September 9, 2020

How Do We Increase Coffee Consumption In Producing Countries?

It’s widely acknowledged that increasing coffee consumption in coffee producing countries is positive. This is because it creates a more stable coffee industry that is not completely reliant on external demand.

Despite this, people don’t always have a great understanding of how and why we should increase internal consumption. To get some more insight and to learn more about this, I spoke to two experts: Vera Espíndola and Carlos Brando.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Cómo Aumentar el Consumo de Café en Los Países Productores?

Internal Coffee Consumption In Producing Countries

It’s well known that most producing countries – with the notable exception of Brazil – don’t really consume their own coffee. Most of the coffee grown in producing countries is exported to overseas markets, such as Europe and the US.

Consumption levels are measured per capita – which is the total amount of coffee consumed in a year divided by the country’s population. Many of the countries with the highest level of per capita coffee consumption are found in Europe, including Finland (around 12kg), Norway (10kg), and Iceland (9kg). 

In comparison, Brazil – which produces the most coffee in the world – currently has a per capita consumption level of around 6kg. On average, this figure increases by around 3% year-on-year.

When compared to Brazil, however, consumption levels in other producing countries like Vietnam (1.6kg), Ethiopia (2kg), Indonesia (1.1kg), and Colombia (2.1kg) are considerably lower. 

This is because Brazil’s coffee industry has been directly focusing on increasing internal consumption for years. Both the public and especially the private sector in Brazil have invested heavily in increasing and maintaining coffee consumption levels.

Carlos Brando is chairman of the Global Coffee Platform, a membership organisation that focuses on improving outcomes for producers. He says that Brazil’s higher internal consumption level was first driven by a 15-year ABIC programme that addressed coffee consumption at all income levels.

The programme, Carlos says, initially involved surveying consumers and non-consumers, examining coffee “purity” and quality labels and campaigns, and educating people on the health benefits of coffee drinking.

After that, the program became more competitive. It was soon driven by companies’ own campaigns to target certain market segments. ABIC started to assume a supporting role. Companies began promoting lower-priced “traditional” coffee, which was often made with robusta; it was only later that this was complemented by specialty coffee.

Most other producing countries focus on delivering quality coffee for export. In these countries, the coffee that’s drunk is either the “leftover” coffee that doesn’t meet export quality standards, or imported. And while some other producing countries, including Colombia or Costa Rica, have launched initiatives to increase internal consumption, many have made little to no progress.

You may also like Why Greater Coffee Consumption May Not Mean More Beans Sold

Why Is Increasing Internal Consumption Important?


Increasing internal consumption benefits the entire supply chain. Vera Espíndola is a part of the Specialty Coffee Association‘s board of directors, and the Director of Strategic Alliances at Azahar Coffee. She says that higher internal consumption levels improve producers’ confidence in their farming ability as well as their coffee’s quality. 

Vera says: “Communication is different when [producers] can talk in their own language. Their confidence is different, as are the relationships they develop with the buyers or roasters.”

Greater internal consumption will also lead to more direct buyer-producer relationships. This allows the producer to take on and integrate feedback more easily. It also helps them grow their coffee with more input from buyers, and effectively communicate their challenges to buyers. 

“It’s not the same to visit a country and to live there. [By living there], you can know what producers are going through,” Vera says. When buyers in the same country interact more easily and directly with producers, coffee quality will naturally increase.

Increased consumption can also improve income and outcomes for producers. “All coffee growers have lower, mid and good quality coffee. That low quality coffee may have a market domestically… this is an extra outlet for the growers,” Carlos explains. This domestic market then provides the producer with an additional income stream, which could allow them to invest in their farm and grow.

Having access to both internal and overseas markets also gives producers more financial stability. For example, if producers’ export sales decrease for whatever reason, good internal demand for coffee provides them with another option.

It’s Not All About Specialty Coffee

In order to encourage people to drink more coffee, coffee itself needs to be both affordable and accessible. As well as promoting the health benefits and creating awareness about the importance of increasing internal consumption, access is key. 

A lot of initiatives focused on increasing internal consumption have focused on specialty coffee. Carlos explains that we need to look beyond that to get people drinking all kinds of coffee. “To increase consumption in [producing] countries, you have to work with mass consumption,” he says.

Vera agrees: “I’d love for everyone to drink amazing coffee, [and] have access to and drink an 83 point scoring coffee, but that’s not the reality. These coffees have a higher cost.

“[In Mexico], we have the biggest soluble coffee industry in Latin America. We need to understand that people drink coffee this way, and that they probably don’t know another way to do it. We can’t judge people’s consumption habits.”

Carlos says that “we need to be radical”. This means looking beyond the scope of specialty coffee. “You can serve good quality coffee to the middle class and to low-income people and it’s going to be good, but different, to what you serve in a specialty coffee shop. 

“It’s similar to wine in France. There’s very expensive wine, but most of the wine that [accounts for the] high per capita consumption in France is table wine.”

Vera adds: “We can try to promote better coffee, and create strategies around this, but we can’t forget the current consumption habits in these countries.” She believes that we need to “build a plan” based on the consumption habits of each country. This means recognising soluble and commercial coffee as well as specialty.

So, How Do You Do It?

Before countries incentivise people to drink more coffee or better coffee, Carlos says that they should examine how and why people consume coffee.

He recommends using surveys based on the templates found in the International Coffee Organization’s guide on increasing consumption in producing countries. He explains that this needs to be adapted to each country, and that “without a survey, you can’t have a strategy”.

Carlos says that surveys should ask coffee abstainers why they don’t drink coffee and existing drinkers why they don’t drink more of it. By looking at how responses differ according to income, you can create a clearer image of consumption and target your audience.

This will also help countries to develop strategies and launch programmes in the right way. For instance, while some audiences respond better to social media messaging, others may be more receptive to influence from industry players like baristas and roasters.

Both of these groups “have a responsibility to educate consumers”, according to Carlos. Vera agrees, saying that “every consumer needs a different message”. For example, older demographics may respond more positively to TV and radio campaigns than those on social media.

It’s common for younger audiences to be the most receptive to trying specialty coffee, as Vera says “they are interested in new trends in coffee, and understand it better than older generations”.

“Millennials are a strong group who can really push consumption,” she says. 

Carlos suggests that this group could be targeted at a stage when they start drinking coffee more heavily – such as when starting university, or looking for their first job. “We need to associate [coffee] with lifestyle or wellbeing,” he adds.

Increasing internal consumption is a big challenge in producing countries. It takes a significant amount of time, energy, and money to make it happen.

Producing countries who want to increase consumption levels, in the same way that Brazil has, need to be led by research. Before starting a campaign, it’s important that you understand target audiences and how certain demographics and groups’ coffee habits differ.

Enjoyed this? Then read Coffee Wars: Should You Drink Instant or Whole Bean?

Photo credits: Neil Soque, Fernando Pocasangre, Ana Valencia

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