South Florida percolates to top ranks of coffee-import industry
By Paola Iuspa
Miami-Dade County has drastically increased its weight in the coffee-importing industry, becoming the third-largest US hub for warehousing the beans in just five years.
An example of that growth is Raymond Masucci, a principal with RPM Warehouse Inc. of Staten Island, NY, who since expanding to Miami in 1998 has increased his storage space here for coffee beans to 485,000 square feet.
Two weeks ago Mr. Masucci bought the most recent building in his almost half-million-square-foot warehouse chain in Miami. The 137,000-square-foot Airport West property is close to his three other local warehouses. He said he owns another half-a-million square feet nationwide.
Mr. Masucci and other coffee entrepreneurs branched into South Florida after the New York Board of Trade in 1996 designated Miami/Port Everglades as exchanges. Since then, coffee imports to South Florida have risen from 82,000 bags in 1997 to 1.2 million in 2001, said Guy Taylor, board spokesman.
The Board of Trade, parent organization of the Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange Inc. and the New York Cotton Exchange, supervises and facilitates the trade of future commodities like cocoa, sugar, currency and coffee - the second most widely traded commodity in the world after oil.
In addition to increasing business at the port, the coffee-import business involves leasing or buying warehouse space, employing manpower in the warehouse and at the ports, buying space in vessels, contracting with shipping companies and hiring customs brokers, said Christian Wolthers with Blaser & Wolthers Specialty Coffee Trading Co. in Plantation and a member of the Green Coffee Association.
New York, New Orleans and Miami, which includes Broward's Port Everglades, are the only US regions with seaports and warehouses certified for the exchange of coffee, which must meet Board of Trade requirements, said Ernesto Alvarez, director of Coex Coffee International in Coral Gables.
Mr. Alvarez, a coffee importer and one of many community activists who lobbied to make Miami/Port Everglades a coffee exchange, said South Florida is becoming a big player in the industry by providing at least 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space used to stock green coffee, a commodity stored for several years in its raw form.
Coffee brokers later sell the beans to roasters, where coffee is prepared for sale to consumers. Roasters based in Florida include Rowland Coffee Roasters Inc., manufacturer of Café Pilon, and General Foods, manufacturer of Maxwell House, said Oscar Schaps, managing director of Hencorp. The Miami-based group provides futures and market analysis to the coffee industry while its transactions regularly account for up to 10% of the New York Board of Trade's daily volume.
Early this month, Miami's inventory of certified coffee was 685,576 bags, ahead of New York with 502,444 but behind New Orleans, with a stock of 992,384.
In June, Miami stored about 1 million 60-kilogram bags of exchange and non-exchange coffee, third to New Orleans, with 1.9 million bags, and New York, with 1.3 million bags, according to the Green Coffee Association Inc.
The New York-based association assists groups exporting, transporting, storing, insuring, financing, importing, trading and roasting green coffee. It also helps in arbitration and works in conjunction with the Coffee, Sugar & Cocoa Exchange, the world's leading marketplace for trading these commodities.
The total coffee stored in the US was about 5.1 million bags in June. The US, with the highest coffee consumption - we drink 15% of the world's production - imports about 18.5 millions bags yearly, said Mr. Wolthers.
"Little by little," Mr. Schaps said, "Miami is becoming an important center in terms of coffee imports."
The number of coffee trading houses moving into Miami-Dade and Broward has increased, Mr. Wolthers said. But Miami-Dade dominates the coffee warehouse terrain. The Port Everglades area stockpiled about 7,250 bags in June, compared to Miami's 1 million, according to the Green Coffee Association.
This vast disparity between the counties, he said, may arise because coffee importers see the Port of Miami more focused on international trade and Port Everglades more centered on the cruise ship industry. Most of the coffee arriving to the US through Florida is from Brazil - the world's largest coffee producer -, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American nations. New Orleans and New York respectively receive green coffee from Vietnam and Africa.
Many roasters in southeastern states find it convenient to store their coffee beans in South Florida because of the proximity and the logistics in place, Mr. Wolthers said. Much of the coffee warehoused here is transported to the Northeast and Midwest by trains or trucks.
"The indirect economic impact that this industry has on our economy is big," Mr. Wolthers said.
Mr. Masucci is banking on South Florida's piece of the industry to keep growing, but said that ultimately that will depend on whether coffee production keeps rising. It will also depend on whether the New York Board of Trade grants coffee exchange status to other ports, increasing competition.
And that potential competition is brewing in the wings.
Right now, said Mr. Alvarez, a member of the Board of Trade's committee in charge of processing applications, Port of Houston officials are asking the board to designate them a coffee exchange.