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What change has wrought: Spain's private label center.

What change has wrought: Spain's private label center

In theory at least, there should be sensitivity to coffee in lands that have nurtured a fine native wine and cuisine. We know this is not always so. Nevertheless, it is clear that at least a potential relationships lurks between the sensual expertise in fine wine, cooking and coffee. Spain obviously ought to figure in this, given its array of excellent wines, its table arts, and the mere fact that it consumes more Cuban cigars that any other nation. But, for a number of reasons--political, economic--Spain has been permitted to begin building its altar to coffee only during the past decade. The Spanish coffee industry has made tremendous progress since its deregulation, notwithstanding that it must answer to a wide variety of regional coffee drinking habits and preferences, and is just now recoving from a long and difficult shelf-price war that was its dominant feature throughout the latter half of the 80's. With the 90's, the emphasis in Spain for coffee is quite distinctly, quite necessarily, on improving cup quality.

There are a number of companies and individuals forging the new coffee sensibility in Spain, and among the foremost, most certainly, is Union Tostadora and its director, Abelardo Jurado. Fittingly enough, returning to the theme of wine and cuisine, Union Tostadora is located in Logrono, in La Rioja province, an area justly famed for both.

In the landscape of the Spanish coffee industry, Union tostadora ranks fourth in roasted coffee production, behind the Nestle Espana family of brands, Saimaza (General Foods) and Marcilla (Douwe Egberts). Size apart, however, Union Tostador can be viewed as vital to the stability of the Spanish industry because of the unique nature of its services. The company offers hi-tech coffee production/packaging programs to the country's medium and small-sized roasters, and is also the largest producer of private label coffees in Spain. To undertstand its uniqueness one must at least glance at its history.

Union Tostadora was founded in 1981 at the time of the normalizing of green coffee trade in Spain. Obviously it was a bold venture, with a strategic farsightedness, as evidenced by the fact that the commodious factory is proceeded to build included industrial grinders even though, at the time, ground coffee was not yet permitted. Union Tostadora could thus begin production in 1983, fully equipped for the dawning age of ground coffee in Spain. Since then the company has expanded along with the incredible boom in ground coffee--"boom" indeed, with ground coffee accounting for some 72% of the Spanish market this year! The company's early years were not necessarily easy, however, as the rising fortunes of the big three national roasters placed increasing pressure on the company's three original clients, thew Baque, La Estrella and "154" roasters. The pressure inceased after the Nestle acquisition of La Estrella in 1985 and the subsequent void left in Union Tostadora production when the brand was integrated into Nestle Expana production.

But up from three brands, Union Tostadora is now producing more than 55 coffee brands, for roasters and distributors throughout Spain. This means that the company operates one of the more complex and confidential production programs to be found. The Logrono plant, working in three shifts, packs regular ground roasted coffees, decaffeinated products and whole bean brands. The blends and styles of coffees run the full range of the Spanish market, from gourmet to bargain brands, and of original tastes toow with about half of production in the popular "mezcla" style (50-50 blend of regular coffee with sugar-roasted coffee).

Green coffee buying is centered at Comercial de Materias Primas in Madrid, which acts as a buying department for a consortium of members includingw Union Tostadors. "Commercial" is now in turn Spain's second largest coffee importer. As can be imagined, in coping with so many different production recipes, the complexities compound for the Union Tostadora staff in the roasting, grinding and packaging area. In packaging, the company has specialized in diversity offering SIG line vacuum brick packs of 250 g. (as two packs, four packs), tins of 250 g. or 500 g., single-service sachets of 6 or 7 g. and bags for the whole beans of 250, 500, 1,000 and 2,000 g. sizes. The entire process, from green coffee to packaged product is monitored by a series of sophisticated online and laboratory quality controls that have permitted the company to fully guarantee production uniformity and brand integrity to its numerous industrial and distributor clients.

The man in charge at Union Tostadora, Abelardo Jurado, has come up through various positions, beginning as the plant's technical director. his experience is also a personal affair, being that La Estrella was prevously his family's company. His firsthand knowledge of contemporary coffee technology and science has brought him a role as spkesman for the new emphasis on cup quality in Spain, which he fulfills via presentations at conferences and through the pages of the Union Tostadora newsletter.

"Our raison d'etre is to provide distributors and small roasters with access to industrial scale production of competitive products, both in terms of quality and packaging," expalins Jurado. "In this we must work closely with the client, and be able to offer the latest in technical and market trends. This is essential for us because Union Tostadora itself was born from the effects of a technical and marketing change--ground coffee."

"The private label sectior now accounts for half of our production," he notes. "It's fueling our growth. The area has been expanding in Spain by 4-5% each year; in 1990 it seems to be expanding by more than 10%. We're working now with virtually all Spanish distributors and beginning to look abroad too."

On quality, Jurado says, "People ought to study what has happened in Spain. We were a growth coffee market until the 1987-89 price war. I am convinced that the resulting downtrend in quality--we had the cheapest coffee in Europe--has cost us customers. Growth became stagnation. Quality is a matter of survival in the long term."
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Title Annotation:packaging coffee at Union Tostadora
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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