The Wine of Costa Rica

Volume 28, . Comments

…You may find that title a little odd for a column about the South American nation of Chile, but Chile is something of an anomaly today, anyway.

We set out late last year to create a presence for Café Britt in Chile. The project took on a life of its own. By July 10, we’d opened three coffee-and-gift stores at Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport.

To support our new stores, we set up a warehouse and logistics backup operation, hired 100 employees and began selling to some of the country’s finest restaurants and hotels.

Our first shipment of coffee there sold out in 10 days. We thought it would last a month.

We’re already planning a fourth store and an Internet-based virtual store that will sell only to customers within Chile – a first for us, but a necessity.

Chile measures more than 2,600 miles from its arid northern desert to its southern tip of ice and penguins. Yet, it spans only about 115 miles at its widest point. Great distances often prevent coffee lovers from just running to the nearest major city for a cup of Café Britt. Our Internet stores will allow customers to order from their homes and receive their coffee within a few days.

In only eight months we created a presence in Chile that is already larger than what was our flagship Costa Rica operation in 1999.

And I didn’t have anything to do with it.

My son, Philippe, led a team of about 40 people that set the whole system up before I’d even set foot in the country. I walked off the plane in Santiago to discover that we’d become quite a tour de force. Café Britt – our coffee – is right now becoming “the wine of Costa Rica” as far as Chileans are concerned.

True, the country was ready for us. With its long wine-making tradition, Chile should be a country of coffee lovers, but with no climate for local coffee production, 90 percent of Chileans drink instant coffee.

Globalization has opened markets. Former dictator Augusto Pinochet was as authoritarian as only dictators can be, but the free market-style policies he insisted on in the 1990s have transformed the Chilean economy into a Latin American powerhouse. Democracy – with a respected police force – is standard fare today.

Chile has free trade agreements with most of the world. Government rules are clear, phones and electricity work, people are well educated and the quality of employees is very high. Many have high-speed Internet in their homes, and carry Blackberries. This country works.

That’s a new experience for us in Latin America.

Chile is an anomaly, but we’ll take it. This country is living proof that the inefficiency, complexity and nerve-frazzling bureaucracy characteristic of Latin America can be overcome. And we’re right here, now, in the middle of it. A very proud moment.

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About Steve Aronson

New York coffee broker Steve Aronson founded Café Britt in 1985 to market roasted Costa Rican coffees to the world.


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