NAMA CEO Carla Balakgie stops to pick some cherries while on the Costa Rica Coffee Origin Tour.
Lush landscapes, information-sharing and a coffee origin tour were highlights for a group of 50 National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) members, leaders and select spouses and family as they visited Costa Rica recently.
While the group event included a comprehensive coffee exploration, the key objective, from NAMA's perspective: business-building.
"Coffee is a proven growth segment in our channel and this tour was an important experience for NAMA members to better understand the origin and entire life cycle of this product – from farm to cup," said Carla Balakgie, president and CEO of NAMA in a prepared statement.
"This trip had value that totally exceeded my expectations," said Craig Hesch, NAMA chairman emeritus. "It's a great example of NAMA providing the leadership to develop an industry-related educational opportunity. I believe that what I learned and experienced fundamentally will help me grow my business."
The group participated in a two-day origin tour led by Luz Marina Trujillo, owner and president of Santa Elena, who showed the working operations of her 750 acre farm and processing facility. Luzma shares her passion for coffee with her husband, Jim Stewart, founder of Seattle's Best Coffee.
"We began the day with 'Coffee 101' and discussed wide-ranging data, from describing what a coffee cherry is to how much coffee a single tree produces. From a business perspective, we shared valuable information, including the real costs of growing coffee, the difference between specialty and commercial coffee and suggested ways to communicate quality within the market realities of your business model," said Dean Gilland, vice president, sales and service of NAMA.
Following the education session, the group took part on the trips' most important event: a tour of the Santa Elena Estate in the Tarrazu region. The combination of the altitude of 5,000 feet, the climate's sun, cool night temperatures and limited rainfall, along with volcanic limestone soil, make for world-famous coffee farming.
"This experience -- of being on the farm, picking cherries shoulder-to-shoulder with the coffee-farming families -- was truly phenomenal," said Dan Mathews, executive vice president and chief operating officer.
"We saw the labor process with our own eyes and now have an appreciation for the volume of coffee cherries these families, including their children, pick to earn a wage for just one day. It was daunting and beyond educational," he continued. "Moreover, it was a privilege for our group to tour Luzma's farm with the benefit of her expertise."
"Visiting Santa Elena is something to experience. We are motivated by your presence and your involvement to maintain our tradition of a sustainable coffee farm," said Luzma Trujillo, owner and president of the farm.
On the second day of the origin tour, the NAMA group visited The Costa Rica Coffee Institute (ICAFE), a non-governmental trade association established in 1933 to promote the coffee business.
"For Café de Costa Rica, the National Coffee Sector and the Costa Rica Coffee Institute (ICAFE) the recent visit from NAMA has been very rewarding. We shared a coffee farm, coffee milling, and ICAFE´s Coffee Research Centre. We hope this provided a greatly expanded view of the world of coffee," said ICAFE's Warner Villegas.
Overall, the group shared their assessment that the Costa Rica origin tour and trip overall had tremendous value.