2010 RFID Journal Award: RFID Helps Ensure That Special Cup of Joe

Almacafe, the warehousing subsidiary of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, tracks specialty coffee beans to better compete in the global market.
By Jennifer Zaino
The growers sell the coffee to any of the Federation's 35 cooperatives, and from there the bags are transported to one of Almacafé's 15 warehouses, all of which became fully RFID-enabled in March 2009, with fixed and mobile interrogators. The tags are first read as soon as the coffee arrives at a warehouse. Two RFID antennas on each side of the conveyor belt ensure 99.99 percent read accuracy, Rivera says. The tag data and delivery time are stored in the RFIDTrack database. SysTrack, a Web-based application, manages the RFID information.

Before the beans can be exported, they must be processed, first in the threshing machine and then in the milling plant. The tags are read at each step in the process and associated with specific orders. If, at any point, a bag of coffee is rejected because it doesn't meet quality standards, a SysTrack module records that the associated tag will not be part of the final delivery. "When the coffee analysis reports that the coffee does not meet the quality required for a specialty coffee customer, the coffee is rejected and the system is updated," Rivera says.

Customers at Juan Valdez Cafés can log onto a kiosk, enter the code from a bag of coffee they've purchased and learn about the farm and region their beans came from.

Almacafé does not use RFID beyond its warehouses—after milling, the coffee is packed in bags without RFID tags for shipping to destination ports and on to client facilities—but customers can log onto BeanTrack, another Web-based application, to track their orders. That includes the coffee lots assigned to them, information about the coffee growers and farm soil quality, and photos of the locations each sack of beans passed through on its way to the warehouse.

The Sweet Aroma of Success
Some 25,000 coffee growers participate in the RFID program. "The most important benefit for the Federation is to provide added value for its specialty coffee customers and differentiate itself among coffee exporters worldwide," Rivera says. "It´s the assurance that coffee doesn´t get mixed and the quality produced at each farm is maintained throughout the processing chain. Also, it gives us the option to replicate qualities for our customers by going back to the farms and regions where coffee was procured."
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