Daterra is a Brazilian coffee producer with a business model that includes a large-scale production with socio-environmental responsibility. Daterra took advantage of the arrival in Brazil of Illy caffè, an international reference in terms of quality, to partner in research, improve the quality of its grain and enter the international production chain of the Italian company. It is a good example of how Latin American companies that specialize in natural resources can improve their competitiveness by incorporating knowledge that they acquire through their participation in an international value chain.
This is pinpointed in a recent Inter-American Development Bank publication, Synchronized Factories, which studies the factors limiting Latin American companies’ participation in international value chains and examines public policy spaces for improving this participation.
The case of Daterra illustrates how a company can join an international value chain succesfully.
Close to 88% of the coffee traded globally is sold as a commodity: there is no differentiation based on quality, and price is determined almost exclusively by fluctuations in supply and demand.
Illy’s entry into the Brazilian market as a buyer at the beginning of the 1990s made it the visible face of a trend that was already under way in other parts of the world: a business model where coffee is perceived as a differentiated good. There are two main types of differentiation: one is based on the physical properties that define the quality of the coffee (type of soil, irrigation and harvesting methods), and the other on production processes, such as sustainable environmental practices (organic coffee) or socioeconomic practices (fair trade). Such differentiation leads to prices that are much higher than those of regular coffee.
For Brazilian producers, becoming part of Illy’s value chain meant investing in high-quality production methods, something that was easier said than done.
This is why Illy introduced an incentive system in Brazil involving short-term contracts with long-term agreements, as well as a system of monetary awards and tiered prices for the best crops.
It also developed a knowledge transfer scheme through courses and consultancy work so as to reward loyal suppliers, including discounts on the cost of these courses.
The knowledge acquisition and capacity building that Daterra achieved through its relationship with Illy allowed the company to add value to its product.
The case of Daterra is part of a broader discussion regarding whether Latin America can insert itself into higher added-value segments in international value chains. Sometimes this discussion seems to suggest that countries in the region should target industries with a high technological content, such as electronics. But, in a broad sense, adding value involves identifying potential for entering into high-value segments that have not yet been exploited even within industries that have comparative advantages.
As the case of Daterra shows, value can be added in natural resource-intensive industries and this can lead to significant benefits such as conquering new markets or lessening the impact of the commodity price cycle.
Obviously the coffee industry is a very specific one, and markets for other primary goods do not necessarily offer such clear opportunities for differentiation. Even within the coffee industry, given the existence of well-established differentiated markets, the path is not always easy and typically requires a substantial investment in the acquisition of specialized knowledge.
The research that Daterra carried in coordination with many universities in Brazil allowed the company to locate near the final stages of the production chain and the investments in sustainability analyses that are open to consumers and other producers strengthened the relationship of Daterra with the international market. Daterra obtained some of the specialized knowledge through its supplier relationship with Illy, and now uses this knowledge to penetrate new markets.
This is the key point: one of the potential benefits of Latin American producers joining international value chains is the possibility of receiving technical knowledge transfer and know-how from global buyers.
Without this option, such knowledge can be difficult and expensive to obtain.
The increased participation of Latin American companies in international value chains could have a positive impact on gains in efficiency and productivity for the region, given the potential for knowledge transfer from global buyers to their suppliers in other countries.
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