Red Fox Logistics: Jajaira Guerrero is Key

As a green coffee company, Red Fox has always had a particular focus on logistics as a critical factor in coffee quality and utility—coffee delivered on time after as little transit as possible as close as possible to the original harvested crop, that comes exactly when customers expect and need it to, is coffee at its most valuable. As Covid-19 scrambled global logistics in every way imaginable over the last 2+ years, it’s a critical arena in which we’ve further doubled down. There’s a lot that’s gone into that process, and the work and systems of Logistics Manager Jajaira Guerrero have been key.

Communication

Now more than ever, constant effective communication from the cooperative level all the way through shipping is essential to moving coffee. Logistics Manager Jajaira Guerrero owns this task and has made it so that in a year where it can take over 20 days to get a booking where in previous years it would have taken one, we’re tracking very close to our shipping timelines and can consistently and accurately project when and where coffees are moving. 

As soon as we’re ready to start moving a coffee, Jajaira starts by communicating with the coop about how individual samples they’ve sent us have been bulked together into contracts or individual shipped lots. She then works with them to coordinate the timing of the transportation in order to keep the coffee in the best possible climatic conditions for as long as possible before they move into Lima—which means also coordinating when the mill and ship dates are.  

She gets the coffee to Lima and coordinates dry milling with both the dry mill team and our team, including prep specifications for the mill and on-site supervision by our staff. 

After that, the heaviest pieces of logistics have to come into play: handling customs, getting containers inspected for phytosanitary certifications, making sure containers get loaded and moved to port at the proper time, and making sure the vessel gets loaded and shipped on time. All of that is impossible without constant and transparent communication. Throughout this process, our team is also kept aware of where coffees are within their journey by both active communication and cloud-based databases. 

Efficiencies

Another critical factor in shipping effectively in 2022 is the efficiencies Jajaira has helped create for our team. With an employment background including customs management, freight forwarding agencies, traffic for a large importer/exporter, and working directly with a coop for five years, Jajaira understands all sides of the process and brings that knowledge to the rest of the team. 

One of the main efficiencies Jajaira has built into our systems is how we work with coops in exportation. We consolidate coffees from different producer groups into a single container and then work directly with coop leaders to determine who’s the designated exporter at the time. We’re also certified as an exporter in Peru, but exporting is a critical metric for the coops we work with in terms of how they measure their own success. So in order to make sure every group we work with gets to meet this metric, we rotate between coops and coordinate who is listed as the exporter—most importantly, while getting all the different groups into one container and getting it moving as a consolidated shipment. There’s a lot of work that goes into that in terms of figuring out and dividing up costs and making sure all documents are in order and in the right place. That’s allowed us to move coffee a lot faster while also maximizing and optimizing container space, which is more valuable than ever and not looking to become less valuable any time soon. 

This strategy allows us further agility in that we don’t have to wait until we have enough coffee from one coop before we can move the container—instead, we can compose a container from up to five coops headed to a single destination while still meeting coops’ exportation needs.

Traceability

In addition to the previous systemization of multi-coop exporting, Jajaira helped move us into getting individual ICO numbers for each lot which is an immense help in staying organized and fully traceable when coffees arrive at the warehouse in the US. It wouldn’t be possible to ship mixed containers in this way if we didn’t have a great system for tracking them, and not only has this increased efficiency, it’s helped us go even deeper on traceability. 

Challenges & Persistence

We’ve covered it extensively in our Harvest & Shipment Updates, but the container shortage and compounding logistics struggles at every level starting in 2020 and snowballing through the present have made persistence a key attribute in effective logistics. The container shortage has had a trickle down effect on literally everything. 

For some context on the most recent Peru season, the Peru coffee shipping season starts in March—that’s long before our shipping season starts, but what it means is that the container shortage had already jammed up everything by the time we even began our season. Not just getting bookings for shipping but even getting dry mill slots was challenging—we’ve continuously been able to leverage our relationships and get priority in the dry mill but it’s still a bottleneck where it hasn’t been in the past. The same shortages the US is experiencing with truckers was exacerbated in Peru: what was already a really intense season for milling and shipping nationwide compounded by a limited number of truckers and dry mills (especially in our case where we partner closely with just a couple dry mills who mill microlots) led us into a tighter and more expensive competition for just about everything pre-export within our limited time frame. Even little things like getting bags marked became more competitive than it ever had been. Other surprises like the large earthquake in Amazonas led to collapsed roads, adding even more challenges. 

With all of those already tightly linked processes backlogged, the rainy season, which we would usually only see at the tail-end of our shipping season, brought its own set of complications, including mudslides leading to platform collapses. At a similar point, grape and mango season begin, increasing competition for refrigerator (“reefer”) containers. Doing things later makes things trickier—these challenges always exist, but usually only at the very end of our season. This year was different. And of course, costs and competition for containers and bookings went up and up and up, increasing by the month and sometimes week. 

Through all this, persistence and flexibility were key. We would book as many as four times the amount of bookings we would actually be able to retain so that cancellations didn’t have to change our schedule to the same degree, keep in close communication with every relevant partner, and stay in the competition. 

The Future

We don’t know when these challenges will ease up. What was once a simple matter of getting Covid-19 under control (no longer even a simple matter in and of itself) is now a deeply complicated backlog of literally every part of the conveyor belt that moves necessary goods from place to place. What we do know is that without the efficient systems created by Jajaira and further honed in the crucible of the pandemic and global logistics crisis, we wouldn’t be delivering coffee on schedule and in great condition. All crises are growth opportunities, and we’re lucky to be stronger than ever as we head into the future. 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

On Naturals & a Sense of Place

From Aleco Chigounis, Co-Founder & CEO

Naturally processed coffees, or sundried process as they’re known in Ethiopia, are enigmatic fodder for conversation in the coffee industry. Every coffee professional has some sort of volatile history with them. We love them. We hate them. We love them anew. We defend them. We build philosophies about them. Why we offer them or, as in my case, why they don’t fit my buying mantra. Terms like ‘cleanliness,’ ‘process laden,’ ‘fabricated flavor,’ and ‘borderline fruit’ are those that allowed us to draw a line in the sand in the past.   

In my case a whole lot of the disregard of naturals stemmed around the idea of repeatability for the coffee producer. How volatile was the process, and even if it turned out well one season would they be able to pull it off next year? Or would they be looking at cupping rejections and a vacant market for their coffee? My personal philosophy shifted towards working towards encouraging producers to produce coffee quality that they could comfortably repeat year after year. Washed coffee became the avenue we chose to cruise.

Now all of this said, I am much more open minded to coffee processing these days. At least to naturally processed coffee in its simplest form. A coffee must demonstrate a strong sense of terroir. There are far too many naturals that have no discernible sense of place. The fruit, the sugars, become so overly saturated that the flavor rendered from the process is convoluted. They’re confused. A coffee could be from Colombia or El Savador or Rwanda. The process drives the overall cup character and that’s where you lose me. However, in the instance of processing in drier climates, that notion of high terroir lives in luxury. So on to our current state of affairs regarding the matter.  

Last month, as I cupped through our early season Ethiopia offerings in Nairobi, I had several washed and naturally processed coffees from Uraga, Guji on the table. Amongst them some Red Fox classics—Yabitu Koba, Demicha, etc—along with some new ones. I found myself intrigued, moving constantly from one side of the table to the other, tasting the washed against the naturals. The Goro Muda washed lot was full of that peak level green grape tartaric acidity that we covet in top Ethiopia lots. Honeysuckle, raw white honey and all of the floral character we want with it behind that fruit as well. As I moved on to naturals I found a strikingly parallel cup profile in the Goro Muda. So distinct. So clearly what we’ve been looking for all of these years. Not the ‘fruit bomb’ fabricated strawberry character we seek to avoid but, articulate green grape character, floral buffers surrounding it. A generally complex cup that had a perfectly lucid line drawn straight from the washed lot to the natural.  

So are these “clean” naturals? To be frank I don’t know that this is a term I care for anymore. I’m not certain that I even know what that means at this point. What I am certain of is that the process itself doesn’t drive these cup profiles and therefore subtract from the overall quality. These lots have quintessential Uraga character regardless of the choices made with the fruit at the washing station. Quite simply, these are the best natural processed coffees I’ve ever bought.  

To evolve as a coffee professional is a wild ride. I’m open to being proven wrong and I have been here yet again with these Uraga naturals. It turns out that the sense of place was here all along. I just needed to find it for myself.  

— Aleco Chigounis, Red Fox Co-Founder & CEO

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.