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Mexico
Actively Promoting its Coffee

BY MAJA WALLENGREN

International recognition for Mexican coffee as being of specialty and gourmet quality has been growing steadily in recent years. Now The Mexican Coffee Council is trying to capitalize on the achievements today, and at the recent annual convention of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) in Anaheim this May, Mexico was ready with a brand new logo, as it announced that a certification program is underway. Maja Wallengren reports.

Bright colors of pink, blue and yellow mixed with colonial-style ceramics. It isn’t even remotely similar to the Colombian coffee farmer Juan Valdez and his mule, but Mexico’s new coffee logo is just as cheerful and appealing.

And over time, the Mexican coffee industry hopes this logo of brightly colored coffee beans will be identifued just as well as a sign of quality coffee, in the international market and to the average consumer across the world.

“If you see this seal, you are as a consumer or importer guaranteed that you get a good cup of coffee, that the coffee bearing this seal is of a consistent good quality,” said Roberto Giesemann, executive president of the official Mexican Coffee Council.

Giesemann was, prior to taking over the top coffee job in Mexico a year ago, the pioneering effort behind the setting up of the Mexican Specialty Coffee Association - known as Calicafe -which is widely acredited with bringing the word “quality” back into importers’ and buyers’ minds when talking about Mexican coffee.

But to earn the recognition of being a producer of consistent quality is a long and rocky road, and few countries except Colombia can claim the world-wide respect for quality as Juan Valdez has done.

Giesemann says the main objective of the coffee council is to implement an official quality certification program, and although the program has yet to be officially announced, the physical implementation is advancing well.

“We now have the zeal, we do have the norm (legally) established, we have the program - now is the time to implement it,” he said. “We have now started a very serious quality certification program and for the implementation of that we have installed many, many cupping labs throughout Mexico and all the country’s producing regions, of which the main one at the coffee council’s headquarters in Mexico City has just been completed.”

The quality certification program is also supported by a quality improvement decree signed into effect by President Vicente Fox last December and which obligates all coffee exporters to withdraw 5% of the coffee which consist of the lowest quality beans. These are usually the beans known as black and broken, unripe and fermented beans, and the 5% volume account for the average amount of beans which in Mexico normally are considered rejects and mostly used in the soluble industry.

“We are changing our international image,” said Giesemann, adding that hand-in-hand with the new quality certification program goes a new major campaign which seeks to at least double local consumption.

The target of the new promotion campaign is to see the average per capita coffee consumption in Mexico rise to about 1.5 kilograms per capita from the current 0.743 kg within three to four years. Backed with federal-government funds worth roughly $1.8 million to $1.9 million, this would mean a domestic consumption rise to at least 2.6 million bags from the current volume of roughly 1.3 million bags.

“The potential for per-capita growth is enormous, and when we talk about targets, we should in three or four years see per-capita consumption rise to 1.5 kilograms,” said Giesemann earlier this year when presenting to local media a series of colorful television adds and education-video material that it hopes will convince the average Coca-Cola-addicted Mexican to start drinking more coffee.

Mexicans are the highest per-capita consumers of soft drinks in the world but have one of the world’s lowest per-capita consumption rates of coffee, even though the country is the fifth-largest producer of the bean worldwide.

As in most coffee-producing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, coffee cultivation was largely initiated by colonial powers in order for the foreign rulers to establish a solid source of revenues from cash exports such as coffee, cotton and sugar.

Only in Ethiopia, where coffee first was discovered growing in the wild sometime in the 12th century, was coffee grown because the local population developed a liking for the hot, black beverage produced from the little, red and juicy coffee cherries.

As coffee producers across the world suffer their worst social crisis ever due to historically low prices in international markets, producing countries such as Mexico are trying to increase efforts on increasing local consumption to ease the pressure from massive overproduction.

“We would like to have that trend completely reversed so that exports may reach only 20% of the total volume we produce and consist only of our top grades, and then keep the reminder 80% in the country for domestic consumption,” said Giesemann.

He said the perhaps most-important part of the campaign would be to convince the Mexican population of some 100 million that coffee is not bad for your health - and that it is in fact healthier than Coca-Cola.

Mexico’s coffee industry has been under increasing pressure in recent years from continued low prices in global markets, and many producers would prefer to sell to the higher-priced local market, which also offers more stability than volatile world markets.

Maja Wallengren started writing about coffee seven years ago when she lived in South-East Asia and has continued to specialize in coffee during her travels as a reporter in East Africa and Latin America.

Born and educated in Denmark, Maja Wallengren is fluent in six languages and today lives in Latin America where she covers the coffee industries in Mexico and Central America for OsterDowJones Commodity News. She writes for leading publications and is regularly invited as a speaker to conferences hosted by the coffee industries across Latin America, the U.S., Asia and Europe.


Tea & Coffee - August/September 2002
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