SCA Launches Initiative to Tackle Coffee Price Crisis

Ric Rhinehart, longtime executive director of the SCA, will step down from his position to head the new initiative addressing low coffee prices.


In August 2018, commodity coffee prices fell below $1 a pound for the first time in a dozen years. While the C-market price has frequently been volatile—and has often been below the cost of production for many farmers—the drop below $1 sent shockwaves through the industry and put the issue at the forefront of the consciousness for coffee professionals throughout the supply chain. (The recent “C-Market Stories” feature on Barista Magazine Online has presented farmers’ perspectives on this issue.)

Amid this landscape, the Specialty Coffee Association—which has long studied coffee prices and their impact on coffee producers—decided to take action. Last week, the organization announced the launch of the Coffee Price Crisis Response Initiative, which is “aimed at understanding and addressing the price crisis affecting coffee farmers and threatening our supply chain as a whole,” according to an email SCA distributed to its members.

Heading the initiative will be Ric Rhinehart, who is stepping down as SCA’s executive director—a position he has held since 2008—and is being replaced in the role by Yannis Apostolopoulos, the current deputy executive director. Ric says he made the decision to step down some time ago at the end of his contract in December 2019. “This was a combination of personal reasons and a desire to open the door for the next generation of leadership,” Ric says. “When the confluence of that decision and the need for the SCA to take an active-response role to the price crisis emerged, it seemed perfectly natural to make a rapid transition.”

Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the SCA, will step down from his position to head the Coffee Price Crisis Response Initiative.

According to the email from SCA, the Coffee Price Crisis Response Initiative in its first year will seek to:

  • Increase funding and resources allocated to better understanding the topic in collaboration with the staff and volunteer advisory councils of the SCA’s Advocacy and Sustainability Centers
  • Conduct research on the coffee price crisis and its effects on producers and the entire value chain
  • Convene experts from the private sector and academia to explore alternative price-discovery tools for the specialty-coffee industry
  • Outline alternative economic models for the specialty-coffee trade and provide a meaningful way for companies to address risks in the supply chain

While the initiative will focus on addressing the specialty-coffee sector, Ric says the project will also impact the commercial-coffee trade, as it aims to “demonstrate to commercial actors in the coffee space that it is in their own best long-term self interest to change the dynamic of the coffee trade in a manner that will encourage geographic and qualitative diversity in coffee production,” he explains. 

As Ric steps down, Yannis Apostolopoulos, the current deputy executive director, will become executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association.

In the email from SCA, the organization announced the new initiative will be a major focus going forward, and the SCA will allocate substantial resources—both human and financial—as they expand their role in addressing the crisis. For Ric, the time is now to take action. “I firmly believe that a coffee market left wholly unchecked will drive towards a disastrous outcome for specialty coffee, and a perilous outcome for coffee generally,” he says. “Thus it is the self-interest of all involved in coffee to try to change the course.”

To read more about the C market and its impact on the coffee supply chain, read the article “A Volatile Presence” in the December 2018 + January 2019 issue of Barista Magazine.

About Chris Ryan 263 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.