The Journey of Coffee Bean

As with any business, project, or assignment, proper planning can be the factor that makes or breaks success.  As the saying goes, “Proper planning prevents poor performance”.  This is certainly the case when it comes to agriculture but even more specifically the coffee and banana plantations we visited in during our time in Costa Rica.  Planning is the very first step in a long supple chain that brings fresh bananas and high-quality coffee to your local supermarket.  Starting with the coffee farmers, planning includes hiring the right number of workers to pick all the coffee cherries.  Majority of the coffee pickers come from Nicaragua seasonally to bring money back to their families.  The fields also have to be properly maintained by the farmers, so the plants are bearing the most fruit possible.  Despite the life of a coffee tree being close to sixty years, after about twenty-five years the productivity sinks below the breakeven point.  Once the plants are in the ground, fertilizers and pesticides have to be applied to the fields to protect them from insects and disease. Similar to coffee, banana farmers must maintain the plants, so they are continually producing the most possible fruit.  However, the window to pick bananas is very short so a failure in planning could result in the entire crop being wasted.  But the planning does not stop at the farms.

            At DOCA we learned about how the exportation process of coffee works.  With DOCA coffee, they export mostly to the United States under pre-negotiated contracts with buyers and in large quantities.  They ship by the container and in the past year they shipped 42 containers.  Their high was 90 in past years.  It is interesting to see how a business can adjust and survive when there is that much difference between their highest and lowest sales numbers.  Our questions about how they deal with this was quickly answered by the presenter.  He explained that coffee is bought three or four years in advance.  That means that this year’s crop was sold around 2016.  Additionally, they do not sell all of their crop every year.  This allows them to build up a store that they can dip into if they have a bad year.  They are able to accomplish this because coffee can stay fresh for a very long time once it has been processed and roasted.  A challenge of planning to say the least, and one that could have serious consequences if not accounted for.

            From a farm like DOCA, coffee is shipped around the world in large containers and accountability for the containers is taken at each step of the journey.  This allows the farmers to rest assured that their product is not at risk.  Places like DOCA even insure their product so they do not take a hit if a container is lost or damaged as has happened in the past.  Places like 1820 receive the large shipments from the farms and put the coffee through their roasting process.  The process can produce different varieties of coffee depending on how long they are left in the intense heat of the roaster and what kinds of beans are used.  Planning to make a consistent blend over and over can be challenging but at 1820 they use a consistent ration of lesser and higher quality beans to make sure that each cup tastes just the same. 

            From there, marketing planning takes over and a great example is Café Britt.  Finding their target market and positioning themselves in a place where they can access them requires a great amount of planning.  In their case they position themselves in many airports, hotels, and higher end stores.  Since they sell internationally, the need to coordinate with various governments to make sure they abide by all laws and regulations.  They also change their marketing strategy to fit the nation in which they sell.  In Peru they use the national colors and birds to provide customers with a more “authentic” experience.  As you can see, simple cup of coffee has quite a journey to arrive in your hand every morning and planning is essential at every step of the way.

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