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Price of coffee skyrockets in 1977

That morning cup of joe is giving Canadian consumers an even bigger jolt than usual. Ever since 1975's killing frost in Brazil devastated world coffee supplies, the price of a caffeine fix has climbed steadily. It's become so bad that a consumers' group in New York City has organized a boycott against the bean. On CBC-TV's Take 30, Barbara Shand of the Consumers' Association of Canada says a coffee boycott isn't necessary in Canada.

Coffee, as Shand points out, is not a nutritious part of any diet. And she doesn't believe anyone is deliberately ripping off Canadians. If Canadians decide that $3.75 a pound - the projected price in three months - is too much to pay, they should just stop buying coffee. That's why the consumers' association will not organize or support a mass boycott to try to drive down the price. Still, there's talk that a 30-cent cup in a restaurant could soon cost 50 cents.
• In July 1975, many of Brazil's coffee trees were damaged by a frost caused by an Antarctic cold wave. The southern region of Parana was hardest hit.
• By August 1975, experts from the United States Department of Agriculture who surveyed the damage predicted a two-year plunge in coffee production.
• The department said the crop to be harvested the following May would be down by 50 per cent.

• In 1975 the Brazilian coffee harvest was estimated at about 23 million bags. Each bag weighs 132 pounds (60 kg). The 1976 crop after the frost was projected to be between eight and 12 million bags.
• Coffee trees take about five years to mature fully and begin producing beans at their maximum potential.

• In August 1975 a one-pound can of coffee cost about $1.25 to $1.50. By April 1976 the price had climbed to $2 a pound ($6.87 in 2005 dollars).
• Only half the coffee sold in Canada in 1976 came in the form of ground coffee or beans. Instant coffee, which was more expensive - $4 for 10 ounces (283 grams) - accounted for half the coffee consumed by Canadians.

• By the end of December 1976, the price of coffee continued to climb. Stores in Toronto were selling ground coffee for $2.49 a pound.
• New York City's Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Elinor Guggenheimer, responded by calling on consumers to cut back on their coffee purchases by half. Guggenheimer said she had stopped drinking her customary 14 cups a day.
• In Syracuse, New York, five supermarket chains with 33 stores agreed to join the boycott.

• Reaction to the boycott was less enthusiastic in Canada, although the chairman of Sobey's grocery stores in Nova Scotia urged the public to stop buying coffee.
• Consumers' groups in B.C., Manitoba and Quebec didn't think a boycott would accomplish much. They advised concerned consumers to exercise restraint if they were concerned about prices.
• The U.S. boycott forced the price of coffee futures down by as much as 10 per cent on world markets.

• Dr. Morton Shulman, a Toronto market speculator, accused the Brazilian government of taking advantage of the damage to manipulate coffee prices. He said there was a vast surplus before the frost hit. "There's lots of coffee," he said. "Any shortage that might come from that storm won't show up until late 1978 or early 1979 and with the huge oversupply they ought to be able to minimize its effects."

• Brazilian coffee accounted for about 26 per cent of all world coffee production in 1976. The following year, it had dropped to less than 21 per cent.
• As a revenue-producing commodity in world markets, coffee is second only to oil. For many coffee-producing nations in the developing world, coffee accounts for up to 80 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.

• In early 2006 a one-kilogram (2.2-pound) bag of store-brand coffee beans at Ontario Dominion stores cost $8.99, or about $4.09 a pound. That's $1.12 a pound in 1975 dollars, or a little less than the price of coffee before the Brazilian frost of 1975.
• Brand-name coffee and specialty-store coffee beans cost more in 2006, ranging from $10.95 to $15.95 a pound at Second Cup.

Also on January 6:
1936: Barbara Hanley becomes Canada's first woman mayor when she is elected in the northern Ontario town of Webbwood.
1974:The Global Television Network (now CanWest-Global) begins programming in southern Ontario.
1992: A Quebec judge rules a woman paralyzed from the neck down has the right to refuse medical treatment. The 25-year-old woman, known only as "Nancy B.", suffered from a rare neurological disease and had no hope of recovery. She died on Feb. 13, 1992, in the hospital room where she lived for two and a half years.
Medium: Television
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: Jan. 6, 1977
Guest(s): Barbara Shand
Host: Mary Lou Finlay
Duration: 5:38

Last updated: February 28, 2014

Page consulted on February 28, 2014

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