14ymedio, Havana, 16 October 2020 — In recent weeks, coffee has become one of the most sought-after products — unsuccessfully — by consumers throughout the Island, who stand in long lines when the product reaches the stores but who, now, cannot obtain the bean even in the informal market.
The absence is so apparent that the official press addressed the issue this Friday with an interview with Antonio Alemán Blanco, general director of the Cuba-Café Company. The official unequivocally admitted that the supply will not be able to satisfy the demand, at least until the end of the year.
“You ask me for data, but there is a reality, coffee is not available and we cannot increase the supply now. I explain it simply: we are not in a position to satisfy current demand,” he said emphatically to Cubadebate.
Alemán attributes the rise in demand to the pandemic, which has forced tens of thousands of Cubans to spend more time at home, which has affected the forecasts for demand. “The plan that we draw up as a company, even with all the objective limitations we have, could be met until the end of September. I believe that social isolation has led to people drinking more coffee and this has triggered demand.”
Cuba-Café produces four brands of coffee for the domestic market, although the product is sold only in hard currency: Turquino, Serrano, El Arriero and Regil. But the director knows that as soon as it reaches the stores it is sold out in a heartbeat. Although Alemán does not give specific figures, he places the decline in production at 10%, which is the equivalent of “several tons.”
“So we have not had the opportunity to replenish the market to supply a demand that under normal conditions, we could,” he insists. The official, although he admits that this is not an excuse, does not miss an opportunity to point out the impact of the US embargo, which in his opinion makes it impossible to import the raw materials necessary for the preparation of the product, including the packaging.
Alemán has said that the government currently focused on meeting the need to supply coffee to the rationed market, which accounts for 85% of the company’s total production. La Torrefactora de Cabaiguan produces 49 tons of grain for the ration stores, which is processed a month in advance. Thus, he assures that the supply scheduled for November is ready.
“We hope that by the end of the year there may already be an improvement and consequently a greater presence of coffee in the hard currency stores. The coffee harvest has begun and our actions are also directed there. It is about increasing production levels; the people and the company need it.”
Alemán asks Cubans to have confidence and adds that the problems will be overcome sooner rather than later. “The final aspiration is the productive chain and an increase in the supply,” he says, although for the moment it is complicated. “I have spoken to you very clearly, and bluntly, even when we make a titanic effort, it is still not going to be possible to achieve the level of inventory that is needed.”
Meanwhile, Cuba continues to export coffee to other countries. Last week, Cimex, the Cuban military conglomerate that distributes one of the most popular brands on the island, Cubita, boasted of having the brand registered “in a hundred countries where it is also marketed.” In addition, it alerted customers to an alleged falsification of the product which is being sold online on Amazon.
Social networks expressed outrage when people saw that a 250-gram package of Cubita costs 3.45 CUC on the island, while a kilo cost 16.35 CUC, equivalent to almost half of the average monthly salary (879 Cuban pesos, approx. $35 US). Meanwhile, it is being sold in other countries at a price up to 30% lower.
Some users reproached the corporation for the fact only Gourmet brand coffee can be found in the island’s stores, a product exported to Cuba by the Spanish food group GM Foods, with Chinese participation. This coffee is made with 70% robusta, from Vietnam and Uganda, and 30% Arabica from Brazil, according what the company told 14ymedio; with no Cuban coffee content, it is one of the cheapest on the market. In contrast, Cubita, which is of much higher quality as it is 100% pure Arabica, is unavailable.
In addition, in the first half of this year, the Asdrúbal López de Guantánamo Coffee Processing Company sold 702 tons of beans to Cubaexport, the highest figure in the last four years.
For this year, a harvest of about 10,000 tons is expected, a little more than the previous year, but well below the production of 60,000 tons registered in 1961, when Cuba supplied the national market and exported its surpluses. The product is one of the great emblems of the island’s identity, along with rum and tobacco.
The coffee grown in eastern Cuba is Arabica and one ton costs almost 8,000 dollars in the international market. According to the information provided to the official press, in 2020 Cuba plans to export 10,000 tons, which corresponds to the entire national production.
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