Buencafé is raising the bar in the soluble Arabica market

When it comes to soluble coffee, no region is more exciting to industry players than the booming instant business across the Asia-Paci undefined

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From the top boutique markets of Japan and South Korea to the most advanced retailers in Australia and New Zealand, instant coffee remains the king of consumption, accounting for at least half and as much as 90 per cent of the total coffee beverage market in some countries.

An interesting new development that has begun to gain traction in recent years is the increase in the number of soluble blends made with a higher share of Arabica beans instead of just Robusta. This, officials say, has started to change the perception of not just the quality of instant coffee, but of the image of the core product itself.

“The market segment in the soluble industry that is adding 100 per cent Arabica-based instant coffee to the final product – this is what we call a mixed blend – is an area that has seen one of the highest growth rates in recent years,” says Constanza Mejía, Director for Colombia’s biggest soluble factory Buencafé, which is owned by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC).

Soluble coffee has for years been dominated by the use of cheaper Robusta beans, which has aided the booming demand in emerging markets from more budget-oriented consumers. This is especially seen in the new consumer markets across South-East Asia and the Pacific, from South Korea in the north to Singapore, Indonesia and Australia in the south. 

But as new consumers have become more quality-conscious about the product they are drinking, says Mejía, demand for a higher quality product has also started to gain pace. And with that has come a steady new surge of demand for soluble coffees made from 100 per cent Arabica beans – such as those manufactured by Buencafé – as well as the mixed blends.

“The use of mixed products in instant coffee has been a common practice in the soluble market for years, as companies who cannot afford to use only Arabica beans instead typically use 100 per cent Arabica coffee for between 40 and 60 per cent of the final product, which both provides a cost-efficient way to enhance the final product, while at the same time offering the consumer a much better flavour experience,” Mejía tells GCR Magazine.

“As all the coffee produced by Buencafé is sourced from prime quality Arabica beans grown in Colombia by the growers supplying the FNC, we have a unique position in the market because we can offer single origin soluble coffee and consumers know the quality of Colombian coffee.”

World exports of instant coffee are estimated to reach between 14.5 million and 15 million 60-kilogram bags in the just-completed 2014-15 crop cycle, industry figures show. Total global soluble exports grew an impressive 26 per cent to 13.7 million bags in the five years up to the 2013-14 crop year, from 10.9 million bags in the 2009-10 year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

As much as 40 per cent of the entire annual manufacturing of soluble coffee from the Buencafé plant in the central Colombian coffee town of Chinchina is sold as single origin coffee, while the rest is used to smooth and enhance the coffee flavour in mixed soluble products, according to company figures. And this is where Buencafé believes the company can push the quality movement forward in the soluble segment to once and for all overcome the perception that instant coffee doesn’t offer a quality experience worthy of coffee lovers.

“Because of its high technical standards for cup quality, with an easily mixable context combined with a good colour and all the standards for a clean cup, the Buencafé freeze dried coffees really support and improve any average soluble coffee blend found in the market today,” says Andrés Cruz, Quality Director for Buencafé.

“Using a 100 per cent Arabica coffee from Colombia in a mixed blend gives companies a perfect combination when they mix this with soluble coffees from other origins because the Colombian cup quality reduces the notes of bitterness that are so typical in many instant coffees, while it at the same time provides a good body and aftertaste for a balanced coffee,” says Cruz.

An interesting detail to coffee lovers who are on a constant lookout for the sustainable footprint of the beans they drink: industry officials also agree that Colombian coffee – regardless of whether it comes in soluble format or as roast and ground – has one of the highest standards for social practices in the world of coffee.

The Colombian coffee logo, which features a happy Colombian coffee grower with his mule, is one of the world’s most famous coffee seals. Since it was first launched over 50 years ago it has been Colombia’s primary seal of quality and sustainability and as such provides direct support for the socio-economic development of 560,000 coffee growing families in the Andean country.

“Having visited Colombia many times over the years, I can say with absolute certainty that Colombian coffee farmers are some of the most hardworking, dedicated people you will find and not only do they believe in sustainable coffee practices, but the growers also always work towards maintaining a superior product,” said Kristine Breminer Isgren, a Q-Grader and the current Chair of the British Coffee Association.

The UK and Japan continue to be two of the world’s top coffee consumers, and despite the boom in café culture and specialty brew methods of roast and ground beans they still have instant coffee making up between 40 and 50 per cent of overall consumption, according to industry data from Japan and the UK respectively.

And the degree to which many soluble coffees have improved in cup quality during the past five to 10 years is the top reason for why even consumers in markets with a long tradition as coffee lovers still go back to instant coffee from time to time, either for price or convenience, Breminer tells GCR Magazine.

“It is so easy for consumers to assume that instant coffee is an inferior product to roast and ground, but with its freeze-dried product Buencafé has really strived to preserve the flavour characteristics and cup profile that Colombian coffee is famous for,” she says.

“When cupping this coffee, it is very easy to taste the light acidity and floral notes that would be lost in many other manufacturing techniques, and on top of that Buencafé is also uniquely able to offer different roast levels and processes to enhance certain desirable characteristics and to meet the demand of different consumer markets.”

Coffee lovers in countries such as Australia, where close to 90 per cent of the overall coffee consumed is made up by instant blends, will be happy to know that the quality of their instant coffee continues to improve. GCR

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