packaged who knows where

Yesterday I was wondering why the own brand supermarket coffee from two different supermarkets had both been packaged in Belgium and wondered if they had even come from the same factory and vowed that I wouldn’t rest until I had tracked down the factory.

This was a stupid thing to vow to do as I haven’t been able to track the factory down even though I’ve been typing things into Google like a mad man. Which sort of illustrates the point. It’s just so hard to track the journey of our food from where it came from until we eat it.

One thing I discovered today was that the Belgian port of Antwerp is ‘where half the European stock of raw coffee is stored. The coffee is made available to roasting houses, traders and futures markets.

So I suppose that it would make sense to have a factory/factories that roast and package coffee for supermarkets near to Antwerp.

(Now imagine a huge gap of time when I route around the internet trying to find out a link between Tesco and the Co-Op coffee….ages and ages….a bit longer…finally…)

Eventually I put in some lucky words and found that it might be United Coffee who supply coffee to Tesco and Co-Op (and Lidl and the coffee you get in Subway and McDonalds).
Well not that it might have supplied the coffee I bought (an Italian blend) but they might have supplied an own label coffee for a Tesco at some time. This article in a local paper mentions that United Coffee roastery in Dartford supplies McD___ and Lyons but doesn’t mention any supermarkets.

I still can’t find any clues about where it might have been packed (and presumably roasted) in Belgium.
The United Coffee website says it operates in 6 European countries but Belgium isn’t one of those listed.
So unless they get some other company in Belgium to bag up the coffee which they then supply to the supermarkets, some type of secret factory that actually roasts all the coffee in the world. Or else I could have got things really wrong and someone else completely roasts the own brand coffee.Maybe these guys? Who knows?

made in ____?

This horse meat scandal has shown how hard it is to trace where your food actually came from and where in the world it was actually processed. It is also a classic case of it being not our fault, oh its not our fault it’s their fault, it’s not our fault, we bought it from them, its not our fault, we got it over there, its their fault, we clearly followed the rules, its their fault, etc etc.

When I was a student I spent one summer working night shift at a large pig factory. My job was to power hose the plant after production in preparation for production the next day.
I used to see the Cookstown products clearly labelled and beside those pallets of identical sausages labelled as well known supermarket own label brands. They would lbe labelled as ‘Made in the UK’, somewhere in the UK. I didn’t care too much about these sorts of things in my younger days but I’m not sure if the ‘Made in UK’ label said anything about where the pigs came from. The sausages might have been made in the UK but it said nothing about the pig or the other ingredients.

I’ve a bag of Tesco own label coffee that says ‘Packaged in Belgium’ on it. I’ve tried to track down where this factory might be in Belgium and who actually processes it, but I can’t find that information out. I bought a bag of Co-Op coffee beans last night and they say ‘Packaged in Belgium’ on it. Is this the same factory processing own label coffee beans for Tesco and the Co-Op?

Another smaller example is of Coleraine cheddar which isn’t made in Coleraine, it’s made in another factory.


Do these things matter?

It could all considered a 1st world problem, a case of we should  just be grateful that we can go into a shop and afford to buy food freely without having to worry about where our next meal comes from and not be so fussy that what is sold as beef might actually horse.

Or you could take it the other way and say that being in such a privileged position should actually make us think about where our food comes from . In our church each week we pray the lines ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ .
Do  we wonder  enough about how God is actually supplying our daily bread or are we happy enough to think that God is using corporations and supermarkets (who are chiefly concerned with profit) to supply our daily bread without bothering to see what is going on behind the scenes?

Should we be thankful that we can buy a chicken for £3.99 in the supermarket and ask no questions or should we start poking behind the scenes a bit to see how the chicken is so cheap?

I know a man who previously worked with the poultry industry here in Ireland and used to visit various farms with the job. During Christmas he told us that he used to tell farmers that if they found the conditions in a chicken shed unbearable and unpleasant then it was unfair to keep chickens in the same conditions. I was surprised at this as I imagined that back 30 or 40yrs ago nobody cared so much about these issue and where more concerned about selling chicken feed.

But enough of that, I won’t rest easy until I find out where this coffee packaging factory in Belgium might be.


January coffee fuelled thoughts.

So this year for different reasons I’ve decided that I would quite like to learn a bit more about coffee. At the end of each month I might do a little reflection to gather my thoughts as there is more going on than just coffee drinking.

1 Being in the position of being able to try different coffee, to boil a kettle whenever I feel like it probably puts me in the bracket of being a member of the most wealthy, privileged generation to have ever lived on planet earth.
Forget that I am wearing clothes with holes or not able to afford things like an iphone or ipad. Boiling a kettle from water that is tapped directly into my kitchen at the flick of a switch with reliable electricity means that I am in the global elite of history. Typing this up on a computer means that I am wealthy despite often feeling poor compared to those around who fly away on vacations or drive sexy cars. That is something which applies to other stuff I take for granted in the cupboards.

2 Following on from that there are global consequences to my drinking a mug of coffee. The energy to heat my kettle has to generated, the coffee beans have to be shipped, they are grown on land by people who I often know nothing about. Having a mug of coffee has global consequences. So I’d like to know a little about where the coffee has come from and what some of those consequences might be. I’d like to know that for most things as well without driving myself crazy. (Perhaps the only way to do that is to stop making things so complicated)

3 I find there is a degree of snobbery with some of the new coffee roasters. Stuff like ‘you really should be grinding your own beans’ or being a bit sniffy about those people who enjoy supermarket coffee or heaven forbid, instant coffee! The Philistines, off with their heads!
I find the tasting notes can be a bit pretentious as they can be with wine. Is taste not something that we can’t determine for other people? Just because we like a the taste of a certain coffee why should we expect someone else to like it as well?

4 Having said that those who know about coffee seem to be suggesting that I’ve been making my coffee much too weak for most of my life. Generally I have been sticking to the one black scoop per cup/person, but taking a cup to equal to a mug.
I’ve been rooting around and different guides seem to suggest that about 3 scoops of coarsely ground coffee is what I should be using for each of my brown mugs above. For years I’ve been using 1 scoop per brown mug.

Yet that means they are recommending that each 250g bag of coffee beans should make about 11 mugs. Which seems really expensive, especially when you might have been squeezing about 30 mugs from one bag of supermarket coffee.

5 Money is a funny thing. One of the ideas about getting into coffee a bit more was that I wanted to drink less coffee (because of things like water footprints) but to drink better coffee when I did.

Sticking to rules above a a bag of Co Op coffee would probably give about 10 mugs which works out at about 23p per mug but the more expensive ‘better quality’ coffee at say £5 per bag works out at least twice that price at say 50p per mug.
That is a big difference and seems like a luxury item and a waste of money. Perhaps it is, I’m wrestling with that. Same with organic, free range chickens which work out twice the price of intensively raised chickens. Is it something that middle classed people only worry about or as a Christian should I be considering that the way a chicken is raised is important?

The thing is that if I’m about Belfast I wouldn’t think twice about buying a packet of Tayto for 60p, or grabbing a coffee in a coffee shop for at least 3 times the price of the expensive better quality coffee at home.

For the price of one mug of Starbucks filter coffee at £1.50 (brimming over the edge because they’ve filled it up too much yet again) I could have three mugs of home made coffee. So yes the coffee I’ve just ordered works out at 25p per mug more expensive than the home made supermarket coffee but it’s still working out at about £1 per mug cheaper than a coffee at Starbucks.

In January the coffee has been fueling thoughts about money and my relationship to it.
Is it a badge of honour that we’re able to get something as cheaply as possible, that we’re being wise with our money or might it be a sign that we’re stingy and acting selfishly?