02 October 2018 | pacts insight | Views:

Working Together to Get the Job Done: how competition is healthy in Colombia

You might have noticed from the flurry of posts on our social feeds that Managing Director Paul Turton and Head of Coffee Will Corby spent the last week in Colombia.

This was no jaunty summer holiday (though they probably spent some time sipping on aguardiente). These trips are a chance to check in on the farms we work with, find new coffees we want to bring back and to keep growing the relationships we’ve already built.

Pact Coffee for Business is all about relationships - whether it’s with farmers, our customers, our team or our investors, it’s mutually beneficial to work together towards common goals. But what we learnt from Will and Paul’s travels is that there’s a lot to be gained from working with your competitors too…

Work towards common goals

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Paul and Will did get to kick back now and then on their trip - no more so than when all the local farms came together to host a barbecue in their honour.

Let’s be clear: these coffee farms are effectively competing for business. There’s only so many coffee buyers, and growers need every single sale. But that hasn’t stopped them from forming a community. They’ve worked together to build a school and a chapel - which just shows why you should ask ‘how can we help each other?’ when it comes to you and your rivals.

Pass on knowledge

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Insider information and trade secrets are essential in a lot of industries. Think of it in a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ kind of way - chances are, you helping someone means they’ll return the favour in the future.

Will and Paul visited Ananeus on their trip, and he’s a great example of this. Usually Will acts in a ‘mentor’ capacity, passing on his knowledge of coffee growing and processing, so farmers can grow the best crop possible. But this time he got some top tips back! Ananeus has developed a low-temperature drying methodology that produces great results. Now Will can pass that onto other farms, and help them do better too.

Find solutions to shared problems

As we’ve seen, a lot of coffee farms we work with don’t isolate themselves from competing farms. And that’s partly because a lot of the problems they face will be the same problems.

Instead, they form co-ops and groups (like the San Isidro group that a lot of these Colombian farms belong to) to share knowledge and solve issues together. This trip, Will visited the group to give a coffee roasting masterclass. Now they all know best practice, and the quality can grow across the board.

Give others a boost

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There’s a lot of benefits to working with your competitors - that’s pretty clear. But there’s also the benefit it can have on a wider scale. Will and Paul visited the Asumoprisma Women’s Association during their trip, a group trying to encourage leadership opportunities for women in the coffee industry.

Made up of 20 coffee producers, they work together to change both their lives and the lives of women many generations on. Yeah, they’ve got their own farms to worry about. But they’re also committed to changing things for the better for everyone, not just for them.

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In an industry that’s so unstable, plagued (literally) by plant diseases and endlessly fluctuating commodity prices, maybe it’s essential that competitors work together. But we think that’s something we can do in our businesses and lives too. Together, we can do good by doing well.

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