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Scientists discover low-carbon, drought-resistant coffee varieties

coffee plant
Nestlé plant scientists have developed a new generation of low-carbon coffee varieties, through classical non-GMO breeding and by harnessing the plant’s natural biodiversity.

Compared to standard varieties, the two new Robusta varieties deliver up to 50% higher yields per tree. Because more coffee can be produced using the same amount of land, fertilizer and energy, the result is an up to 30% reduction in the CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) footprint of the green coffee beans. Since green coffee beans account for 40% to 80% of the CO2e emissions of a cup of coffee, these breakthrough varieties significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with coffee consumption.

One of these new Robusta varieties with up to 50% higher yields has already been successfully trialed on fields and is now being grown by farmers in Central America. Ultimately, such new varieties will help farmers earn a better living by enabling them to grow more high-quality coffee on the same amount of land, sustainably, and with a lower carbon footprint.

Nestlé also is developing new higher-yielding Arabica varieties that are also bred to be more resistant to ‘coffee leaf rust’—a plant disease that has devastated coffee plantations across the Americas. This also contributes to a higher yield while using the same amount of fertilizer and land.

Nestlé plant scientists also have developed a drought-resistant coffee variety, currently being trialed on fields in Central Africa, that delivers up to 50% higher yields per plant under moderate to severe water stress. This will support the continuation of coffee cultivation in regions impacted by climate change.

Last year, Nestlé published its Net Zero Roadmap, detailing the actions and investments the company will prioritize on climate change to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Nestlé will work with its 150,000 suppliers to reach net zero emissions, with a particular focus on the 30,000 companies that supply it with raw and packaging materials such as cocoa, milk and coffee.

“Tackling climate change can’t wait and neither can we. It is imperative to the long-term success of our business,” said Mark Schneider, Nestlé CEO. “We have a unique opportunity to address climate change, as we operate in nearly every country in the world and have the size, scale and reach to make a difference. We will work together with farmers, industry partners, governments, non-governmental organizations and our consumers to reduce our environmental footprint.”

Work on new plant varieties is led by the Nestlé Research center for plant sciences in Tours, France. Through classical breeding, the scientists continuously develop improved coffee varieties that are then tested on the company's experimental farms in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The new plantlets are proliferated and distributed to farmers globally through Nestlé's sustainable sourcing programs and partnerships with local agricultural institutes and cooperatives.

Increased market opportunities

Globally, the coffee and tea markets are expected to be worth nearly US$150 billion by 2024. Coffee and tea are perhaps the world’s original functional beverages, naturally offering boosts in energy, aid in relaxation and relief from digestive issues, among other benefits. But in today’s day and age, consumers want more. From added functional ingredients and plant-based creamers to new formats and textures, coffee and tea are during a major makeover—and consumers are drinking it up.

The National Coffee Association reports 62% of American adults drink a cup of coffee every day, and an even higher percentage partake every week. Proprietary SPINS data showed sales of refrigerated ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee grew 30.3% over the past year, with RTD cold brew alone posting 20.2% gains. On the shelf, sales of shelf-stable RTD coffee grew 8.8% and cold brews grew 34.4%. Sales of whole beans are up 15.5%.

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