CoopeVictoria visit High Wycombe October 2019 -Part 3 of 3 – The meeting with Bewleys


  • Louise Whitaker
  • Maria Angela Zamora Chaves (CoopeVictoria)
  • Mike King (Chairman Wycombe For Fairtrade)
  • Jhon Munoz (Latin America Link Wycombe For Fairtrade)
  • Maria Angela Zamora Chaves (CoopeVictoria)

The Discussion

Maria Angela from CoopeVictoria (CV), a Fairtrade Certified organic coffee and sugar producer from Grecia in CostaRica, explained her position and the background of the CV cooperative producer group. It was formed in 2010 as a Social Trade Enterprise Economic Organization. It comprises of around 3000 farmers growing organic Fairtrade coffee and sugar on over 200 plantations.

CV is located in the intermontaine valley where there are fertile soils and a favourable climate. They have just inaugurated a “Meet the Producers/People Tour” as part of the ethical tourism of Costa Rica, to diversify the economy, and earn additional income.

The town of Grecia is located NE of the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, about one hours’ drive away.

Maria Angela explained the background and history of CoopeVictoria.

Another ecological and sustainable development was their scheme to involve local school children to bring in used vegetable cooking oil from their homes to a collection centre at the school. This was then purified and mixed with diesel fuel to power their tractors and local lorries. CoopeVictoria owned local gas stations and used the fuel to fill up the tractors and trucks. Electricity to power the gas station pumps came from renewable energy in the form of solar panels.

Another aspect of diversification was to intercrop, grow vegetables like tomatoes between the coffee and sugar cane as well as planting local tree species for shading the coffee bushes. Maria Angela goes into schools to give talks on their ethical community solidarity model approach to business which places people before profit. Maria Angela is also a lecturer and academic at the University of Costa Rica teaching business management.

Even with the benefits of Fairtrade and the additional investment from the Fairtrade Premium, some workers are still relatively poor, especially those who are subsistence farmers that rent land which constitutes 50% of the farmers, while the other 50% own their land. 64% of CV’s Fairtrade coffee is exported to Europe with another 30% going to North America.

CoopeVictoria had previously sent a package of their “green” coffee beans for Bewley’s to roast. Dave, the Bewley’s UK Senior Quality Manager “really liked them”. Maria also gave Bewley’s another batch of green beans for further quality analysis as well as accompanying coffee flavour charts and strength gauges. CoopeVictoria also sells its Fairtrade coffee to shops, supermarkets, cafes, as well as to BIDA, a Peruvian distributer. Barista training is run by CV as an essential part of the coffee enterprise.

Coffee production is around 50,000 bags per year. This is down from 100,000 bags 10 years ago due to the effects of climate change, low coffee bean prices, and diversification of crops. Fairtrade organic sugar production exceeded that of coffee for the first time in 2019 with trader prices regulated by the local government. Over 20% of CoopeVictoria coffee is sold and exported under Fairtrade terms and another 10 to 15% sold under Rain Forest Alliance qualification. Women’s rights are a big issue in Central America, and women constitute 33% of the CoopeVictoria workforce, including senior management positions. 7% of the workforce is under 35 years old.

Maria Angela gave more coffee beans and varieties of ground coffee to Louise and promised to send her examples of their publications, videos of their education, community and ecological projects.

History and Business of Bewley’s outlined by Louise Whitaker

Bewley’s is an established Irish Quaker company based in Dublin with offices in High Wycombe (UK and Europe) as well as in North America with offices in Boston and California. Last year Bewley’s did over £50 million of business in Ireland, £50 million turnover in North America, as well as £45 million generated in the UK market. The University contracts in the UK are essential and Bewley’s has an established and loyal market from UK universities. Their UK roasting facility is in Meltham, Yorkshire.

Bewley’s main brands are:-

  • Grumpy Mule
  • Eros
  • Self service machine coffee

65% of the business in the UK is in London and the South East of England.

Coffee drinking patterns have changed over the years with coffee being drunk outside the home, on the move – take away from garages and coffee shops, people are no longer working specifically in an office. Bewley’s focus on high-end coffee with 90% of their coffee sourced from Central and South America. However the world market price for coffee has dropped over the last few years with farmers struggling to meet the costs of production. Louise stated that coffee demand is expected to grow year on year. Farmers, producers and roasters need to work together to grow the market and boost sales.

Bewley’s are aware that like many items, coffee packaging is plastic based and is investing in research to reduce the amount of plastic and aluminium to ensure an air-tight, moisture free, and light filtered packet. They are looking at a hybrid bio-package derived partly from sugar cane stalks and are trialling some prototypes.

Recommendations and medium term proposals

Louise suggested that if the second CoopeVictoria green bean batch was as good as the first, there was the possibility of creating a speciality coffee from CoopeVictoria, by having a small production run of 60/120 kilo sacks of Costa Rican CoopeVictoria coffee roasted in their Yorkshire facility and put into plain sliver and/or black bags as a speciality coffee. Louise had this dream of a speciality coffee. Other potential coffee roasters and wholesalers could be Mercanta, Coaltown, and Ferarri. Louise reported that there was an “Innovative Forum” relating to sustainable supply chains as there was an increasing need for traceability and a “need to know where the coffee originates.”

Louise also suggested that she would encourage the young Deputy Quality Manager of Bewley’s to travel to Costa Rica on holiday after Christmas to experience the CoopeVictoria coffee and sugar plantations first hand as well as take the “Meet the Producers Tour” in this country where eco-tourism is widespread. Maria Angela replied that she would arrange the CoopeVictoria coffee visit and that the Bewley’s manager could stay in her house. This would be self-funded and take place after December 2019 during the coffee harvesting season in Costa Rica. Maria Angela said that half the coffee pickers were Nicaraguan and El Salvador migrant workers, paid a minimum wage according to Fairtrade principles and lived in proper accommodation.

CoopeVictoria had built a “Happy House” for migrant workers children, who did not work but previously did not go to school. CoopeVictoria had paid a teacher and turned a large room into a school. The building itself is composed of recycled plastic bottles.

Notes produced by

Mike King, Chairman Wycombe For Fairtrade

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