Over the last two weeks, we have delved deeper into the supply chain of coffee and bananas than I ever thought was possible. The supply chains widely differ even just between these two crops! Nevertheless, it is certainly enlightening to learn about how much a single product, coffee, altered Costa Rican culture to be the country they are today. Now, almost 200 years after the first coffee export, Costa Rica’s economy is driven by other industries such as tourism, bananas, and pineapples. Throughout the trip, I have focused on the planning side of crop production; planning touches every level of the supply chain and entails the management decisions for long-term survival.
Planning must start at the beginning with the coffee and banana plantations. In recent history, coffee production has been declining due to the effects of climate change, such as less rainfall and new diseases. Climate change has not affected the banana industry as much because of the minimal growing requirements, but it will be affected if the trend continues. For this reason, many farmers must anticipate a lower yield and create solutions to mitigate risk at the beginning of the supply chain. Doka, for example, grows more coffee crops than they sell to firms like Starbucks to create a buffer if there is a bad season. Moreover, many companies are introducing pheromones into their plantations. This attracts insects and pests so farmers can determine where the “bug hotspots” are and spray pesticides only in those areas. By utilizing fewer pesticides, the coffee crop is more likely to stay strong for longer and produce higher yields. In terms of the crop itself, farms can experiment with different varieties of coffee to increase the return on investment. For instance, Life Monteverde dedicates a plot of land to grow species, such as Geisha, to hopefully expand in the future. The plantation is just the beginning.
Moving forward, processing mills and exporters can introduce additional practices to create a more sustainable future. Many coffee processing mills utilize a hydraulic process to peel and wash their coffee beans, which results in extreme excess of water waste. Although this water cannot simply be thrown back into rivers, several firms have found innovative ways to utilize this waste. Some companies, such as Dole, clean the water and recycle it back through the process. Firms such as Doka, on the other hand, clean and treat the water, and return it to the river as they found it. This can be done through a mechanical process that utilizes a net-like device that essentially strains the particles and oxidizes it. ICAFE, furthermore, is experimenting with grass that filter out the toxins, leaving the nutrients at the top and returning water to the soil. All of these plans have become increasingly important due to the decreasing yields from climate change.
When it comes to the coffee roasters and retail stores, uniqueness and location are arguably the most important aspects. Every coffee roaster has light, medium, and dark roasts in their portfolio, so it is the unique flavors and roasts that really captures customer attention. For instance, Doka has a peaberry blend to enhance the light flavor, and Life Monteverde has a honey-processed coffee to bring out the sweetness of the beans. These small changes may have a short-term uptick in cost, but diversifying products will have long-term benefits. In terms of retail stores, the location is crucial to make sure the firm is hitting their target demographic. Café Britt does a good job of choosing the right places to open up stores. They mainly target their gourmet coffee and chocolates to tourists, so several locations are in airport terminals and tourist attractions. To add, they also slightly change each store to fit the area; stores in Costa Rica are different from those in Chile. There was even a Britt Shop at the end of the La Paz Waterfall with several nature-based products!
The end of the supply chain always ends with the customer or the end user. For customers to actually have a firm’s product, they must choose to buy it first. Investing in marketing tools to help capture customer attention will get them through the door, and they will hopefully come back after trying the product. Café Britt’s specialty coffees are a good example. They produce bags of coffee that go towards causes, such as the jaguar or sloth, which entice users to participate in something bigger than themselves. Moreover, firms can introduce customer feedback through surveys at the bottom of a receipt or an ongoing suggestions website to help change features in the long-term. At the end of the day, the product is for the customer.
Overall, planning is an integral part of the supply chain to ensure survival in a changing market. As our two-week adventure comes to an end, I am extremely grateful for the Plus3 program and Pitt Business for giving me the opportunity to learn in Costa Rica; I have gained endless valuable lessons in such a short amount of time. I am saddened this experience has to end, but I will be back! I am already planning my next trip back, but for now, ¡Pura Vida!