I am so sad to be leaving this beautiful country tomorrow 🙁 These past two weeks have been filled with some of the most incredible experiences. I have learned TONS about the supply chains of coffee and bananas and all of the planning that goes into it; it’s an incredibly complex process!
The process starts on the plantations, where the products are grown. Coffee in particular requires strategic planning with its employees, as coffee is only a seasonal product. Plantations have to plan for the number of workers they’re going to need, which is especially difficult because it is difficult to predict the success of a growing season before it occurs. Additionally, companies such as Doka have to plan the adjustment of their workers’ wages throughout the season, since they will be gradually picking more berries as the season progresses. Additionally, companies have to plan in case they have a bad growing season. To do this, companies like Doka will sell their coffee in advanced, but will only sell a portion of what they expect to produce. This way, they have a buffer in case there is a bad growing season. Then, if they still don’t produce enough coffee, the sales rollover to the next season.
Next, the supply chain moves to the processing mills and exporters. With this step comes lots of planning in terms of sustainability and waste. After the coffee is processed from cherries to beans, what do companies do with the excess cherry waste? Life Monteverde uses the cherry pulp, along with other sustainable materials, to create organic compost. Dole also creates their own organic compost using its bananas that do not pass quality control. This is beneficial to companies because not only does it reduce waste, but the nutrients within the fertilizer promote better growth for the crops. In terms of exporting, mills and plantations have to plan which countries they are going to export their products to. Additionally, they have to plan how much to charge each buyer for shipping, since countries like the U.S. are more expensive to ship to than European countries.
After exportation, coffee beans go to coffee roasters and cafes. Here, companies have to experiment and decide on the times and temperatures of their roasting processes to develop different flavors within their roasts. Usually, each type is roasted between 10-20 minutes, with a lighter roast at a lower temperature and/or less time, whereas darker roasts tend to be at a higher temperature and/or more time. Then, these roasters have to plan how much of each roast they want to produce based on which are more popular than others. Additionally, roasters have to plan how they are going to power their roasters. Companies like ICAFE use propane to heat their roasters because it is easy to control the temperature. However, other companies use biomass because it heats up more easily and is thus more efficient. Retailers and cafes also have to plan how many coffee beans and bananas they want to buy from the plantations and mills based on how much they think they will be able to sell. They also have to plan their marketing strategies in order to sell the most coffee for the most profit. Companies like Cafe Britt work to promote the quality of their product in their marketing in order to sell their coffee for more money.
Lastly, the coffee and bananas go from the retailer to the customer. Here, the customer has to make the decision of what product they want and how much they are going to buy. How much are they willing to pay for gourmet, sustainably grown coffee? What about certified organic bananas? Is it worth the extra cost? Should they be paying for quality or quantity? The customer has to make these decisions and plan for any additional costs if they choose to take that route.
Throughout my time in Costa Rica, I have learned so much about the coffee and banana supply chains and all of the planning these companies have to do. I have developed a newfound respect for these processes, since there is a lot more work that goes into my morning cup of coffee and banana for breakfast than it seems on the surface. Additionally, I have become increasingly interested in the sustainable practices of these companies and want to get a certificate in sustainability in addition to my engineering degree. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and all of the new knowledge and friends it has brought me. I can’t wait to visit Costa Rica again someday. ¡Pura Vida!