I’m not crying, you’re crying.
In all seriousness, my 2 weeks here in Costa Rica have been nothing short of amazing. Aside from learning something new about the Tico culture every day, I was able to study the management side of the coffee supply chain. My group and I focused on aspects like hierarchy, employment, efficiency, and productivity (among others). Along the journey, we collected information about this topic and now have significant takeaways related to each step in coffee’s supply chain.
From big farms to small ones, there is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into making sure any given coffee farm is managed efficiently (in order to create the most benefit/increase profit opportunities). From an employment perspective, in touring many of the coffee farms around Costa Rica, it is evident that it is becoming extremely challenging to convince local workers to pick coffee. A lot of employees are outsourced, with a majority of coffee pickers coming from Nicaragua. These workers work long hours and still get paid only about 2 American dollars for each “good” basket (all red coffee berries) they pick. Some farms (depending on size and national recognition) provide certain benefits to their employees, like housing and meals. Personally, knowing this background information has provided me with a great deal of insight into the daily life and conditions of workers on coffee farms here in Costa Rica.
In many of our tours, the machinery used was very low-tech. By this, I mean a lot of the companies still used machinery and processes that have been around since its founding. The trick here is that even though rather old-fashioned, they worked. Because of this, the mills seemed easier to manage compared to some of the other parts of the coffee supply chain. Coffee mills are constantly looking for ways to increase their efficiency of production, which directly correlates to the hierarchy of the management and how tasks are allocated on a day-to-day basis.
As a coffee exporter, it is important to have a strong management structure in order to provide maximum efficiency. A lot of outsourcing is done here (as far as employment). It was common for exporters to look for outside employees to transport their coffee products from roasting facilities to shipping ports. Here, there was a clear difference between how big exporters function as opposed to smaller farms. Typically, what you see is the bigger, well-known companies are exporting constantly, while the small farms are just now dipping their feet into these waters.
Companies like Café Britt have successfully taken the country by storm through their country-specific retail stores. In this example, this company has specialized employees that are experts on the customers and customs of the country in which they are employed. This is an interesting, useful strategy that worked well in their management structure. As a result, I think this is something other companies should look to in order to foster competition and increase the success of their business as a whole. Café Britt is extremely good at what they do…I bought several souvenirs from one of their stores. My perception on tactics to sell coffee and related products were completely changed after visiting and hearing about how this company conducts business.
As always, customers are looking for quality products. That being said, it is equally as important for any company to have strong management practices so that productivity can flourish (in order to create these high-quality products that customers expect). I think customers nowadays anticipate certain things from companies, so it is crucial for people involved in management decisions to be well aware of their target market and who exactly they are trying to sell to (so that tasks can be allocated in a way to achieve maximum production and again the highest-quality products).
All in all, this trip has left with an immense amount of new knowledge about how the coffee industry works. I came in not really knowing a lot about how exactly coffee and people who work in the coffee industry were managed from site to store, but now I feel as if I can talk about these aspects of coffee’s supply chain with great confidence.
¡Pura Vida! (and see you soon Costa Rica)