These past 2 weeks in Costa Rica have been nothing short of amazing. I’ve learned so much about Costa Rican culture, practiced my Spanish with my host mom, seen some of the most beautiful nature in the world, and of course learned about the intricacies of the coffee and banana industries. Through our tours of coffee and banana plantations and my assigned focus on the design aspect of the supply chain, I learned just how much goes into running a successful farm/ business. Especially at the Dole banana plantation, I was able to see how the design of the farm is crucial to its productivity. The plantation is equipped with a rope system that brings bunches of bananas from the fields to the processing plant. Also, the processing plant is laid out so that the maximum amount of bananas can be processed and shipped out each day. Our tour guide also shared with us the different innovations present on the banana farm such as “diapers” between bananas to keep them from bruising and plastic bags over each bunch to protect the bananas and provide them with a microclimate while they finish growing. Our visit to icafe also gave me really interesting insight into the research being done about creating new varieties of coffee that are more disease resistant. Coffee is a very complex plant and I now understand the importance of design and innovation in the production of it. While there’s not as much design happening as far as harvesting coffee, there is a lot of innovation going into creating sustainable varieties of coffee and sustainable planting practices.
Processing mills and exporters are essential in the coffee supply chain. For one of these firms such as Doka, for example, the topic of design applies because of the necessity to design an efficient system that allows for maximum exportation and thus profit each year. Doka specifically has experienced issues with coffee theft during the coffee’s journey overseas, so they had to design a system involving trackers and locks so they can see exactly where the coffee is at all times. Design and innovation as far as products go is not a big focus for Doka because they export green coffee berries to countries such as the United States, but there’s always room for design as it relates to process enhancement.
Learning about coffee roasters and retailers was the most interesting to me from my perspective focusing on design. Since the coffee industry is focused mainly on just one crop, we learned that in order for a company to be successful, they should look at designing other related products or at the very least design innovative ways of packaging like Cafe Britt does. Cafe Britt and other successful coffee retailers use the place where the coffee was grown and charity partnerships in order to differentiate their coffee. While not all companies have such a concrete innovation process, Cafe Britt has a very specific process from the idea of a product to its launch. Having a strong innovation team that works internally rather than outsourcing this work to another company allows Cafe Britt to know what’s happening at each stage of the design process.
Lastly, from a customer standpoint, I have learned so much about the coffee industry and how designing plays such an important role in the supply chain. I am an avid coffee drinker, so seeing the entire coffee process firsthand from planting the coffee until brewing, and everything in between, has given me an amazing appreciation of coffee and the effect is has both on customers and the communities it is grown and processed in. Meeting the farmers and roasters and seeing their passion for coffee and sustainability has helped me see that there’s so much more to coffee than what gets me though class everyday. I’m sad to leave this beautiful country, but I’m so thankful for everything I’ve seen and learned here, not only about coffee but also about the people and culture. Now, one last time: ¡Pura Vida!