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Coffee Shippers Turn to Old-School Methods Amid Container Shortages

Shipping coffee in gigantic bags is seeing a come-back as an alternative to standard shipping containers

Workers moor a ship at the Port of Santos in Santos, Brazil.

Workers moor a ship at the Port of Santos in Santos, Brazil.

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Shipping coffee overseas has gotten so difficult due to container shortages that some exporters are going old-school and using a cumbersome method of transport that was popular decades ago.

Five so-called “break-bulk vessels” carrying coffee beans packed in gigantic 1,000-kilogram (2,205-pound) bags have left Brazilian ports since November, corresponding to roughly 4% of exports from the world’s top producer. Normally, it’s hard to handle such huge bags, so this method hasn’t been used in over 20 years. Now, it’s seeing a come-back as one of the few alternatives to standard shipping containers, which are seeing a shortage.