Salvadoran coffee cooperative gets marketplace boost with new packaging

SanCarlos Coop President 500SanCarlos Coop President 500[From left: Israel Márquez, president of San Carlos Dos Cooperative, and Margarito Gómez, a coffee cupper who determines quality.]On a recent field visit to the San Carlos Dos Coffee Cooperative in eastern El Salvador, it didn’t take organic coffee specialist, Douglas Barcenas, more than a sip of the steaming, high-altitude coffee to realize that the co-op had a high-quality, gourmet product on their hands. But one look at the packaging—a nondescript, cellophane bag with a simple sticker—led potential buyers to assume it was low-end, commodity coffee.

Barcenas recognized the opportunity to work with the cooperative to strengthen its marketing and sales opportunities through the El Salvador Coffee Rehabilitation and Agricultural Diversification Project, a USDA-funded program managed by NCBA CLUSA.

Nestled high in the mountains of the Cacahuatique Sierra, the San Carlos Dos Coffee Cooperative is a 770-hectare farm, 78 percent of which is used for sustainable coffee production. This 120-member cooperative—a quarter of whom are women—has been producing high-altitude coffee in Osicala, Morazán, since El Salvador’s agrarian reform in 1979, when large, private agricultural holdings were divided up and distributed to small shareholder farmers in a post-civil war, wealth redistribution initiative. While the resulting coffee industry has experienced periods of instability over the decades, coffee leaf rust, climate change impacts and market volatility have devastated El Salvador’s coffee economy in recent years.

In response to these trends, the El Salvador Coffee Rehabilitation and Agricultural Diversification Project began to work with producers in 2014 to transition the affected farmland to coffee leaf rust-resistant plant varieties, produce organic fertilizers and pesticides and improve marketing practices in an integrated approach to rebuild the industry and increase its overall competitiveness.

In early 2016, recognizing San Carlos Dos’s high-quality harvest, program specialists began working with the cooperative to develop new packaging solutions for both of their brands: Cacahautique, their commodity line; and San Carlos Dos, their premium line. In order to increase product visibility in new target markets, a design firm was hired to create new artwork that represented the cooperative’s vision for the product. The Rainforest Alliance logo was added to the packaging to inform customers about the cooperative’s certification and sustainable production practices, and the El Salvador Coffee logo was also included to support the Consejo Salvadoreño de Café’s national branding initiative that seeks to garner recognition for El Salvador’s high-quality coffees. The cooperative also chose to enhance the packaging with a freshness valve that encourages shoppers to savor the coffee’s aroma at the point of purchase.

SanCarlos Coop Packaging webSanCarlos Coop Packaging web[New packaging for the high-quality coffee from San Carlos Dos Co-op launched in October 2016.]"In terms of marketing, rebranding a product for a new target market must be carried out strategically. The program worked closely with San Carlos Dos to update its packaging and project a more serious brand image in the marketplace, one that guarantees both quality and freshness," said Beatriz Alegría, NCBA CLUSA's marketing specialist in El Salvador.

"This was a critical step for the cooperative, given that its leadership had their sights set on selling their coffee in San Salvador and other major cities across the country. They recognized that a new packaging solution was essential to connect with consumers that appreciate an excellent, high-quality coffee in specialty stores, coffee shops, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants," Alegría added. 

San Carlos Dos launched its new packaging at El Salvador’s first International Sustainable Coffee Conference, an event organized by NCBA CLUSA that featured a top-tier lineup of international sustainable coffee experts and exhibitors, and welcomed over 600 Salvadoran and international participants. During the event, the cooperative received a special visit from U.S. Ambassador Jean Elizabeth Hames, who complimented the new design and congratulated the cooperative for its hard work.

During the conference, San Carlos Dos President Israel Marquez said, "We are very pleased to have an innovative packaging solution that reflects the quality of our coffee." He noted that the new packaging would enable the co-op to sell at higher price points, increasing overall profit margins.

Not only did NCBA CLUSA help to develop the new packaging solution, it also focused on supporting the direct sale of products and increasing points of sale. The San Carlos Dos gourmet line is now being featured in the Consejo Salvadoreño de Café shop at the El Salvador International Airport, and will be sold in Banco Hipotecario’s museum, as well as at the national convention center’s restaurant, Bistro Cafeteria.

As a result of their ongoing technical assistance and Catholic Relief Service’s Blue Harvest initiative, new export contracts have been signed between San Carlos Dos and Falcon Coffee, a U.K.-based buyer focused on sustainable sourcing practices.

Since the launch of the El Salvador Coffee Rehabilitation and Agricultural Diversification Project in 2014, NCBA CLUSA has worked in accord with El Salvador’s environmental policy and advocated for sustainable agriculture practices, such as soil conservation systems and worker health practices, in a targeted effort to revitalize the industry with new techniques and sustainable technology.


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