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Coffee Sourcing - The Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program

Producing highest quality coffee sustainably

The unique Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program was launched in 2003 in collaboration with the NGO The Rainforest Alliance. It aims to protect the future of the highest quality coffees and secure the livelihoods of the farmers that grow them.

The long-standing relationship between Nespresso and the Rainforest Alliance builds on the expertise and years of experience of each organisation. Together, we work with farmers to produce the highest quality coffee sustainably.

The AAA Program shares many of the same goals and principles as other responsible sourcing programs. However, in addition to sustainability criteria, the AAA Program adds a quality and productivity dimension to sustainability.



The unique AAA Program stands for Quality, Sustainability and Productivity

Nespresso provides farmers support, training and technical assistance to improve their performance in each of the three A’s of the program:

  • First A: Quality
    Only an estimated 1 to 2% of the world coffee crop meets the quality, taste and aroma profiles required for the Nespresso Grand Cru coffees. At farm level, some 30% of each harvest from farms that Nespresso works with meets those stringent requirements. The remainder of the crop provides farmers with a valuable supply for the wider sustainable coffee market. The AAA Program helps farmers adopt best practices in coffee cultivation to protect the supply of these highest quality coffees.
  • Second A: Sustainability
    The Program applies the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards, which include social and environmental criteria. The standard has an entire module focused on “Fair treatment and Good Working Conditions for Workers”, which, broadly speaking, covers the fundamental International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention. This module details the specific standards that farms must achieve regarding workers’ rights and benefits.
  • Third A: Productivity
    Based on our field experience in recent years, we have learned that productivity is an essential ingredient for economically viable and sustainable coffee farming. The AAA Program helps farmers to improve productivity and implement cost reduction initiatives to increase their net income. This is the Nespresso approach called Real Farmer Income™.



More than a fair price for coffee farmers

To guarantee that farmers are paid a fair price, the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program involves paying premiums for both quality and sustainability. The premium is around 30% to 40% above the standard market price for coffee and 10% to 15% above coffees of similar quality.


Support and direct investments in coffee growing regions

A Nespresso agronomist works with
a AAA farmer on the TASQ™

But the program is about much more than paying a premium. It is about building partnerships and providing long-term support, which is delivered in two ways. First, through the training and technical assistance provided by Nespresso and our partners as part of our Tool for the Assessment of Sustainable Quality (TASQ™).

Second, we make direct investments in a wide range of projects, including:

  • Building a community coffee processing centre in Jardín, Colombia
  • Providing financial training for over 500 farmers in Huehuetenango, Guatemala
  • Gaining a better understanding of coffee farm profitability, with INCAE, the leading international business school in Latin America
  • Ensuring that the AAA Program brings economic, social and environmental benefits to coffee farmers around Coorg and Chikmagalur, India with coffee suppliers ECoM, Allanasons and Aspinwall
  • Developing a farmer database to track quality, progress on sustainable agriculture practices and improvements in individual farm management.


With the aim of increasing net income by at least 30%, the AAA Program creates tangible and measureable benefits for farmers

A selling receipt allows AAA farmers
to cash the value of their crops

In Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Nespresso has been working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC, a member of the World Bank Group) and ECOM, a coffee supplier to train coffee farmers in sustainability and productivity best practices. The IFC measured the impact of the project between 2007 and 2010. Based on surveys with coffee farmers and suppliers in two clusters in Mexico and Guatemala, they found a positive result: the study showed that improvements in farm productivity and sustainability were accompanied by higher farm incomes. The IFC estimated that, on average, net income for AAA farms was 27% higher than for farms not part of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program.


To find out more about this study and the Nespresso AAA projects, see the Ecolaboration™ Case Studies.


Over 62,000 farmers are part of the AAA Program

At the end of 2013, we were already sourcing 84% of our coffee from the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. This involves working with about 62,000 farmers in eight countries (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Nicaragua and Ethiopia).




Sometimes development projects forget the market demand side but by working with Nespresso, farmers are more willing to invest in sustainability and quality. They see that there is a market for their product and that Nespresso is committed to buying and paying a premium price for their coffee.

Through this partnership we are able to bring technical assistance and services to farmers that could not afford it. These services are based on what farmers need in the long-term to improve farmer income and sustainability.

The results are very positive. We see improvement in farmer income, farm performance and sustainability. We have seen evidence that farms that do well in sustainability also do well in increasing productivity. We also have learned that productivity is the single most important indicator for increasing the bottom line. To our surprise we also found that sustainability in most cases does not provide an additional cost to farmers. In case it does, the cost is offset by increased productivity.

Rick van der Kamp, Operations Officer
International Finance Corporation