June 2021

Last month we had our organic audit, always nerve racking and always better than expected, which we passed with a couple of small things to do within twenty-eight days of the audit. Audits are there to keep the process of buying, importing, warehousing, roasting and selling organic coffee controlled and legitimate. One cannot in the UK or EU simply pop ‘organic’ on the label and be OK. We have to register with a control body, have an annual physical inspection, and pay a fee towards the upkeep of all the processes and organisations that are involved.

Blue Organic Coffee Crates

We have had organic coffee on the counter for about 25 years and in that time we have been registered with two different certifying organisations. We are currently licensed by the Organic Food Federation (OFF). The OFF are a friendly bunch based up in Norfolk. They have a set of standards founded on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) requirements. These are based around maintaining the organic integrity of the product, food safety, and labelling legislation and they differ depending on which part of an industry the company is in. We are importers, warehousers, processors, wholesalers and retailers so there is a fair bit to go through.

This year we had an auditor who last visited us ten years ago! A totally different age and time within the business and so much has happened since we last sat down for a tea (we don’t hold it against them) and chat through what is the what. The first part of the audit is all about the importing. For all of the coffees we buy we need to have copies of the farm organic certificates, importing documentation and shipping information. It’s all super important paperwork. We had to sell an organically farmed coffee last year without its organic status because in the rush to get coffee moving at the start of the pandemic the paperwork didn’t keep up with the shipment. The paperwork is integral to the whole importing process and once all of this is inspected and verified we move on to the reconciliation.

The reconciliation is an exercise in coffee maths. Coffee in stock + deliveries in – coffee sold or wasted – closing stock = usage. The physical usage must be less than the theoretical usage in order to pass this stage. If it is the other way around then that is a big problem and implies more product has been sold with organic status than produced which means either potential mislabelling or worse has occurred. For reassurance – we are always on the right side of that equation. With that out of the way it is time for the physical inspection.

The physical inspection involves a walk-through of the entire process from coffee arriving at our front door, storage, weighing out and roasting, packing and distribution. Everything is examined – the upkeep of the building and machinery, staff training, food safety, packaging and labelling. Every process and procedure is compared against the OFF standards and all applicable legislation. The best way to describe it is an annual exam of the physical side of the business.

After the inspection we re-cap and talk about any issues that have come up and what to do about them. Sometimes we pass with nothing to do, other times something will come up that we need to do. This year we need to update one policy and one procedure with a reference to the Organic Standards and then we can write the cheque and be on our way.

There is a small logo on the coffee label with the organic logo on it, in addition to the control body code: GB-ORG-04. These mean we have passed our annual audit and that the product they are on is certified organic. It takes about a month to get this organised every year and obviously costs us to do it, but we think it’s worth it. It’s worth it to maintain the organic integrity of the product and process, and also honour the decision the farmers have made to grow their coffee this way.

See you next time, Monmouth x.