I don’t drink coffee much anymore, but I know more than a few folks who have a limitless passion for gourmet versions of the brew. And they tend to talk quite a bit!

Something a friend recently said about coffee production made me start thinking about how the jargon “sole source” and “single source” are used when
referring to supply chains.

Although most coffees are blends of different beans, you can buy coffee that is sole sourced. Coffees produced in this way will often be labeled as such, so that buyers know that the bag of coffee beans they are purchasing is from only one place in the world.

What this means for coffee is that the end product is not a blend of beans, but that every bit of it has come from the same farm – and in some cases
— even down to the same field.

In fact, the place where the coffee was grown leaves its unique influence in the taste, which isn't the same result as you get from a coffee bean blend. For example, the nutrient-rich soil left behind from volcanic activity that can be found in Costa Rica creates a unique coffee taste as compared to a cup brewed with beans from a farm in Kenya.

Now, if I were to find the perfect cup of single source coffee as a buyer, and suddenly lose access to it because that one farm that it is grown on stopped producing it for whatever reason, that would leave a very bitter taste in my mouth!

It's the same for single sourcing and sole sourcing in the supply chain: The rewards are great, but the risks are also a major concern. If that single source or sole source was unable to deliver the service that only it can provide, the buyer is majorly out of luck.

For those new to the concepts, the two ideas of single source and sole source are not the same.

"Single source" refers to a supplier that is one of many. The buyer could technically go elsewhere for the service, but for whatever reason – higher quality, speed, a good relationship – the buyer only works with that one single service provider.

"Sole source" refers to a situation where a service provider is the only one that can provide something to the buyer. The service can't be acquired anywhere else in the way that it can be from the sole source provider.

A rigorous decision-making process needs to be in place for the buyer to have a successful future relationship with either a sole source or single source provider. And every single time a service provider is required, this process needs to be repeated.

Although cost, speed, and limitations on available options may seem like good reasons to select a provider, what should be paramount is trust. A buyer
needs to be able to trust a provider due to the major risks that having sole or single source services can introduce.

There are many benefits to single and sole sourcing – with speed being one of the biggest ones. But before committing to this type of sourcing, the
reputation and proven abilities of the provider need to be understood and verified.

I know that coffee drinkers can be very particular and specific about what makes a good cup o’ joe, and buyers looking for suppliers should be just
as careful and exacting when looking for a sole source or single source provider.

Do you single or sole source or know an organization that does? Let me know about your experiences.



About the Author
Jim Tompkins
Jim Tompkins

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