Starbucks to get more Colombians drinking coffee, rival hopes

Fri Aug 30, 2013 11:33am EDT
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By Peter Murphy

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The Juan Valdez cafe chain, owned by farmers and beloved by Colombians, expects the imminent arrival of Starbucks Corp to help it boost surprisingly low consumption of the beverage in a nation that grows much of the world's tastiest arabica.

The Seattle-based coffee chain will open about 50 stores serving Colombian-only coffee in the Andean country in five years starting in 2014, it announced this week. The company is already the single-biggest exporter of coffee from Colombia.

Hernan Mendez, head of the 10-year-old Juan Valdez chain, said the novelty of Starbucks could help turn more Colombians into coffee drinkers given meager per capita consumption below 2 kg (4.4 lbs) a year - about a fifth of what Nordic nations drink.

"It's ironic that in a country that produces such good coffee, that consumption is so low," Mendez told Reuters in an interview in Colombia's capital, Bogota, two days after the Starbucks announcement.

"There's good economic growth and ... even though we are a coffee producing country, consumption per capita in Colombia is very low so I think there is room to have Colombians drink more coffee and Starbucks can help achieve that," he said.

Despite new competition, Mendez expected strong patriotic loyalty to the Juan Valdez chain which sports a beige and burgundy color scheme and ubiquitous sketched images of Valdez, a fictitious coffee farmer standing beside his mule, Conchita.

"Of course they will want to try the Starbucks experience because it's something new but ... we are very comfortable that our model is much more in tune with Colombian preferences," Mendez said.

The Juan Valdez character, conceived in the 1950s as a marketing emblem for Colombian coffee has gained the affection of Colombians, as a wholesome icon representing the work ethic and love of nature in a country whose image has been blighted by decades of guerrilla warfare and cocaine trafficking.   Continued...

A barista pours a drink at a newly designed Starbucks coffee shop in Fountain Valley, California August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake