Colombia, Profiles

Buencafé shares its competitive edge in the soluble coffee market

Buencafé General Director Cristina Madriñán on the premiumisation of soluble coffee, achieving record sales results in a COVID year, and the importance of creating sustainable value. 

Some people spend their whole lives searching for a career that gives them fulfillment and purpose, but not Cristina Madriñán. She’s spent the past 25 years nurturing her career development at one of Colombia’s most respected coffee brands, Buencafé. 

Each Christmas at the end of harvest, Madriñán would visit her grandmother’s farm, a 10-minute drive from the Buencafé factory, and compete with her brothers and cousins to pick the highest volume of cherries.

“My grandmother always gave us a reward regardless of the weight of coffee we picked. It was a fun novelty to play amongst the coffee trees,” Madriñán says. “But for many Colombians, like my grandparents, coffee farming is a tradition and an income to support your family.”  

After completing a degree in industrial engineering, Madriñán started work at Buencafé as an intern in 1996. She broadened her technical and managerial knowledge with a Master of Business Administration, but since walking through the doors of Buencafé 25 years ago, Madriñán has never left. 

“Historically, Buencafé has been synonymous with spirit, international vision, and growth, and before joining Buencafé I knew it was a great place to learn and grow,” Madriñán tells Global Coffee Report.

“Working with Colombian coffee, Buencafé, and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) [which established Buencafé in 1973], means working for our country. It is a job one holds with pride because of the great contribution you can make to the agricultural sector and to many coffee-growing families. It is contributing to the development of Colombia.”

Buencafé produces 100 per cent Colombian freeze dried coffee.

Madriñán’s career at Buencafé has been marked by perseverance and discipline. She has experienced nearly all facets of the company, working in internal control, customer service, and the commercial team managing sales in North America and Asia, before taking over as commercial director in 2006. After a rigorous hiring process, Madriñán’s career trajectory peaked in January 2020 when she was appointed General Director, replacing long-serving Director Constanza Mejía.

“It was acknowledgment that I had the ability and competence to embrace this role – a demanding role, but one that is extremely rewarding when we accomplish our goals and turn challenges into opportunities,” Madriñán says. 

That ideology was put to the test when Madriñán’s administration coincided with the start of the global pandemic. 

“I navigated through the year with two resources: optimism, which is Buencafé’s superior purpose, and commitment of the working team, which redoubled its efforts to attend to factory operations,” she says. 

Acceleration under pressure
What transpired, was historic sales of US$162 million in 2020, up 10 per cent from sales in 2019, and a 13 per cent increase in production volume compared to the year prior. A further 8 per cent increase in revenue is expected by the end of 2021 compared to 2020, as is the processing of more than 500,000 bags of green coffee, making Buencafé one of the most competitive companies in the soluble coffee industry.

Record sales were also achieved in 2020 for Buencafé’s house brand Buendía coffee, present in 41,000 points of sale in Colombia and Ecuador, where it grew by double digits and is consolidated as the fastest growing brand. Sales of packaged retail products also continues to grow, with about 36 million freeze-dried coffee jars to be produced by end of the year.

“This growth in sales reflects the global increase in coffee consumption at home. Thanks to premiumisation of soluble coffees, consumers can find options on the market that meet their expectations. But rather than growing demand, we can largely attribute this growth in sales to the transformation and evolution of Buencafé as a company at all levels, managing to increase our efficiency, our quality, and our creativity when responding to our customers’ needs in global markets,” Madriñán says. 

Cristina Madriñán appeared on the cover of the November/December 2021 edition of Global Coffee Report.

As such, Buencafé has embraced innovation and diversity in its product line with the launch of a new coffee oil extract for the cosmetics sector, decaffeinated freeze-dried coffee in South Korea, and a range of products made with its Sensoria by Buencafé technology to grow its operational capacity in destinations such as Canada, Europe, Jordan, and China. Thanks to the dedication of the interdisciplinary work of the Buencafé technical teams, this technology is helping obtain flavour profiles it never thought possible in the soluble coffee market. 

“Our product portfolio is now more premium than ever thanks to the Lineage and Coffage coffee categories developed through this impressive technological set,” Madriñán says.

She notes that while the premiumisation of products was expected to stagnate due to the pandemic, it has had quite the opposite effect. 

“Given the impossibility of consuming coffee in specialised stores and enjoying that characteristic flavour, consumers made the leap to premium and higher quality products in the world of soluble coffee to enjoy at home the coffee experience that they were missing so much. Thus, the desire to have unique moments has led to combining premiumisation and home brewing, allowing consumers to indulge small luxuries with these products,” Madriñán says. 

Adding sustainable value
The other major change brought about by the pandemic is consumers’ concern for their environment, which is why Madriñán says environmental sustainability has become especially relevant.

“The value of sustainability is growing stronger and stronger,” she says. 

“COVID impacted people’s interest in improving their lifestyle and taking care of their health, which is reflected in the search for and acquisition of products that meet these new standards. In addition, the planet’s situation has increased people’s concern for the environment and their desire to be part of change. Consumers understand that their consumption habits also impact the environment, so they are now more careful when choosing their products.”

As an example, Madriñán says certified products with seals such as Rainforest Alliance in 2020 doubled compared to 2018.

Buencafé is passionate about its own environmental management in the areas of energy efficiency, environmental footprints (CO2 and water), and waste management.

For more than 25 years, Buencafé has used spent coffee grounds to fuel biomass boilers and reduce the use of fossil fuels. Today, it reuses 97 per cent of organic waste generated in the production process as fuel. It uses rainwater and recovered processed water for industrial services, and embraces hydrogeneration and solar energy for increased energy efficiency. According to a rigorous study under the National Appropriate Mitigation Action concept, Madriñán says Colombian coffee farming as a whole captures 5.2 times the carbon it emits.

 “Having a sustainable future in the world of coffee entails working for the prosperity of coffee growers, creating more wealth in the agricultural sector to encourage farming and generational change, and having coffee for future generations. All this means strong commitments to the environment and to stakeholders,” she says.

In addition to nurturing Buencafé’s sustainable future is a commitment to connect consumers with the source of Colombian coffee production. One silver lining to the pandemic, Madriñán says, is the rise of conscious consumer who values the process and people behind the product they consume.

“For Buencafé, it is of utmost importance that our consumers understand the story behind our products, that we create sustainable value when producing 24 million cups of coffee a day,” Madriñán says.

As part of the FNC, all Buencafé profits go back to coffee growers in ways of technical assistance, research, investments in infrastructure, sustainability, productivity, and other projects which contribute to their wellbeing.

“It is essential that consumers know that, by buying Buencafé products, they are supporting coffee-growing families since they are part of the culture of a region. If it were not for the support provided by Buencafé and the FNC, it would be very difficult to preserve this beautiful tradition that characterises us as Colombians and positions us on the international market.”

Long-term vision
Nearly two years into her appointment as General Director, and truthfully, Madriñán says 2021 has been more challenging than 2020. In addition to a global pandemic, Buencafé has navigated logistical delays, and rising coffee, freight, and plastic prices, resulting in further procurement challenges. As such, Buencafé will build a new fulfillment warehouse to ensure it can sustain ongoing growth and export of its products to more than 60 countries. 

Madriñán notes a growing presence for Buencafé products in North America, including Canada, Mexico, and the United States, which has proved an important market in terms of sales volume and value, followed by the European market. More specifically, it will also focus its attention on Central America and markets such as China and Southeast Asia due to the popularity of soluble coffee.

“The fact that Buencafé coffee is consumed so broadly tells us that we understand what our customers want, and the different cultural preferences of each market. What it also tells us, is that Colombian coffee is welcomed and appreciated around the world,” Madriñán says.

“The last year has also taught me that Buencafé is a company that is increasingly agile and adaptable to changes in the environment. Trends are fast-paced and consumer demands continue to evolve. If you don’t remain agile and adapt your business model, it can be fatal to the business. You need to reinvent yourself at all times.”

Through it all, Madriñán pushes ahead with motivation to lead a company that generates 1000 jobs and optimism to create sustainable value in the world of coffee.

“By creating sustainable value, we all win. Our purpose – to live with optimism as a transforming force that creates sustainable value in the world of coffee – is the transforming engine that invites us to define ourselves as part of a great ecosystem of collaborative networks,” she says.

“We want our positive impact to reach all of our stakeholders. Buencafé’s profits benefit about 540,000 coffee-growing families throughout Colombia. For this reason, one of our great contributions to consumers is to give them the opportunity to have a cup of coffee with a shared purpose, full of sustainable value.”

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