Farmers have always received premiums for Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. In the 2020 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard, these premiums are reported as Sustainability Differential and Sustainability investments to make the costs associated with sustainable coffee production more transparent to all actors in the value chain and to ensure farmers are rewarded for their efforts and investments. The Sustainability Differential (SD) is a mandatory cash payment to the farm certificate holder. It is intended to be transferred in full to group members in case of a group certificate holder and to be used in full for worker benefits in case of a medium to large farm certificate holder. Sustainability Investments (SI) are defined as payments to the farm certificate holder in cash or kind with the specific purpose of helping them meet the Farm Requirements of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard and continuous improvement at the farm certificate holder level. These will be based on an investment plan drawn up by the farm certificate holder. The value of SD and SI is not determined by the Rainforest Alliance for coffee; the market sets these values.

The amount of SD and SI producers receive for the sale of Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee is reported by the producer and confirmed by the buyer in the traceability platform for all volumes sold. Downstream buyers, including roasters, now have transparency on the payments producers receive associated with SD and SI for each purchase of Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee.

The Rainforest Alliance definitely sees a need for improving our guidance and support to our partners on SD and SI. We are working on aligning our guidance documents and training.

What is the Temporary Coffee Supply Shortage Policy?

The coffee industry has faced significant challenges over the last year that have impacted our partners’ ability to source enough Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee for their products bearing the RA seal or UTZ label. In July, we released a new policy permitting manufacturers, packers, and roasters of consumer-facing coffee products to temporarily reduce the percentage of certified content in their product. Here are more specifics on how this policy works and what rules roasters must follow.

Sucafina remains committed to supplying RA-certified coffee. If you have any questions, you can contact your trader or, for more detailed RA questions, contact Rainforest Alliance.