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3. Results

3.3 Successful strategies

3.3.3 Coffee promotion

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they point out those problems they have seen during the visits to alert farmers and teach them the correct technique. A very similar quality control training course is taught inside Starbucks-Aini’s training center in Munaihe. Members of the joint-venture teach basic farming skills to coffee growers once every month or two. Starbucks and Aini’s experts show farmers samples of beans of different shapes and sizes, and ask farmers which type they think is the correct for a good quality coffee bean. According to them, farmers show a lack of basic knowledge on many aspects of coffee growing (B07). Farmers consider those trainings extremely helpful, and admit to have attended other meetings organized by Nestlé and Aini.

For them, it is a strategy to examine potential buyers while learning more about a plant that is new to them (F02).

Finally, another step towards quality control is the adoption of techniques on sustainable farming and certification programs (Du, 2007). This strategy is yet to be widespread in Pu’er coffee cultivation, but multinationals like Starbucks and Nestlé, or local companies like Aini, Beigui and Manlao River are becoming more a more specialized in this type of agriculture.

The government is now encouraging farmers to reduce harmful pesticides, engage in multi-cropping farming, and managing water resources for a better quality coffee that also protects the environment. Manlao River, a company that only produces organic coffee, insists that the quality of coffee beans in Yunnan would increase considerably if farmers adopted ecological farming techniques and better management practices (B03).

3.3.3. Coffee promotion

Yunnan coffee is still unknown to coffee connoisseurs and the general consumer. Pu’er residents and people involved in coffee production are increasingly aware of this problem.

While the news of Yunnan’s coffee boom is gradually spreading in China, there is an important lack of information among Chinese and foreign consumers. Except for those involved in the coffee industry, not many people in China know that Pu’er grows this kind of product. This could be a consequence of years of exporting the majority of coffee as unlabeled raw material and the lack of promotion in the domestic market (B08).

Unfortunately for Pu’er coffee industry, most foreign consumers regard products made in China as of lower quality and dubious safety; meanwhile in China, Yunnan is considered by most Chinese citizens as a poor province, very underdeveloped compared to the rest of the country. These conceptions are important obstacles to the development of coffee industry in

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Yunnan and to the acknowledgement of the technical and quality advances they are achieving.

To illustrate the difficulties that Yunnan coffee faces in its own country, an insider of Aini explains that some local coffees are exported and then imported back to China under a foreign name. “This happens because some people in China think imported coffee is better than local coffee. Even when the quality is good and it sells well in other countries, local people will always reject it because in their minds Yunnan is a backward region that can not excel at producing a foreign product” (B10, March 24, 2014). Officials in the Coffee Office admit that their strategy of improving quality standards is mostly aimed at attracting domestic consumers (G01, March 18, 2014; & G02, March 18, 2014). Not surprisingly, a marketing campaign to build and promote the “Pu'er Coffee” brand is one of the main strategies adopted by the local authorities and entrepreneurs. The main focus of these measures is set on branding, promotion of coffee culture and encouragement of domestic consumption.

Branding

Pu’er coffee has created a brand of its own. The trademarks “Pu’er Coffee” and “Simao coffee” are Certificates of Origin awarded by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) of the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, the slogans “Coffee Capital of China” and “Pu’er Coffee: China’s Good Coffee” are also widely used to brand and promote this drink. In their 2013 report, the Coffee Development Office stated that there is an increasing awareness, recognition and praise of the “Pu’er Coffee” brand, especially among coffee experts. They believe that growing international and domestic sales are helping improve brand recognition. Their ultimate goal is to spread the notion that Pu’er is the

“Coffee Capital of China” (Pu’er Coffee Office, 2013, pp. 10-15).

Raising quality standards and participating in coffee competitions are the main strategies used now by the government and local companies to publicize Pu’er coffee. Companies — encouraged and assisted by the government— take part of different coffee exhibitions, coffee appreciation events, barista competitions and other activities to expand the visibility and recognition of the Simao Coffee brand. Since 2012, Pu’er coffee has been present in several coffee competitions and exhibitions around the country. In June 2012, the local government organized a “Pu’er Coffee” night event with the theme “Savor Pu’er Coffee, Experience the Beauty of Pu’er” to promote coffee among government officials, celebrities and the media in Beijing. In November of 2012 and 2013, Pu’er coffee participated in the Guangzhou International Coffee Fair, obtaining considerate attention from the media and coffee experts;

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these fairs are a perfect opportunity for coffee producers in Pu’er to introduce their coffee, demonstrate its quality and potential, and distribute merchandising of the brand. Pu’er coffee has been present in several Barista championships and cupping competitions, and currently Pu’er city is active in organizing competitions to be held in the region. The purpose of these marketing strategies is to turn conceptions around and eliminate the notion that all Chinese and Yunnanese products are of inferior quality. Being awarded quality trademarks like “China Top Brand”, “Yunnan Famous Brand”, “Pu’er City Famous Brand” and “Yunnan Famous Brand Product” would help promote Pu’er coffee among skeptics (Zhu, 2012, p. 6).

Local government’s focus on branding is fairly recent. Before, when coffee was not so profitable, the sole emphasis was of farming techniques, increasing yield and improving quality (G02, March 18, 2014). Nowadays, the focus is placed on promoting local companies and their brands. Aini is currently the most popular brand in Yunnan and the company with greatest domestic recognition. Nonetheless, they believe Chinese consumers need to know the brand and acknowledge the quality of the product and choose it over other foreign brands.

For Aini representatives, the main objective of their company is to put all efforts on brand awareness and promotion, creating a separate image from Starbucks. According to them,

“once the general public has heard about us thanks to the joint-venture with Starbucks, it is turn to let people know about Aini as a domestic quality coffee brand” (B02).

Coffee culture

Quality and branding can only be successful if accompanied by a simultaneous promotion of coffee culture. Chinese people are newcomers in the coffee business, both as producers and consumers. Many of those who drink coffee in China only consume cheap instant coffee powder of low quality. Chinese coffee drinkers have not developed a flavor of their own, nor have they acquired a taste for enjoying coffee yet. They need to define their own coffee culture so that companies can target Chinese consumers according to that “China coffee culture” (B06). Government efforts on promoting coffee culture in the past years have been focused on helping establish more companies, opening coffee shops, and holding coffee appreciation events. Although these undertakings are having an increasing visible impact in Pu’er, coffee culture needs more time to develop properly in China (B05). The fast expansion of coffee shops in China, especially in big cities, is a great vehicle to spread the culture and promote local products. This is the opposite case as in Pu’er, where there is a culture of coffee cultivation, processing and trade, but not one of consumption (S01; & G02, March 18, 2014).

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Ironically, Pu’er has very few coffee shops and even less coffee stores, and they are mostly concentrated in shopping malls and the airport. Except for Aini’s coffee stands, the majority of cafés in Pu’er sell artificially flavored coffees that are more appealing to the local consumer. Aini cafés are one of the few places in Pu’er where consumers can enjoy the coffee experience, learn how to brew coffee and buy different products like roasted, ground or instant coffee, coffeemakers and other utensils. One member of the staff explained that many customers go to their café because they are attracted by the “glamour” of coffee. The shop is located inside a shopping mall and the average customers are young middle-class local men and women. They not only serve coffee, but also provide advice on which type of coffee to buy and how to brew it. The coffee experience is searching for each person’s own taste and learning how to make a good coffee. This growing interest in coffee brewing and roasting from regular citizens is an important motor for the growth of Pu’er coffee industry (C01).

Additionally, Pu’er is preparing for the construction of a Museum of Chinese Coffee Culture (Zhu, 2012, p. 6). The goal of this project is twofold: to spread coffee culture across Chinese citizens and to attract coffee tourism. Making use of the province’s rich tourism resources and increasing publicity of Yunnan coffee would attract domestic and international tourism and help promote coffee and increase sales (Li, Li, & Luo, 2011, p. 74).

Consumption

Coffee consumption in China rose significantly along with the economic boom in the past decade. The reform and opening up unlocked the gates for foreign coffee multinationals to enter China and create a new culture.

FIGURE 2: Total coffee consumption in China (1998-2012). SOURCE: International Coffee Organization, 2013

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Currently, economic growth is stable and Western influence is more powerful, particularly in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai. Coffee consumption is growing at rate of over 12 percent each year2. Experts argue that total consumption could reach 2.8 million bags by 2020, approximately the same amount as the United Kingdom (International Coffee Organization, 2014). Given the vast population of China and the fast growth of coffee consumption in the country, China will become a promising market for the world coffee trade. The ICO report, however, alerts that this consumption is not so significant when measured in absolute terms.

They point out that consumption will remain dependent of economic growth and available only for he urban middle class (International Coffee Organization, 2013). Chinese coffee promoters want China to experience the same development in coffee consumption as Japan.

Before the second half of the twentieth century, tea was Japan’s most popular drink.

Nowadays, Japan is the world's third largest importer of coffee and the fourth largest consumer in the world (ICO, 2014). They have developed a well-rooted coffee culture and a considerable knowledge about trade and quality standards. Japan’s consumption now is four or five times that of China. The ICO is cautious to report a booming growth of China’s coffee consumption. In Pu’er, on the contrary, expectations are high and official data is optimistic.

Pu’er government officials are confident to state that China’s consumption will soon reach the levels of Japan, becoming Asia’s main coffee consumer. They, nonetheless, admit that it is still necessary to put all efforts available on the promotion of consumption among Chinese citizens. Consumption will not increase only with economic development; authorities and coffee companies need to generate a need for coffee and create a coffee culture individual of China (G02, March 18, 2014).