Monday, October 31, 2011

The value of non conformity !

I recently chatted with a group of students and business people in Honduras about how Britt has managed to build a company using gourmet coffee and chocolate as our raw materials. I described how we took these products — the very same products found in Honduras — and transformed them into fine, finished gourmet goods under the Britt brand, and how we did it all from Central America. After many years of hard work, these products are highly valued by consumers of many cultures and in many countries. We hoped our actions would encourage young people to set high goals for themselves and never settle for conventional wisdom — the analysis of what won't work without a vision of what could be.

I thought that a message of optimism, based on our own real experience at Britt in overcoming obstacles, could be valuable in a country like Honduras. More than half the population there lives below the poverty level. Recent years have been filled with violence and political strife, and as a result young entrepreneurs find it hard to arrange financing for their projects. Honduran students and business people are today faced with many of the same limitations that we experienced at Britt in the 1990s, when we were just getting started turning our dreams into realities.
I shared four qualities that I think were vital for us while we were building our Company:

We approached business with a certain degree of rebelliousness and irreverence. When we were getting started in Costa Rica it was illegal to sell export–quality coffee within the country. At the time, a sort of "Berlin Wall" separated export-quality coffee from "domestic-consumption coffee". The quality of this "domestic-consumption coffee" was so horrible that it was dyed a greenish-blue color to ensure it would never be sold abroad. We challenged the authorities and succeeded in changing the rules so Costa Ricans could drink the same premium coffee enjoyed by coffee lovers around the world – without leaving our country. This is only one example, but I can assure you, based on personal experience, that whenever you have a truly innovative idea, the "experts" will most certainly oppose it. The most common reason they'll give you is that it won't work because no one's ever done it before.
We let our authenticity do the talking. We've never pretended to be something we're not. Our marketing has always remained true to our products' true characteristics. I always tell new coworkers in our Britt Shops that an advantage of working for Britt is that we'll never ask them to embellish the qualities of anything we sell. All we ask is that they study each product's characteristics, sample the edible products and learn where the product comes from and its history. Our slogan, "From the plantation to your cup" reflects this desire to be familiar with the whole process and what happens at each of its steps. We live in a globalized world, but we human beings still enjoy our cultural differences and the unique products that give each of our countries their own "sense of place." Britt operates in many countries. Much of our work focuses on highlighting the unique and authentic elements of each culture.

We've held a consistent market position over time. It's based on our obsession with quality. Anyone who has enjoyed our products over the years knows what I'm talking about. At Britt, we expect the same quality that is found in our products to extend to our service. That brings me to my next point.
We've made a real effort to show good taste in everything we do. When we exceed our customers' expectations with our personalized service, attractive products and pleasant, authentic shopping atmosphere, we achieve the "Wow! Factor" we're looking for. Achieving a Wow! Factor based on good taste is the epitome. It's the best we can do. Curiously, achieving that level of service doesn't mean we're perfect or that we never make mistakes. We contribute to the Wow! Factor even more when we take great care to resolve a customer complaint and follow up by asking if there's anything else we can do. We foster customer loyalty by admitting when we make mistakes and working hard to quickly find a solution.

Companies are made up of people. That's the bottom line. Great companies are built on people who challenge conformity, who are authentic and of sound character. If we take all of that and add an element of good taste, we're well on our way to building not only a good company, but a great one. 

Cafe Britt at your service,


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Britt in the Dominican Republic: A New Frontier

I was in the Dominican Republic earlier this month to watch the “birth” of our newest arrivals – six new stores in three airports. The DR, which shares half the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is the Caribbean’s largest tourism destination. Our grand openings were a great success!
Britt Shop is now part of the mix in the International Airport of the Americas in the capital city of Santo Domingo and in the airports of Samaná, and Puerto Plata, two tourism hot spots.

Our start-up team included coworkers from Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and Chile. Just seeing the impression they made on their new Dominican counterparts affirmed for me what a privilege it is to lead such a competent, creative, committed and ethical group of people.
Every time I speak with someone new at Britt, I go away with the feeling that we’re doing something very right. It’s gratifying to see young people in our home country drawn to Britt for its reputation, for the quality of our gourmet coffee and chocolates, for the innovation that characterizes our gift shops, and for the authenticity of our actions. This is the case because we love our jobs! But to go to another country and see people of another culture, even one as joyful, fun and marvelously friendly as the Dominican culture, so impressed with the caliber of our coworkers and so immersed in the “Britt Enthusiasm”– it’s one of the things I like best about my job.
That’s when a job stops being a job and becomes an adventure. It becomes a cultural awakening through the life stories of artisans and workers. It’s present in variations of the Spanish language, when familiar words and phrases have meanings that are totally different from the way they are used in my own country. The adventure extends to exquisite chocolates, traditional sweets, Latin music that includes merengue, bachata, salsa and other Caribbean rhythms. After a “job” like this, my life becomes richer.
And that’s what I want to share with you, faithful customers. You’re the ones who visit our website:, and experience the quality of our customer service, coffee and chocolates. That’s why I want you to know about another side of Britt culture – the adventurous side. It’s what motivates us to venture into other countries to open gift shops and share the same values that you receive from us on your doorsteps, together with your orders of gourmet coffee and chocolates. It’s an enterprising, service culture that encourages everyone to give the best of him or herself for the common good.
A lot of turbulence is shaking the world right now. The markets and prices are intensely volatile amid financial crisis and global uncertainty. We’re immersed in this tumultuous climate, yet we keep growing thanks to the honest, arduous and ceaseless efforts of a group of people who view their jobs as an opportunity to create, support, change and improve. Their aspirations raise the spirit and foster a very unique business culture that inspires the new employees as they become part of the Britt family.
Together we work to improve our surroundings and contribute to society. I’m convinced that we’re contributing greatly to everyone who receives our products and services or who is otherwise involved with our organization. Because Britt is a young, modern and agile company that isn’t deterred by obstacles. With enthusiasm and teamwork, we create projects that improve the economies of our countries. Today, we’re very happy to say that that includes the Dominican Republic. Could that be part of what “Social Responsibility” is all about?
Saludos cordiales,

Questions? Comments?

Monday, July 04, 2011

Toward an earth-friendlier ethic

I had the chance June 16 to speak about our Go Green Britt approach at the Globe Conference Costa Rica 2011 ( For about 20 years now, these conferences have been bringing business leaders together with government officials to talk about the environment. This time around, the conference focused on how to move more quickly toward a low-carbon economy. I took part in a panel that discussed how companies can help the economies of our countries become more environmentally friendly.

I described for the group some of the many things we do at Britt to foster a healthy environment, especially during the month of June, when we celebrate Environment Month. We encourage our suppliers and customers to get involved in our efforts. For example, at the Central Pacific beach community of Manuel Antonio, many of our customers are local hotels and restaurants. The town is the site of a like-named national park and much tourist activity. In early July, we'll work together on a project to reforest the banks of an area river. But all that aside, I think the time has come for a new business ethic that takes into account the interests of future generations. It's been my experience that our children are our biggest motivation to get out of our comfort zones, change our way of thinking and work toward a healthier environment. We think about all the natural beauty that we enjoy. We want it to be part of our children's future, but it may not be if we don't act responsibly today.

The best way to take to heart the destructive side effects of modern life is simply to think about those who'll come after us. Using economic jargon, this approach can help businesses internalize some of the externalities created by modern life including its current business models.

A few weeks ago, The Economist, a British magazine, ran a cover story on how the geologists of the future would likely consider our current era the "Age of Man" (Anthropocene), due to the great changes that humans have inflicted on the planet. Many of these changes are irreversible. The fact that a magazine normally focused on provable economic themes would dedicate so much space to the topic is significant in itself. That this magazine views man's impact on the planet as worrisome and issues a call to action is a step in the right direction. It urges us to better understand our actions and "manage" them for the good of the planet.

The marketplace doesn't yet offer enough incentive for companies to give environmental matters the priority they deserve.

Consumers aren't necessarily willing to pay extra for environmentally sound goods and services. We saw that some 20 years ago, when we practically reinvented Costa Rica's coffee-industry rulebook to create and sell an all-organic coffee.

Managers today are under far less pressure from their companies and shareholders to produce environmental results that are as exacting and urgent as their financial results. A company's poor environmental performance usually doesn't influence the value of its stock in the public markets, except when a catastrophe like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico takes place.

Until the market steps up, it's imperative that we business people develop and embrace a new business ethic that views ourselves as stewards of the earth, not exploiters who exhaust all its resources.

This ethic would be one that allows the voices of our children, grandchildren and all those who follow to be heard.

Until next time,


Comments? Questions? Write to me at

Monday, May 02, 2011

Gourmet coffee and health - here's to both

When I'm around people who know I work for Café Britt or when we're
drinking coffee, I'm often asked about coffee's effects on human health. What's
interesting is that people who are my age - 40 or older - usually ask me about
coffee's harmful effects. People younger than 40, far from worried about
coffee, often make comments about coffee's health benefits.

Coffee got a bad rap about 30 years ago following reports that linked it to
health problems. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, coffee was associated with the
same health maladies linked to smoking. Since Café Britt began selling Costa Rican coffee 25 years ago, new studies have begun to
reverse the findings of the earlier research. Empirical evidence about the
effects of coffee drinking on human health have yielded very positive results.

Many independent studies over the last two decades have concluded that drinking
coffee has many associated benefits. Apparently, the earlier studies didn't
differentiate between coffee drinkers who also smoked and those who didn't
smoke. In this group, it seems that the harmful effects discovered were linked
to the smoking, not the coffee.

As great lovers of gourmet coffee, it's very good news that today caffeine is
considered harmless to health. In fact, studies show that its stimulating
effects actually improve the attention span and concentration. Besides, the
coffee bean contains more than just caffeine. Some 600 chemical components have
been analyzed in different types of coffee, including many that act as
antioxidants. In fact, it is believed that most people who live in western
nations get most of their dietary antioxidants from coffee.

Many studies have since been carried out, including some that reveal certain
health risks that could be derived from excessive coffee consumption. Even so,
the benefits discovered in these studies often far outweigh the risks. What's
more, some studies that set out to link coffee to a health hazard actually
found only benefits to drinking gourmet coffee.

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the many benefits and low
risk levels associated with coffee drinking to check out the following links:

The National Geographic study is the most complete I've seen about caffeine.
Read all about it, and by all means sip a few cups of your favorite coffee
while you're reading!

All the best,


Questions? Write to me at

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sustainability for Today, and Tomorrow

This week I had the opportunity to speak with a group ofinvestors about the Britt strategy. Our conversation comes as Grupo Britt isabout to issue bonds on the Costa Rica Stock Exchange, after receiving theproper authorization from the Costa Rican Exchange Commission (SuperintendenciaGeneral de Valores).
I explained how this company, which was created 25 years agoto sell the world’s finest gourmet coffees as a finished product from its country oforigin, has since diversified by entering the world of gourmet chocolates, retailing specialty coffee online ( and gift shops.
We’ve made mistakes along the way. We’ve gotten out of someactivities and perfected our models for sustainable business. With a high doseof innovation our business thrives in many countries.
At Britt, we’ve created an organization that pursuesenvironmental sustainability in every aspect of our entrepreneurial activities.We were pioneers in marketing Costa Rican Organic gourmet coffee. We’ve launched manyinitiatives to reduce our use of water and energy. Recycling programs are ineffect at our facilities, and we’re always looking for ways to reduce wastefrom our production process. We are working toward becoming carbon neutral by2014.
On the social side, our coworkers participate in manyvolunteer programs. We promote the development of a Fair Trade coffee program for local farmers and othersuppliers by providing technical assistance and programs that encourageinnovation and product improvement.
One such initiative has benefited a group of women in LaCarpio, a community with social and economic challenges on the outskirts of SanJosé. Britt has provided seed capital, equipment and training to get thesewomen started making useful tote bags from recycled post-production Cafe Britt coffee packaging materials. The bags are on sale in our stores. Each includes a tagthat describes the project’s history and how these bags are changing the livesof these heads of household.
On the financial side, we’ve created a competitive business,a model for a developing country, through innovation we have climbed towardsthe peak of the value ladder. We enter international markets guided by ethical corporatevalues. All our business activities in every country we operate, are envelopedin the character and culture of Britt. This is a seal of guarantee for ourcustomers.
Britt will keep growing in proportion to our success inanticipating the needs of our customers. We live in a constantly changingworld. Some raw materials, such as unroasted coffee, have doubled in price ininternational markets over the last nine months. The markets are volatile, butwe know that tomorrow, you’ll receive the finest gourmet coffees, chocolates, nuts, cookies and personalized gourmet gifts developed and offered by people who go to great lengths to ensurethat you are completely satisfied. 
Britt will continue to grow as we make extra efforts topreserve and improve the quality and service that have enabled us to be wherewe are today.
All thebest,